Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Suppertime Frolic

In 1940 they advertised 1130 WJJD-AM as "The Largest Independent radio Station in the Nation."It was probably even true at 20,000 watts over Chicago. Some announcers left WLW for slots at WJJD. They claimed the radio station was founded by the Loyal Order of Moose.. that might have been true as well. They did a lot of public service programming which was important to their image.. Unsurprisingly their sports programming was wildly more popular. But what has proved the most enduring was the Suppertime Frolic.

Billboard dismissed the program as "...a popular program for rural consumption, patched up to sell a number of products, most of them patent medicines." Ouch. It had been founded by A&R man Ken Nelson later famously of Capitol records. Early on it was hosted by announcer and emcee Uncle Ervin Viktor, the program was panned by city press.
The program aired Monday through Saturday from 7:30 PM to 9:30 PM.

In 1935 DJ Randy Blake (aka Harold Weinstein) joined the program as a sacred singer. He had previously been at WBBM and felt the pull of hillbilly music. By 1941 he was officially it's host. The program went on to have the Kasapar Sisters, Patsy Montana, Red Foley, Lonnie Glosson, the Cumberland Ridge Runners, Jimmy Dale, Les Paul (as Rhubarb Red), The Kentucky Mountaineers, Bob Atcher and Bonnie Blue Eyes and others as entertainers.  Randy didn't leave the program until 1957, when he moved to WLW. excepting a short stretch in 1948 when he served in WWII, he hosted the program for 22 years.

But after WWII most of the live talent was gone. Randy just play3ed Country Western Disc Jockey. So it was no surprise when Blake took the program with him to WLW and moved it's time slot to 8:00 PM to 9:30 PM, Tuesday through Sunday. The days changed, but the program got shorter. The name quickly changed to "The Randy Blake Show." I get the impression it didn't last long.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Transcription Mystery Disc #227

This disc is damaged. It has a chip missing from the outer edge of the acetate coating. It's on both sides indicating it may have been dropped. Thankfully it falls just short of the start of the grooves. The audio is good and clear on this 78 rpm metal-core, 8-Inch Recordisc. The rhythm guitar is tuned a bit flat and the DJ stumbles over his words. This recording appears to be of a live radio broadcast.

Ted Daffan's Texans - Two of a Kind

While unlabeled, the recording is introduced by an unnamed DJ who names the artist as Ted Daffan's Texans. The song is "Two of a Kind" which is described as one off his "latest." It was released in August of 1948, which dates the disc with some accuracy. You can read the rest of Ted's discography here. Daffan is often credited with inventing that strange sub-genre of country music... Trucker music. There are a surprising number of songs about trucking; numerous LPs came out in the 1960s alone. Strange claim to fame.

He wasn't much of a radio man as a country singer. But he had a quiet phase of his career in his early 20s. He was a big fan of Hawaiian music and led a Hawaiian guitar band, the Blue Islanders on KRTH-AM in Houston.  He didn't even go country until 1934. Daffan stopped performing in the 1960s and went into music publishing. Ray Charles covered some of his tunes producing a late-career boost. Daffan died in 1996; he was 84.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Pneumatic Tube Audio

You may have used one of these systems on an airplane as recently as the late 1980s. (Does that count as recent?)   This was not radio so to speak, as it contained no RF but it often included prerecorded radio programming. So file this under extinct radio obscurities...

Most sourced attributed the technology to AVID Airline Products who began marketing Airline pneumatic tube audio in 1963. The company had been founded as a division of AVID in 1951. AVID cites their first year marketing IFE headphones as 1961 and names TWA as their first customer. It's interesting that AVID picks that year as it was the same year Keith Larkin and Courtney Graham invented a similar pneumatic headset for pilots US3184556. They went on to found Plantronics. But the AVID patent I found actually gates to 1965, and there it gets interesting. It appears that the "Sound Tube Head Set" patent US3217831 was invented by Charles Scanlon Edward.  It was one of 4 patents he held, most of which relate to hearing devices. On the document he describes it's function simply
"In operation, in an airplane carrying a stereophonic tape, which may be a musical tape or a motion picture sound track, the tape is electrically connected to two separate transducers. The two transducers emit pressurized sound waves which will pass into acoustical passageway 63 and sound passageway 67 when acoustical socket 61 and sound socket 66 are, respectively, attached to a transducer. The pressurized sound waves from acoustical passageway 63 pass into and through inlet port 20, acoustical chamber 15 and ear port 23 to a human ear"
The legal problem with the patent is that the device had no new technology of any kind. It was effectively a stethoscope held against a speaker cabinet. In citing his patent he went way out of his way to mention no existing stethoscopes; instead citing awkward and disused stethoscope-like devices. They were all pneumatic headphones that conduct sound. In an act of patent attorney comedy, two other inventors cited him as a source for their own dubious stethoscope patents. 

Probably in an effort to defend the patent AVID went out and bought some more stethoscope patents including US3623571, US3539032, US3730290. Sometimes it's just cost effective you know? In fairness they did pad that first dubious patent with two more interesting ones. A self retractable sound plug US3721313 in 1973, and a passenger audio control box US3860139 in 1975. That later patent is actually the most original.

What made this whole system worth pursuing was not it's high fidelity. It was that the headphones were cheap to produce. AVID continued to make the units until at least 1979. By the early 1980s imported electronics so lowered the cost of traditional headphones that there was no remaining advantage in the pneumatic headsets. AVID and Plantronics continue to exist today. Sadly TWA does not.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Paper Tape!

 "Electronic Computers Improve Management Control" UCLA 1957
These readers were mechanically very similar to the reel-to-reel decks that read and recorded to magnetic tape. But their history os so different. While punch cards and paper tape date back arguably to the work of Basile Bouchon 1725 the actual use of  paper tape is more recent. While Herman Hollerith was experimenting with the godfather of machine-read punch cards in 1889 he briefly experimented with paper tape before settling on punched cards. He described both media in his patent US395781, but there was prior art.. I'll get back to that in a moment.

It's hard to imagine now, but punched cards were used into the 1980 not because they were good, but because they were cheap. The UNITYPER, an input device for the UNIVAC I computer introduced magnetic tape for data entry way back in 1953.  During the 1960s, the punched card diminished in popularity but wasn't really extinguished until the advent of the floppy disc.

Paper tape had a  parallel history to punch cards. Joseph Marie Jacquard demonstrated in 1801 a chain of punched cards used to control a loom. While this was clearly is derived from the work of Bouchon, it was his assistant Jean Baptiste Falcon who (apocryphally) steered his work toward punched cards. Jacques Vaucanson had experimented with them as well, with working models as early as 1745, but for his trouble he was only pelted with stones.
Paper Tape Processing

For the most part paper tape is just one long continuous punched card.We are familiar with punched tape being fed to teletypes, and seeing it as the archaic output media of stock tickers and even telegrams. Binary transmitted data to paper tape dates to at least 1846 when it was used by Alexander Bain.  the first real commercial paper tape probably dates to 1937 with the The IBM Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator (ASCC), also called the Harvard Mark I , which was used in WWII. The Mark I read its instructions from a 24-row punched paper tape. Later standardized tapes had 6, 7 and 8 rows. While most telegraph hardware of the day read Baudot, the ASCC did not.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

You Can't Do Business with Hitler

Sometimes I read about radio history and feel like some cranky mischievous character like Joe Bussard has planted some false information as a prank. Much to my surprise I was able to corroborate this information through multiple reputable sources. There was once a radio program called "You Can't Do Business with Hitler."  Seriously, there were at least 56 episodes run between 1942 and 1943.
  • Heads They Win - Tails We Lose
  • Broken Promises
  • No American Goods Wanted
  • Two for Me One for You
  • Mass Murder
  • Spoils of Europe
  • 1000 Year Reich
  • Living Dead
  • Anti-Christ
  • Pagan Gods
  • Swastikas over the Equator
  • Money Talks with a German Accent
The program was written and produced by the radio section of the Office of War Information (OWI) the propaganda office of the U.S. military in that era. John Flynn and Virginia Moore starred in the program which aired on at least 790 radio stations. The scriptwriter was Elwood Hoffman and the director was Frank Telford. Elwood script wrote for other propaganda programs in that era including  six episodes of  "This Is Our Enemy", and three episodes of "American Portrait." He wrote some more mundane material for Cavalcade of America and of all things... The Columbia Workshop. More here.

It as based on an autobiographical book by Douglas Miller published in 1941. MIller was a Rhodes Scholar from Denver. His book ended up sixth on the nonfiction best-seller list for 1941. Miller was an attache with the American Embassy in Berlin from 1924 to1939. (some sources say 1925-1929) By the time he resigned he was staunchly opposed to the Nazi regime and in the mood to write some anti-Nazi propaganda. More here.

The title was actually a repudiation of statements by Charles Lindbergh. Yes, that same Lindbergh. It wasn't terribly quotable "I believe this nation is well able to take care of itself economically."  But Lindbergh was advocating for isolationism... and Miller wanted into WWI.  So they found themselves very much at odds. But we already know who won that argument with the public.