After several years of having an open invitation to write for the Old Time Radio Digest, I have finally decided to launch the project starting with this installment. But first I think a little background information on previous publications would be helpful. Not only to set up this and the following chapters, but also to put the Old Time Radio Digest in the proper light with what happened BD (Before Digest) and AD (After Digest). By the way, AD is After the Digest started publishing, NOT after its demise.
I started writing articles about old time radio in May of 1979. It was issue #15 of "Collector's Corner," and I became one of the contributing staff members. The title was "The Log: An Essential Tool for The Collector." The article was very well received. I received requests to write additional articles for other publications. For those of you who may never have seen the magazine, Joe Webb and Bob Burnham were the publishers. The art director was Bob Burchett. The monthly grew out of a need for the hobby to have a magazine after "Airwaves" ceased publication. More information about these publications will follow in additional installments.
In 1984 Bob Burnham decided to write a book for the old time radio collector that he thought would help the hobby. Bob asked if I would write an article - anything that I thought would be of interest for the book. I updated my article on broadcast logs.
Paul Anderson started publishing "The Sounds Of Yesterday" to a limited audience in 1985. I wrote about my problems in researching information on my LONE RANGER log. Following that, I wrote my first three installments of a series of articles that I agreed to write for Paul. The first two articles were published, but not the third. Without support, and some personal problems that Paul had, the fourth issue of "The Sounds Of Yesterday" never went to press.
Bob Burnham published his second book in 1986. He included my article of "The Log," and something else that I wrote. I thought that with the personal computer becoming more popular, something should be written about that. "Collecting Old Time Radio And Using The Computer" was the result.
A new magazine was published in 1988 by The World Of Yesterday called, "The Golden Years Of Radio And Television." I wrote for Ron Downey, the editor. After six issues, this magazine disappeared.
The success history for monthly publications up to this point had not been good. Many new collectors had started in the hobby and had not seen the earlier attempts in this area. So it was thought that the chances were good to start another. Many of the former efforts had a very limited number of subscribers and copies of these publications were no longer available. With that thought in mind, the "Listening Guide Newsletter" was started in 1989. The April/May/June 1991 issue (#6) was the last edition of this attempt. This time however, I did get up to Part 6 of the series I was writing. I guess we'll see if it's still here next year.
Whether my writing had anything to do with the deaths of these publications, or that it was just coincidental I am not sure, but I am still asked to write. Besides, Bob Burchett stated that the Old Time Radio Digest has been publishing for over ten years now and he feels very confident that it will continue despite my contributions.
With this in mind, I will start my original series of articles once more (having been updated) and add new chapters never printed before. Enough said.
I started this series of articles just about eight years ago with a different publication, and under a different title. Originally called INFORMATION AND HELP TO THE NEW COLLECTOR, it was being written with just the new collector in mind. Where does the new collector turn for information that will help him start in this hobby, what is available, how do you find programs, what to expect from dealers, collectors, clubs, and organizations. I changed the title because I will be offering information that will help not only the new collector, as important as that is, but will also help the collector that has been around for a few years and can use a new fresh approach to his collection, such as with the help of computers. Computers are in more homes every year, and as helpful as they are in many areas, they can be very helpful in sorting through all of the information you can collect regarding radio broadcasts. I hope I can help some of you who may still have a fear of that little blinking cursor on your computer screen once you leave the arena of games. So with all of this in mind, let's not waste any more time.
It occurred to me not long ago that I've been in this hobby of collecting old time radio programs for over a decade and a half now. Just where has the time gone? It does not seem like that many years since first starting this collection of mine, that has pretty well taken over all of my "free" time. When I originally started collecting, I was an electronics engineer by trade, and a radio program collector by dedication. The word dedication is probably an understatement when talking about myself and the collecting and preserving of these old broadcasts of the past. There is not a day that goes by without recorders recording, tapes arriving and of course departing my depository of broadcasting, adding new programs, and making new masters to include those new additions of "missing" programs that we didn't have before.
It's always exciting to add these new broadcasts to complete a series. For years I had 102 broadcasts of HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL. There were of course 106 broadcasts so the hunt was on to find the missing four. Those missing four shows have now been located and the same enthusiasm in finding the missing programs of other series now continues. Once we find all the missing broadcasts of a series, the next step is to try and make sure that we have the best possible sound quality of each broadcast in the series.
My personal dedication goes a little beyond just the collecting of these programs, but also extends to writing about OTR (such as this article), researching the history of broadcasting (such as my broadcast logs that I have authored), interviewing the stars of these broadcasts, broadcasting OTR on the air (I hosted a three hour program on an FM station back in St. Louis, MO for over seven years), teaching commercial broadcast history at a local college and locating previously unavailable recordings. I am not trying to blow my own horn, but to show the seriousness of my approach to these historic broadcasts.
Just where am I going with this article you may ask. I guess the bottom line after fifteen plus years is to look back and think of all that I have learned about broadcasting, and more importantly, the collecting of it. All the trials and errors, the bad and good ways of gathering programs, what to stay away from, and sometimes who to stay away from, and of all those programs that you wait and wait for. Sometimes you find that the waiting pays off with the arrival of that long and eagerly awaited for show. And other times, after years of waiting, you find yourself no closer than before. It's been some time since I received one of the "missing" ESCAPE broadcasts, and I'm still waiting for the last missing fourteen programs that I have been waiting for for something like ten years. And I will keep waiting until those fourteen programs arrive, hopefully soon. I have started thinking like some collectors who would like to hear certain programs before they die.
I thought that I might offer a series of articles, based on this experience of over fifteen years, to the new collector. All too often, we overlook these brand new people and then talk to them as if they are experienced. Like a student sitting in a classroom lost in the subject matter and not wanting to be the only one to raise their hand to ask questions, new collectors can be overwhelmed and lost, not knowing where to turn for the answers that will help them enjoy the hobby to its fullest.
We can discuss a lot of different areas as the first topic: the types of tape, the types of recorders, cassette versus reel- to-reel versus DAT versus CD's and even CD-ROM, etc. But I think for this first article, we'll talk about the "how to's" of getting started. I'll begin by telling a little of my early days of getting into the hobby. I'm sure that it will not be much different than any other new collector is experiencing today. This should certainly make you feel that someone understands what you're going through and even what to watch out for and what to avoid.
I always wanted to collect old time radio for two basic reasons. First, I had heard a couple of these programs such as THE SHADOW, and THE LONE RANGER, when they were still being broadcast live and was very interested in hearing more of them. Secondly, I thought that it would be really nice to have some examples of these broadcasts on tape to let my children hear what used to be. For years these two thoughts were with me, but I never knew where to go or how to get these programs. Oh, I'd see every now and then an ad for a record containing two "original broadcasts," but when you would receive them in the mail, they had been edited, or worse, just plain gutted from the original way they were heard over the radio. Of course you may not know that when you first start collecting, but after a while, when you start becoming more familiar with certain programs you start to realize how much time and money you spent on copies of programs that are less than desirable. Or you'd receive a tape, cassette or open reel, with hiss that was so bad you could barely hear the program. There is not a lot of satisfaction in being disappointed time after time with these kinds of products.
I was still in the U.S. Air Force at the time and on duty one Sunday morning when I read about a local collector who had gathered many different radio broadcasts of the past as a hobby. It was in the feature section of one of Little Rock, Arkansas' main newspapers. I still have that article. But the main point of mentioning this article was that I acted on an idea. I read the article twice and then looked his name up in the telephone book. He was listed! I thought for awhile about calling or not, and decided that I had nothing to lose by the call, so I made it. His wife answered and stated that he was out for awhile, but took my name and phone number when I asked if she would have him call me back.
Later that afternoon he did call back, and we talked for some time about radio and the kinds of broadcasts that he had, etc. We ended the call by his agreeing to a meeting at his home. Two important things happened at that first of many meetings and what has turned out to having been a good friendship these many years. First, and most importantly, while I visited, he taped several reels of programs for me to keep. If for nothing else, that would have made the visit to his home the best part of the week. But I also learned of several publications of the time, that I had never heard of. There are always special publications with most hobbies, and unless you know about them, or know someone who knows about them, you may never see them. They are not the kind of publication that you would find at your local newsstand.
The two publications were "The National Radio Trader," and "Airwaves." Both of these publications have long since passed from the scene, but they were the best thing going at the time. I subscribed to both of these periodicals at once. The most interesting area of both publications was the want ad section. It listed collector after collector, the types of interest they had, and number of programs in their collection, and their willingness to trade for similar programs. I started writing letters to just about every single ad I could find. Catalogs soon started to arrive. By this time I had taped just about everything my Little Rock contact had. My only obligation to him was that as I received new programs, I would give him the opportunity to copy what he would be interested in. That was the very least that I could do. Soon I started putting together my catalog and listing myself in the want ads. That part, the want ad, was free with the subscription. I started getting catalog requests from people that were not listed in the want ads.
These want ads were primarily the meat of "The National Radio Trader." Maybe that is the reason that after a couple of years it folded. I don't know, but it sure was missed by myself and many others. Looking back through the "giant 16-page combined issue," of volume 3 number 4 & volume 4 number 1 which was mailed on October 4, 1979, I find many names listed in the ads which were new to me then but have since become friends and long time known collectors and dealers. James L. Snyder, Edward Carr, Gene Bradford, David Reznick, Dick Judge. First twenty words of your ad were free, after that it was five cents a word. Fifty cents for a border around the ad, double that if you wanted a fancy one.
"Airwaves" on the other hand, contained articles on programs, collectors, clubs, logs, etc. It was more geared to the much needed information to help the hobby continue to improve and grow. I wasn't fortunate enough to get my hands on the first issue of "Airwaves." I subscribed as soon as I learned about it, but when the second issue arrived, it had a slip of paper in it stating that "Airwaves" # 1 is out of print. More copies will be available soon, and you will receive one as soon as it is ready." I did receive a copy of that first issue later, but not from "Airwaves." The point is, it was a complete sell out. Traders and collectors wanted that type of information, who to contact, what they collected and had to offer.
Issue # 2 from December 1976, has a drawing of Walter B. Gibson on the cover, an article by Joe Webb entitled "Convention Report," about the sixth annual Friend Of Old Time Radio Convention, a continued article on THE SHADOW, blank tape was discussed by Jerry Chapman, "Our Hobby's Roots," by Jerry Chapman and Joe Webb, "Shadow Log II," a book review, some collectors want ads, and a letter from Phil Cole appeared on the back cover. That letter talked about "Radio Historian, Radio Dial, Radio-In- Depth, and a few other assorted OTR publications" that went out of business the year before. He ended the letter with "Let's keep publishing Airwaves and National Radio Trader until our money runs out!" I guess that money ran out, because both of these were gone within sixteen months.
Next was "Collector's Corner." Starting in 1978 it lasted 34 issues before it departed and was taken over by "The Golden Years Of Radio & Television," and also about the same time we had the introduction of "Old Time Radio Digest." These were both good publications, but for the brand new collector, one very important item died with "Airwaves," and "The National Radio Trader." Want Ads! If you're brand new to the hobby, it takes awhile to meet other collectors without this service of the past. Oh sure, you can join OTR clubs, and we'll get to those in a minute. But nothing beat those early want ads. What a place to meet collectors, especially those independent collectors who just never seem to join clubs or organizations. And how else would you know where to write to collectors in different states, or even countries for that matter. There just isn't a good source for the exchange of collector names and address information. The "Digest" started in January 1984 and just two issues ago celebrated its 10th anniversary with issue #59.
Anyway, here I was two years into collecting and trading with about 86 different collectors from all over the country. I mentioned earlier that I wrote to every collector who I could get an address on. I was not kidding! The mailman hated me. Almost daily he would have to get out of his mail truck and bring boxes of all shapes and sizes (and almost always heavy) to the door. His hernia doctor loved me!!
Being new to the hobby, a lot of time was wasted early in my collecting of programs. I collected everything from everyone in any sound condition. There were some collectors who would use the cheapest tape and of course those tapes did produce low volume levels or hiss, and certainly left large amounts of oxide coatings all over my recorder's heads. I spent a fortune in head cleaners. A lot of these reels of tape just simply deteriorated with the passage of very little time. Playing some of them today produces a loud audible squeal that can literally be heard from the next room.
And there were the collectors that never cleaned their equipment and simply recorded right through the oxide coating that had built up on their heads. Also let's not forget all those hours of great radio shows that arrived with cross-talk, free with each and every show. But at the time I didn't know any better, and thought that that was the only condition you could expect of these old programs. I found out later that a lot of collectors just collected quantity, not quality. A lot did, but not all!!
Once I learned who not to waste trading time with, the hobby took on a whole new meaning. What I enjoyed before, I became fascinated with. The difference was like listening to the broadcast while actually sitting in the studio during the show, or listening to a program while under water. I became very sound conscious. Not to the extreme that some collectors are, and I applaud them for their dedication because we all benefit from it. But I will never waste the amount of hours again the way I did because no one was there to tell me that there were better sounding copies of the same programs.
We've covered a lot of ground here so far about what used to be, but that won't help you new collectors faced with starting the hobby of collecting in today's atmosphere. There are several choices you can make on just how to start, the amount of time you wish to spend at it, the amount of money, and just where you gather your programs from.
Before I recommend different ways of getting programs, let me explain some sources that I just wouldn't recommend. There are several different companies that have put cassettes into book stores and airports, etc., that I wouldn't recommend. If you just want one or two programs and that's it, then maybe this is the route for you. But I have found the information on these cassettes to be misleading, wrong, or no information at all. I have seen a cassette offered as being "The First Lone Ranger Broadcast!!" NO WAY!! The first 775 LONE RANGER broadcasts were NOT, I repeat NOT recorded, so there is no way that they could be offering the first one on cassette!! Secondly, the cost per show is a little on the expensive side. You usually get a C-30 cassette and one 30 minute program. That means that 15 minutes into the program they cut the show and you hear the balance of it on the second side of the tape. Maybe there is nothing wrong with that to most people, but I'm a purist and a 30 minute program should be on a C-60 or even better yet, a C-65 cassette so the program is not cut in any way. Not only that but you can get two shows on one tape and receive twice the enjoyment. Third, the cost per cassette can get pretty steep per program. I have seen one of these C-30 cassettes with one program on it sell from $5.00 per cassette to $8.00! With tax it's about .25 to .40 cents on top of that. Why pay about $8.40 per edited show when you can get programs from other sources as low as approximately .25 cents plus the cost of a cassette tape, and a little for postage? More on this price range later.
One of the quickest and cheapest ways to collect these shows of the past, is to record them from the radio. There are stations around the country that do re-air these golden moments from yesterday. On my broadcasts, I aired them in their entirety, with original commercials left in, complete openings and closings heard without my overtalking them, etc. I know people who listen to my programs that tape these shows, because I get mail from them and they thank me for helping them get copies of these programs. But not all cities have radio stations that rebroadcast these programs, and not all stations will air shows complete and uncut. Most stations will air excerpts from shows. And when you look at the number of radio stations around the country, versus the number of them that do re-air these programs, you'll find your chances decrease fast of finding a good source of shows this way. Also, most stations that do air programs only air them for an hour per show, usually once or twice a week. My program was three hours in length and that affords the time of airing six or seven programs per broadcast. This, however, is not typical.
Another source for programs is to just plain buy them from old time radio dealers. There are many, many of them around the country and ads for them and their addresses can be found in magazines such as some of the ones we've already mentioned, plus looking in audio, mail order, and nostalgic type magazines will yield more information. It is a good idea, as is always the case, to try ordering a few cassettes from several different dealers to find out their quality, speed of delivery, information about the shows you're getting, and prices. Also, as you meet more collectors, ask them who they would recommend as a primary source for programs, then order their catalogs. Look at the completeness of their listings - information given like an introduction to the series, actors, dates of broadcasts, titles of scripts, broadcast numbers, etc. Large dealers and collectors have taken years to put together the most complete detail information that they can. This also helps you eliminate duplicate programs under different titles and dates from less informed sources. Again, we are talking about saving you time and most importantly money.
Let's take a quick look at each of these points, because they do vary from dealer to dealer, and for that matter from collector to collector.
Quality. This is probably the most important of the four. Once a program arrives for your collection, you're going to want to listen to it. If it sounds "muddy" or "bassy" or "tinny" that is the way it will stay. Now in all fairness, some programs are that way because of the source material, the master tape or original electrical transcription, was poorly maintained. BUT, as mentioned before, if recording equipment is not cleaned, demagnetized, speed corrected, etc., etc. (and we'll get more into this in another article) sound quality will suffer. You can always ruin your sound recording, but not improve it over what is not there. So check out the quality. Make sure that the sound is clear, that you don't hear more hiss (because of cheaper brands or poor quality tape used), etc. In the case of cassettes, make sure the shell (the cassette plastic housing) isn't broken, cracked, or pinched against the tape. The last thing you want is to wait for your programs to arrive, put them in your cassette deck, and immediately have them jam up on you. For you open reel collectors, tape again should be looked at for quality, ripples, if it leaves a lot of oxide coating on your rubber rolls and heads, and if the plastic reel pinches the tape at all as it comes off of, or goes on to the reel. This will damage the side of the tape. Replace these warped reels as soon as possible.
Speed of delivery. This varies again with each dealer. Sometimes you get already made up cassettes, so processing orders is a fairly quick part of the transaction. But most of the time orders are custom made order by order from the dealer (or collectors) master reels or master cassettes. And if the dealer that you're doing business with is good, then he or she is going to be popular and more than likely be processing a lot of orders. I think that two to four weeks should be average. Most dealers will beat four weeks, but don't be alarmed if it takes three to four weeks. If it takes longer, look for another dealer.
Information about the shows you're getting. Cassette labels and information insert sheets with reel-to-reel tapes, should include good information about the shows you're getting. The correct title and date of the broadcast is a must. There is already enough misinformation and wrong titles on programs going around for all of us to spend a life time trying to sort out. On cassettes that I send out, I put as much information that I know about the show as I can get on the label. The title of the program and the title of the script should be there. Broadcast dates are important as well as the network it aired over, and possibly a name or two of the stars. I finish, with of course, my address at the bottom of the label. That's a lot of information, but the collector needs it if he is ever going to know what he has and what he needs to complete the series he is building. I also have a computer that helps me get all this information on those small labels using an easy to read compressed print.
Prices. This is very important unless you have an unlimited budget. The same program from ten different dealers, will probably get you ten different prices. So shop around. Some dealers offer the ease of checks, and charge cards. Some only deal with checks. The ease of buying with charge cards is quite an attention getter, but it also drives the price, of doing business up, and naturally also the price of what you're buying. So consider these areas. Also, if your dealer or collector source is one of the few that actually sources the material, you may pay a little more for that service and better sound quality. Some dealers and collectors trade, buy, and copy their material and simply pass copies on. They are not as close to the original recorded material and therefore the best possible sound as the dealer or collector that copies from the original ET's and studio masters. Just as a Xerox copy of a copy, each time an audio recording is copied, the recording becomes less and less desirable sound quality wise.
Another area of getting programs is by joining several of the old time radio clubs around the country. The advantage of this route is two-fold. First naturally, is the ability to trade with other members. This after all is the purpose of the organization. Secondly, larger or older well-established clubs usually have a library of tapes that you can get access to, by either you providing shows they don't have (trading with the library itself), or paying a rental fee. These costs vary with the clubs, but usually the cost of obtaining programs this way is quite affordable.
There are several rental libraries around the country that you can get access to without having to belong to a club. They are usually run as a side line by some dealers. Again, depending on who you're dealing with, whether it be clubs, individuals, or dealers, watch that sound quality!! The better your sound quality, the more others will want you as their source for shows. The longer you collect programs, the more you will hear certain names that it seems are permanently associated with bad sound.
The last area I would highly recommend is getting into a buyer's group. This is probably the best source for good material, the newest material, and the cheapest cost per program that you can get into. But buyer's groups for many reasons tend to be small in the number of each group's members, and members once in a group, almost never leave the group. So openings don't come up that often. How a buyer's group works is that the members pool their money together and purchase a number of shows, either individual programs or a series, then the master tapes are sent around to each member, and he or she makes their own copies from the masters and sends the masters on to the next member. The cost per show drops greatly to each member. The drawback to buyer's groups is that they usually are reel-to-reel organized. There are several cassette groups and many OTR clubs have both reel and cassette libraries. I started a cassette buyer's group several years ago, and a lot of interest was being generated by it. In this group the costs per show will average 25 cents or less for the material that you copy!
In future installments, we'll get into equipment, books, how to catalog, how computers can help with this hobby, logs, good programs to collect, clubs, etc.
If there is an area of information that you, the new or well established collector, would like to see in this series, please feel free to write me. Any questions, comments, or suggestions will be carefully considered. I can be reached through this internet web site or the following addresses: