Brunswick and Radio
Brunswick Records: A Discography of Recordings, 1916-1931, compiled by Ross Laird.
The Brunswick-Balke-Collender Co.’s connection with radio goes back to the early days of the record division when Benjamin Franklin Miessner, one of the first electric recording experimenters to use radio broadcasts as a source of material, moved his research work to Brunswick’s Chicago headquarters after leaving his previous base of operations at the E. J. Simon Radio Contracting Organization.
In November 1921 Miessner made electrical recordings of broadcasts by Claire Dux from the Chicago Auditorium Opera House over KYW. However, it seems that Brunswick was not able to see any commercial application for his work and the experiments had been discontinued by mid-1922.
In this connection it is interesting to note the views of Brunswick executives towards radio as noted in an article by Ward Seeley titled “Will the Great Artists Continue?” which was published in 1923. Seeley reports that:
All important phonograph companies, except Victor and Brunswick, are co-operating more or less intensively with the broadcasting stations. The artists who make phonograph records for these others have been heard on the air in the past, and may be expected to perform in the radio studios in the future, without hindrance from the recording organizations, and in many cases with their active support.
The two exceptions are emphatic in their assertion of their right to prohibit their exclusive stars from performing for the radio. That is why no important Victor artist has been able to broadcast personally in the past months, and why only one or two of the Brunswick artists have been heard by the radio audience...
When you hear a Brunswick exclusive artist broadcasting in person you may be sure that the company has investigated the program, the object of its transmission, and the quality of the transmitter.
Keen discrimination marks the attitude of the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Co. toward radio [even though] certain exclusive Brunswick record artists have been heard on the air, in a few instances.
Such instances have been rare, and the subject of special negotiation. In general, the attitude of the company is against permitting their artists to broadcast, as may be seen from the following statement by A.J. Kendrick, General Sales Manager, Phonograph Division, of the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Co.
“As yet, we have not granted permission to artists with whom we have exclusive recording contracts to sing for radio broadcasting stations. This stipulation has been waived in one or two instances of unusual character, but, until we have come to more definite conclusions pertaining to the value of the radio broadcasting of recording and concert artists, we prefer to withhold this permission, where we are empowered to do so.
“In all our exclusive artists’ contracts we have a radio clause.
“We have no supplemental agreements with artists, but consider each instance individually, pertaining to radio broadcasting. We have felt radio requires some further development and improvement before a worthy transmission of an artist’s work could be an entirely dependable procedure. We do not mean to state that there are not now broadcasting stations able to do justice to such an event, but we have been governed by the desire to insure our recording artists being presented to the public only under the most favorable conditions.
“Furthermore, we have not yet decided that unrestricted appearances of our artists in that respect might, in some measure, retard the demand for their records. This is an open question, however, and as yet we have formulated no definite viewpoint.
“We have made several phonographs with combination radio sets for experimental purposes, but have no figures available which would indicate that radio has endangered or helped the phonograph business, particularly in view of the fact that the pronounced progress of the Brunswick company in the phonograph field has been such that we could not really be considered a barometer on this situation.
“However, we are inclined toward the opinion that radio, to the degree that it helps to advance good music, would assist rather than retard the phonograph business…”
It seems that Brunswick’s ruminations on this matter reached some sort of conclusion during the latter half of 1923, because on March 15, 1924 an advertisement in Talking Machine World announced that:
Through an agreement between the Radio Corporation of America and the Brunswick Balke-Collender Co., phonograph manufacturers, millions of radio fans throughout the United States will receive for the first time operatic and musical programs rendered by famous artists whose services hitherto have not been available to the broadcasting companies.
Although sporadic attempts have been made to combine radio and phonograph, the announcement made today by the Radio Corporation of America of a contract which not only will effect a marked improvement in future broadcasting programs, but which involves the sale of combined Radiola-Brunswick phonographs, is accepted as the first definite indication that large interests in the phonograph industry have now determined to combine the best features of radio and the phonograph in a single instrument.
Under the contract recently concluded, the phonograph company gains the right to install Radiola receiving sets in combination with Brunswick phonographs. In turn, the phonograph company will add its share to the public service now rendered by the principal broadcasting stations and aid the development of free broadcasting to the public, by pemitting the stations of the Radio Corporation of America and those of its manufacturing associates to broadcast from the laboratories of the Brunswick Co., during the periods when its artists are recording for phonograph reproduction, and encourage these artists to aid the programs at other times as well...
Another interesting provision in the contract concluded between the Radio Corporation of America and the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Co. places at the disposal of the Radio Corporation the technical and research facilities developed by the phonograph company, so that the experience of both industries may be available in the development of the art in future.
The December 15, 1924 issue of Talking Machine World carried a report on the opening program of the first series of radio programs by Brunswick artists broadcast over RCA’s WJZ chain of stations on December 9 as a result of the contract between the two organizations announced in March 1924. The article said that “there was inaugurated at five of the principal broadcasting stations of the country on Tuesday evening of this week what was termed the 'Brunswick Hour of Music,' which will be a regular weekly feature from these several stations. The opening program presented, of course, by Brunswick record artists, included opera selections by Mario Chamlee and Florence Easton, piano selections by Elly Ney and several numbers by the Cleveland Orchestra. The program was broadcast from the Brunswick laboratories in New York and relayed through the following stations: WJZ, New York; WGY, Schenectady; WRC, Washington; KDKA, Pittsburgh, and KYW, Chicago. Later it is planned to add two or three stations in the West. The program started at 10 pm Eastern Standard Time... The programs will be offered each Tuesday evening at the time stated, the program for December 16 including Ray Miller’s Orchestra, Ohman and Arden, pianists, Marion Harris, Margaret Young and Wright and Bessinger, ‘The Radio Franks’...”
These programs were very successful, and the effect they had within the industry can be judged by the fact that within weeks Victor had been galvanized into producing radio broadcasts featuring their own recording stars (after many years of actively discouraging their contracted artists from doing radio appearances). The first Victor broadcast was on January 1, 1925 at 9 pm over WEAF and featured the Victor Salon Orchestra, John McCormack and Lucrezia Bori.
The Brunswick ledgers show a studio date on January 13, 1925 at which nothing seems to have been recorded. The sheet says simply: “Broadcasting.” It is very likely that this ledger entry was related to the Brunswick Hour radio programs (or to the Music Memory Contest mentioned below), as similar ledger entries occur weekly from February 3, 1925 through to May 12, 1925.
The June 1925 issue of Talking Machine World reported: “A letter has just been received by the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Co., Chicago, from Pratt and Cia, Buenos Aires, Argentina, stating that on Tuesday evening, May 5, they tuned in on the Brunswick Hour of Music with a Brunswick-Radiola and received the entire concert perfectly. The program was broadcast through Station WJZ, New York, in conjunction with several other Northern stations, and included selections by the Brunswick Concert Orchestra, the Elshuco Trio, Elizabeth Lennox, contralto, and other exclusive Brunswick artists. An interesting sidelight on the Brunswick Hour has been furnished by numerous letters from distant points, telling the company of the excellence of these programs and of the enjoyment they have furnished in sections which are geographically isolated from the musical centers of the country. Brunswick executives state that the Brunswick Hour of Music has had a marked effect in making the dealers’ record sales problems easier, by familiarizing the radiolisteners with the magnitude of the Brunswick record catalog.”
Also in early 1925, Brunswick made use of radio through a quiz program as reported in Variety under the headline “Brunswick Starting Ether Contest February 3”:
A new radio and record tie-up was announced last week by William A. Brophy, head of the Brunswick Recording Laboratories in New York. It is in the nature of a Music Memory Contest, the first of the series starting February 3rd by radio, through simultaneous broadcastings via WJZ New York, WRC Washington DC, and WGY Schenectady NY. The radiocasting will be direct from the Brunswick Laboratories through the Radio Corp. of America stations.
The selections will be anonymously broadcast by Brunswick as to title, the competitors’ task being to identify the [songs]. The public will be furnished in advance, via Brunswick dealers and the press, with a complete list of the compositions from which selections will be made. Only standard compositions will be broadcast, the desire being to stimulate public interest in the Brunswick’s “New Hall of Fame” artists. Popular numbers may be included later.
The quiz program had at least one winner according to reports in the press, but it was apparently short-lived. Although the “Brunswick Hour of Music” programs were pioneering efforts which successfully promoted Brunswick artists and attracted a large audience of regular listeners, they did not receive as much media coverage as Victor’s programs. This was probably due to the higher profiles of many of the Victor artists. Consequently, Brunswick allowed this method of promotion to lapse after the conclusion of the first series.
However, in 1928 Brunswick was newly awakened to the potential of radio as a means of promoting recording artists when it became involved in producing a new type of pre-recorded radio program through the initiative of an outside commercial organization. See the next section headed Brunswick and National Radio Advertising Co., Inc. for more details on these developments.
Although Brunswick was at first only a supplier of studio time and pressing facilities for programs made as “private recordings” for the National Radio Advertising Co., the growth of this business was such that within a relatively short period the Brunswick studios were producing a large volume of pre-recorded radio programs and other types of promotional recordings for use in radio broadcasting. By mid-1929 other radio advertising companies such as Olsen and Enzinger also began using Brunswick’s facilities for the production of program and advertising recordings, no doubt attracted by the success of National Radio Advertising’s existing use of Brunswick facilities.
The first of these pre-recorded programs intended solely for radio broadcast and sponsored by the Maytag Company was described in the contemporary press as a “Maytag Radioette” and an article in the radio section of the January 18, 1929 edition of the Boston Post… announced “the first New England broadcast of a complete radio programme without artists or announcer in the studio will be presented tonight from Westinghouse station WBZ-WBZA. Outside the novelty of hearing such a programme, radio listeners will have the opportunity to pass judgment on the new So-a tone process of broadcasting, introduction of which marks a revolutionary step in radio entertainment.” The first such program was “The Kiss” which was broadcast at 7pm on the same date this article was published. The next program to be broadcast was “The Yellow Streak” on January 22, 1919, at 7:30pm.
Brunswick soon recognized the potential for the new type of program recordings, and was not slow to produce a series of such programs featuring its artists for network broadcast. This series of programs was known as “Brunswick Brevities.” Although full details are lacking for all programs produced, it seems there were at least 26 separate programs of about half-hour length, although the programs were sometimes used by radio stations for blocks of airplay up to an hour in duration.
As the intention was to demonstrate the abilities of artists featured on Brunswick records there was no one better-placed to open the new series than Al Jolson, who was then one of the best-known popular artists. Accordingly, newspaper publicity with headlines such as “Jolson’s Voice in Broadcast” began to appear in August 1929:
A So-A-Tone broadcast, better known as a recorded programme, starring Al Jolson singing a cycle of songs from the new picture “Say It With Songs,” will feature the first programme of Brunswick Brevities heard over WBZ Monday evening.
The entire programme will be Jolson-esque in character, a medley of old Jolson hits, one of his latest recorded numbers, “Liza,” as sung by Mrs. Al Jolson (Ruby Keeler), in “Show Girl,” and his favorite song from “I Pagliacci,” done in fox-trot rhythm.
From the time “Say It With Music” introduces this new air feature until Al Goodman and his Orchestra play a medley of past and present Jolson hits to end the feature, the melodies of the world’s greatest entertainer will be paraded before radio listeners.
The new Brunswick Brevities will be a weekly feature from 32 stations in a nation-wide hook-up. Every programme will feature an outstanding Brunswick artist and orchestra.
Such stars of the stage, opera and talkies as Al Jolson. Ben Bernie, Nick Lucas, Mario Chamlee, Belle Baker, Zelma O’Neill, Abe Lyman, Ray Miller, Hal Kemp and a host of others will entertain ...
The first of the “Brunswick Brevities” programs was broadcast on Monday, August 19, 1929, and further programs followed at weekly intervals until early 1930. A radio program guide detailed a “Brevities” program being broadcast in mid-December 1929 as follows:
Tonight’s Brunswick Brevities will differ from any hitherto presented... The orchestral program is by the Brunswick Concert Orchestra and the Brunswick Salon Orchestra. Both are directed by Louis Katzman. The program opens with “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” from Grieg’s “Peer Gynt Suite,” followed by the Russian Gypsy folk song, “Dark Eyes.” The concert orchestra plays the Aria and Mazurka from Tschaikowsky’s opera, “Eugene Onegin.” Two numbers by the Brunswick Male Quartet will be “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life” and “S’posin’.” For conclusion Katzman will direct the Brunswick Concert Orchestra in the overture to “Mignon,” by Ambroise Thomas.
It is not known when the last “Brunswick Brevities” program was broadcast but by December 1929 the series was already losing affiliates and sometime within the first few months of 1930 it was apparently decided to cease production of further programs.
However, the “Brunswick Brevities” programs are certainly one of the earliest and most interesting series of their type. During the slightly more than a year during which it was broadcast, programs featured a wide cross-section of the material featured on Brunswick records. This included popular music, jazz, ethnic material, light classics, operetta and hillbilly. The programs are especially interesting because, even when the featured artists sang or played their current hit records, the versions were quite different to those commercially released by Brunswick and they often did their own announcing and sometimes played or sang material they never otherwise recorded.
Brunswick’s radio manufacturing division had been established in 1928 and became a larger part of the business during 1929. The May 1929 issue of Talking Machine World stated that “the announced purchase of the Bremer-Tully Mfg. Co., Chicago, capital stock by the BrunswickBalke-Collender Co. places the Bremer-Tully Mfg. Co. in a most advantageous position according to officials of the firm, giving the organization the support of tremendous resources... that will immediately... insure continued high-quality radio and prices assuring marketability...”
On December 8, 1929 the New York Herald Tribune published an article titled “Disk Programs Open New Field on Broadcasting” written by Everett M. Walker, that discussed the new prerecorded programs available which were made with what the article described as “BrunswickBalke-Collender apparatus... ” The sub-headings on this article included: “Recorded entertainment permits rural stations to present stars at small cost” and “Records made same as those used for motion pictures.” This article reads:
The last two weeks have seen the production of a new type of radio program—a type which has unlimited possibilities, particularly for the smaller stations located in rural districts where program talent is scarce and the cost of wire line facilities for bringing the big town programs to the small station [is] beyond the means of the rural broadcaster’s pocketbook. The type of program in question is that which is recorded on disks and distributed to any stations subscribing to the service. It is more popularly known as the canned program.
On Thanksgiving Day the first major program of this type was broadcast through forty three stations throughout the United States and pronounced successful by both radio listeners and broadcasters. The program consisted of recordings of over twenty foreign musical organizations, and even included the announcer’s voice, lasting for a period of two hours.
While this type of programming has tremendous possibilities for the smaller broadcasters, it is the opinion of experts that it will not replace chain broadcasting, where artists appearing before the microphones are heard simultaneously throughout the country. It will serve supplementary, they say, and will contribute to the improvement of the financially handicapped rural stations.
The first big recorded program radio listeners heard was made on disks similar to those used for talking motion pictures and for home phonographs. It requires more than two months to prepare. Most of the selections were recordings of foreign musical organizations, and included His Majesty’s Royal Air Force Band, His Majesty’s Irish Guards Band and His Majesty’s Scots, all recorded in England. France’s contribution to the program was selections played by the eighty-piece band of [the] Garde Republicaine and the Ste. Germaine String Quartet of Paris. Other selections were played by the National Band of Germany, Dr. Felix Smith’s Male Chorus of Berlin, the Launer Schrammel Quartet of Vienna, the Gypsy Orchestra of Budapest and the Milan Symphony of Italy. The American contribution to the program was played by John Philip Sousa.
Recording for the entire foreign program was made by William Spier and his wife who passed more than two months in Europe last summer traveling about the continent to make the records of the leading musical organizations of the world. The foreign recordings were particularly difficult because of the acoustical problems encountered.
Only through the use of recently developed methods of electrical recording has it been possible to make records which would reproduce with sufficient fidelity for broadcasting. The problem is that when a disk is transmitted it is literally “second hand,” having been recorded on wax, matted and then broadcast through the radio transmitter. By the time it reaches the listener it is third hand. Because of this repetition of reproduction, it is essential that the original be prepared with the greatest amount of care to insure good quality when the program is broadcast.
Mr. Spier, when making the recordings in Europe, carried with him a complete set of instruments which included a microphone, amplifier and cutting disk, with the necessary acoustical apparatus to overcome certain difficulties encountered under the adverse conditions. The records were made in identically the same way a broadcast would be picked up for direct transmission over a radio station, the only difference being instead of the amplifier output fed to the input of a transmitter, it caused a needle to make sound impressions in a wax disk. This wax disk was used to make a steel matrix, which in turn served as a mold for the production of the composition records distributed to the broadcasting stations for the program.
When all the recordings were received in the United States, they were arranged to form a continuity, and Deems Taylor, well-known critic and musical arranger, served as announcer to read the script relative to each of the selections. When completed, the whole program consisted of forty-eight records and required two hours for the broadcast.
A complete set of these disks [was] sent to all of the forty-three stations in the country which broadcast the special program. The reproduction too, was accomplished exactly like the sound for motion pictures is reproduced in the theater. A double turntable with dual electrical pick-up instruments fed the program to the amplifier of the radio broadcast transmitter. The double turntable enabled the operators to change from one record to another without delay, and permitted the program to sound continuous.
The special two-hour recorded program was broadcast by three metropolitan stations, including WMCA, WRNY, WLWL and WGBS. Transmission over these stations was considered to be excellent by radio experts.
It is the opinion of experts, now that the first note in recorded programs has been sounded, that they will become popular with the smaller stations and will offer them an opportunity of giving their listeners programs composed of the world’s leading artists. As far as chain broadcasting is concerned however, it never will be replaced by the recorded type of program. The reason is obvious, it being that it requires considerable time to make a recording and therefore eliminates the possibility of broadcasting so-called “spot news” events, such as concerts, sports and entertainment of that type. There also is a thrill attached to listening to an artist who is performing in the studio especially for the radio listener.
While the recorded program idea has been under consideration for more than three years, it did not gain impetus in its present form until this last month. Perhaps it will be remembered that the first broadcasting nine years ago was composed of phonograph record programs, and it was not until 1924 that artists were brought to the studios of broadcasting stations by enterprising station directors...
The two hour Thanksgiving Day program was recorded through the facilities of the Radio Program Advertising Corporation. This organization is specializing in the commercial angle of recorded programs, arranging them for clients and for the time on the broadcasting stations. Several other companies carrying on similar business are already functioning. Notable among these is Vaud-a-Tone Radio Productions, which is producing ten minute drama and musical recordings to be used supplementary to the personal appearance of artists in the studios. The first of these programs will be broadcast through WHN and WPAP on Monday and Tuesday of this week.
Systems of making the recordings are identical with those used in the production of phonograph records, and several studios designed for this purpose have been opened in New York City. While the talking machine companies are equipped with the facilities for making the disks, none of them contemplate entering the field in the immediate future.
Throughout the mid- and late 1920s many of the artists and orchestras recording for Brunswick were concurrently active in radio. A good example is the Anglo-Persians… which was directed by Louis Katzman, also conductor of Brunswick’s studio orchestra. The Ang1o-Persians were featured in an NBC-WEAF series during 1928-1930 which was sponsored by the Whittall Company, manufacturers of rugs and carpets. The band’s name was intended to conjure up exotic images of the bazaars and bearded rug merchants of the Middle-East, and the anonymous vocalist featured on air with the band was identified only as “The Master Weaver.” During the same period the Anglo-Persians had 16 records released on Brunswick.
Other Brunswick artists with radio associations include George Belshaw and His KFAB Orchestra, The Eight Radio Stars, Bob Emery, Chester Gaylord, Davey Lee, Vincent Lopez, Nick Lucas, Val McLaughlin, The Radio All Star Novelty Orchestra, The Radio Franks, Harry Snodgrass, Al and Pete, The Anglo-Persians, Frank Munn, Cotton and Morpheus, Bing Crosby and many others. By 1930-1931, Brunswick’s recording directors and other bandleaders brought in for studio sessions were also active as conductors of orchestras featured in various syndicated radio series. These included Bob Haring, Victor Young, Ed Kirkeby, Fred Rich and others.
When Warner Brothers took over Brunswick’s record interests they continued the production of pre-recorded radio programs. In his autobiography This is Norman Brokenshire, the well known radio announcer describes being hired to work for Brunswick at this time:
The Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company had sold out its recording properties to one of the motion picture companies, which in turn, had decided to get into the radio business. The idea was that recording radio programs on disks would accomplish two things: revive the recording industry and bring radio programs of merit to small stations at low cost. To this end an office had been opened in New York and a subsidiary called Radio Producers, Inc., organized under the direction of a dynamic little man who was all mixed up with music, producing, and promotion in Chicago-Howard Way.
The proposition was for me to build shows for him that would be recorded on regulation ten-inch disks on the equipment brought from Brunswick, and stock-piled for distribution to stations around the country. My earnings would be limited only by my capacity to produce shows; the demand for them existed, and a million dollars had been set aside to produce them.
My desperate need of a job did not obscure from me that here was a historic turning point in the history of radio. Programs by radio transcription! Nowadays a full fifteen-minute show can be put on one side of a sixteen-inch record, an hour show on a roll of tape. At that time a ten-inch record played up to three minutes; six records on both sides made a half hour show; for an hour show twelve recordings must each be timed and joined in content to the others.
These were called “open-end transcriptions,” for the reason that time was allowed for an opening and closing local commercial. A fifteen-minute show required three disks, and they had to be played on double turntables to avoid breaks due to changing.
I plunged into weeks of high-tension activity, throwing shows together right and left. I dug out copies of all my old programs and incurred an everlasting debt to the humorous magazines of the day, Life, Judge, and College Humor, based on all the jokes I could cull on different subjects, marriage, automobiles, drinking, in-laws, bride’s cookery, and so forth. I assembled the jokes in categories, developing dialogue to lead smoothly from one subject to another, interspersing the gags. One of the better shows was called “The Mirthmakers.”
My fellow “mirthmaker” was Jerry Macy. I collected an orchestra comprising instrumentalists famous today in the ranks of Local 802; Manny Sax, trumpet; Lou Raderman, violin; Jack Shilkret, piano; Andy Sanella, saxophone; Sammy Herman, guitar; Joe Green, xylophone; and Charlie Monyanti, accordion. No music ever had to be used; they could ad lib to perfection.
We had no time to fritter away in rehearsal; everything was one, two, three, straight off the cuff. In addition to performing, the boys in the orchestra and the quartet laughed and applauded the jokes. Timing was set as we went along, something to ponder in these days of production assistants armed with stop watches. I became expert at winding up a recording when I got the hurry signal, at blending the opening of the next disk with the point where I left off on the last. [We did programs such as] “Hawaiian Shadows”; the “Irrepressible Imps,” starring Jerry Macy, Ed Smalle, and myself; “Lest We Forget,” a wonderful orchestral program of familiar favorites strung together with philosophical bits according to various moods and welded into a whole by the beautiful music of Harold Levy... of such things was the new venture made.
When Brunswick was taken up by the American Record Corporation in December 1931 the old Brunswick studios in New York and the Brunswick matrix series (from master E37475) continued to be used for the production of radio transcriptions.
Brunswick Records: A Discography of Recordings, 1916-1931 (4 vols). Compiled by Ross Laird. Reprinted by permission.