Brunswick and National Radio Advertising Co., Inc.
Brunswick Records: A Discography of Recordings, 1916-1931, compiled by Ross Laird.
Although by early 1924 Brunswick had recognized the possibilities of using radio as a medium for promoting the sale of records and phonographs, it was entirely a matter of chance that led to Brunswick’s involvement in the development and production of recordings for use in broadcasting (such as pre-recorded programs and radio advertisements). By 1930 this activity (always described as “private recordings” in the ledgers) was to account for a major part of the record division’s work, but the initiative to produce such recordings came originally from an outside contractor—the National Radio Advertising Co., Inc. (NRAC) of Chicago.
The NRAC was founded in Omaha, and was incorporated under the general laws of Nebraska in June, 1927 by Raymond Soat (president and manager) and Milo T. Gates (secretary and treasurer). Soat had started out as a journalist on the Omaha World Herald in 1917. From 1919 to 1927 both parties had been partners in the advertising company Bloodhart-Soat Co. in Omaha.
By 1928 NRAC had a branch at 410 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago. A Bradstreet Company Report from October 1928 describes the officers of the newly established business as being “held in good general business standing and of experience in the advertising business.” It continues: “They specialize in radio advertising, obtaining contracts from radio stations to furnish advertising matter to concerns, and are said to operate all over the country. Prospects are regarded as continuing fairly good.”
NRAC was responsible for developing the earliest pre-recorded radio programs (in the form of syndicated sponsored programs recorded complete with all announcements) which were the direct precursor of the radio transcriptions which were such a feature of the radio industry in the 1930s and 1940s. It was NRAC’s long and close association with Brunswick which led to Brunswick-Balke-Collender Co. becoming the first record company to have extensive involvement in this area. The NRAC recordings quickly developed into a major part of Brunswick’s studio activity, and in 1930 the company was wholly acquired by Brunswick. These factors make the development of NRAC an integral part of the Brunswick story and the background to this is published here for the first time thanks to Mike Biel and Donna Halper for important original source material.
The distinction of being the first in the field of pre-recorded radio programming is repeatedly claimed by the NRAC’s many full-page advertisements in various trade publications (such as Broadcasting, or Standard Rate and Data Service) between 1929 and 1932. It seems that the Maytag Company (a manufacturer of washing machines), NRAC’s first client, wanted a pre-recorded program with announcements of their sponsorship which could be syndicated to a range of national radio stations. The background to this fascinating story is related in an interesting article by R. A. Brandt, Vice-President of The Maytag Company, titled “Maytag’s Experience with Recorded Programs” which was published in Broadcast Advertising Magazine in November 1929:
When we were first approached to do radio advertising there were no tangible figures available that would indicate to us the real good that radio advertising would do as interpreted into Maytag sales...
We declined the usual recommendation that we start our program off with excellent talent on a premier station and with a program, that carried very little advertising. Instead we did practically the opposite, which constituted... a laboratory test. We employed time in a mediocre station, we hired mediocre talent and went on the air... five evenings a week, (and] we loaded our program with advertising copy. We didn’t do this expecting favorable reaction, because we didn’t want favorable reaction. What we wanted was some idea of its true value from an advertising standpoint rather than from its entertaining standpoint...
These programs ran sixty days, as outlined, and then we sent out a questionaire to dealers, salesmen, and field managers. Almost in one voice they came back, criticised the station we were on, told us our music and entertainment were terrible and that the advertising was obnoxious. BUT—radio had actually made sales for them in the field, helped them to a better entree to the lady of the house, and made itself felt in a very tangible and effective way...
From this time on, our radio representatives put on a very exclusive [program]... with high class entertainment talent and reduced advertising copy... In increasing our number of stations we were confronted with the problem of paralleling our distribution. No combination or series of stations provided a network which would cover our districts of dominant distribution without a great waste. Therefore, we selected only those stations that were in a most strategic position to dominantly cover those areas. As the demand rapidly increased for a greater number of stations, we found ourselves confronted with the difficulty of supporting adequately high class talent and to produce a certain standard of programs in the cities where we had selected stations...
This led us up to the consideration of recorded programs. We experimented for several months with the help of one of the largest recording studios toward perfecting the tone, pitch, technique, and quality of reproduction. Mechanical problems were worked out so that an entire thirty minute program could be produced over the air without a break in its continuity and to such a degree of quality that expert listeners could not detect the difference between them and the spontaneous studio broadcast. On December 18th, 1928, the first full recorded program of its kind ever produced over the air was sent out from Station KDKA under the sponsorship of The Maytag Company, produced under the direction of Mr. Raymond Soat of National Radio Advertising, Inc.. who still handles all of our recorded broadcasts.
The advantages of such a system have turned out to be even more than we had anticipated. Premier talent is always available. Instead of dissipating the appreciation for mediocre talent in a large number of cities, the equivalent or even less is spent in securing in New York or Chicago a high class of program of any type desired. Instead of this program being broadcast over the air, it is put on in a very similar studio and a permanent record made of it for all time. The program is exactly the same only it employs a different vehicle. Instead of being produced before a broadcast microphone it is produced before a recording microphone to be released at different times at different stations according to the best prearranged program...
Auditions of the first programs were given to a great many of the largest stations and to them this new type of program and the perfection of its reproduction was a revelation. Radio critics and stations alike accepted it as a unit program instead of just a canned program.
An audition was also given to the Federal Radio Commission who immediately showed their enthusiasm by declaring that it would be manifestly unfair to allow it to remain necessary to classify such a program in the same category as phonograph records, player pianos, etc...
The above article clearly explains why and how The Maytag Company came to consider “recorded programs.” From other sources we have the actual correspondence between NRAC and Thomas A. Edison Inc. who were originally approached to provide the required recording and processing facilities. This correspondence is of great interest as it provides a detailed account of the early development of the new “recorded programs” and also allows considerable insight into the operations of NRAC.
In August 1928 Raymond Soat of NRAC was exchanging letters and telegrams with Gilbert Cosden of Thomas A. Edison, Inc. in relation to production of “long-playing” advertising records. In a telegram dated August 21, 1928. Soat wrote:
HAVE CONTINUITY READY FOR FIRST SPECIMEN MAYTAG HALF HOURS PROGRAM FOR RECORDING STOP PLEASE WIRE IF POSSIBLE TO HAVE ENGINEER COME TO CHICAGO WITH APPARATUS AT OUR EXPENSE RECORDING HERE ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL SINCE ADVERTISER INSISTS UPON SUPERVISING CONTINUITY AND CANNOT GO OR REMAIN IN EAST FOR THIS.
However, Cosden replied that it was “impossible to move recording equipment to Chicago now” and that it would be “several weeks before portable apparatus can be available.” Soat then decided that it might he possible for Edison to make a test recording without coming to Chicago, and there was some discussion about this. On August 24 an outline of a test program titled “The Yellow Streak” was sent to Edison. The cast of characters included: “Barton, manager of the circus (Wallace Beery type); Fred Jones, a property man with the circus, childhood sweetheart of Margherita (his voice bears evidence of some breeding); Margherita, animal trainer, childhood sweetheart of Jones; Circus Announcer (the usual type, such as la-dees and gentle-men); Barker, on the midway; 1 canvas man, 1 stake man, 1 property man, 1 ticket man (voices which will carry one or two lines of script); members of the Circus Band—will double for the audience.” The list of property included a circus band, 4 or 5 planks, 1 steel door (“something that would give the effect on the radio of the closing of a large cage door”), 1 whip “as used by animal trainers,” 1 hand organ “to give the effect of the organ as used on the merry-go-round,” leopard “which will be represented by effects,” .38 caliber revolver with blank cartridges. The script is not available, but these details give a good idea of the type of (suitably sponsored) drama which would have been produced.
On August 30, 1928 Soat wrote to Cosden:
It is my plan to be in Orange either Tuesday or Wednesday—quite likely Tuesday—to arrange for and start rehearsing on the first Maytag program.
There is no documentary proof that Soat ever made the proposed visit to Orange, and it appears that he was by this stage simply offering Edison a last opportunity to take on recording these programs as a telegram of October 5, 1928 from Soat to Edison reads:
WE ARE NOW READY WITH SUFFICIENT NUMBER OF LONG PLAYING RECORDINGS SCHEDULED TO WARRANT YOUR ESTABLISHING AND MAINTAINING SUCH A DEPARTMENT WITH GOOD VOLUME... WILLING TO COME EAST FOR ANOTHER DISCUSSION IF IT IS POSSIBLE TO CONFINE CHARGE TO COST OF RECORDINGS AND LEASING OF RECORDING APPARATUS...
Despite these further overtures, Soat had already arranged for “The Yellow Streak” test program to be recorded by Brunswick. It was recorded in Brunswick’s Chicago studios on October 4 and October 5 (the same date the above telegram was sent), and by the time Soat next wrote to Edison he must have already known that the results of these recording sessions had been successful. His next letter to Cosden was written on October 8, 1928 as follows:
Dear Mr. Cosden,
Thanks indeed for your prompt wire advising me regarding the status you have reached on the long playing records.
The progress, with reference to the advertisers in the market for recorded programs, is marching along very swiftly. We have been forced to keep our action more or less concurrent with the radio advertising season. Within a very short time the bulk of all the advertising that is to be broadcast in the coming season of 1928-1929 will be definitely planned or contracted for. It would be impossible for us to launch forth an attack for this type of business, let us say in December or January, for it would be too late to get in on the schedules where advertisers were contemplating action for this radio season. Therefore, while our solicitation has been restrained, we have had to do something to keep in the picture.
At present we have one advertiser quite definitely pledged for one program per week, a second advertiser ready to go with two programs per week and a third advertiser ready to go with one program per week. This gives us a schedule of four programs per week to be developed as quickly as possible. There is no reason why some of these programs cannot be prepared in advance, which would give us a recording schedule of from one to two programs per day right at the start.
When we stop to consider that these advertisers are as big and in some cases bigger than the average chain advertiser we have a prestige and a momentum right at the start that will lend itself to a dignified and big impression...
Frankly, Mr. Cosden, I believe in my heart that we will be doing business with you in the long-playing record as soon as we can iron out some of the present misunderstandings... Concerning the price of the records... I think we have to bear in mind that this price must be set a fraction lower than the short-time records could be bought for. We understand fully the splendid advantages and conveniences of the long-time record; however, the average advertiser—particularly when he learns that most stations have a double turntable pickup and could handle the production of records without a perceptible pause—would hardly feel it wise to pay an extra penalty for the long-time record. With us the convenience of the long-playing record is uppermost and with the advertiser the argument of some economy would be the one that would appeal to him the greatest.
With regard to the rental or leasing basis, with reference to the recording apparatus, would it not be possible to charge a reasonable fee per hour for plan No. 1 or else to divide the cost of the recording apparatus with ample profit over a period of one or two years and prorate the monthly cost as the rental.
The further proposal that the Thomas A. Edison Inc. retain ownership of the record is perfectly fair providing it does not restrict the advertiser from using the record at any time that he wishes. If the advertiser pays for the talent and the cost of production, as he would do, it should be his right to use these records at any time he wishes to rebroadcast them. It would not be fair, however, for an advertiser to undergo the expense of the record and then have these records resold to a second advertiser or station. This brings us to the final point which concerns the brokerage of time over the stations... We must remember that the principal reason an advertiser will use individual stations rather than the chain is because the individual stations will better match his distribution and therefore he can effect an economy. However, the advertiser wants complete coverage of his territories...
The only logical way that we can see to proceed here is to accept the station’s regular card rate and for us to continue handling the billings, just as we are doing with individual programs. In fact, if this cannot be done in some such manner it would prevent us from using the long-playing record altogether.
We have one advertiser who just had to start his recorded programs on a certain date. He has sold his entire organization on expecting them. Consequently, in order to carry out our part of the thing, we worked tentatively with the Brunswick Laboratories, Chicago. The Victor people also are very anxious to handle business of this type. However, what we might do with either company—Brunswick or Victor—is only temporary, since we have our eye definitely fixed on the long-time record and we are just marking time with the others until we can finally come to a successful conclusion with Thomas A. Edison, Inc.
Altogether this is an outline of our status. I am ready to come East on any date you suggest for further negotiation if you think there is any chance of our reaching a successful agreement.
With Very best wishes,
In the above letter Soat explains that he could not wait until Edison was ready to proceed due to restrictions imposed by the need to book programming for the current radio advertising season, and that as a result, “we have had to do something to keep in the picture.” This “something” undoubtedly refers to the Brunswick recording sessions referred to previously. Despite Soat’s urgings, Cosden’s response of October 12, 1928 said that he realized “the importance of starting this work as soon as possible, but certain phases of the project require considerable time to properly develop and the equipment must be suitable and adequate before release.” It seems that Edison’s “long playing” recording process was still not at a sufficiently advanced stage of development to be used as NRAC required.
Following Cosden’s reply Soat seems to have concluded that Edison was not in a position to provide the services he had expected, and the next NRAC session at Brunswick’s Chicago Laboratories took place on November 15 and November 16, 1928. This was for a similar multi-part radio drama titled “The Kiss.” Thereafter, what Soat had described to Cosden as “just marking time... until we can... come to a successful conclusion with Thomas A. Edison, Inc.” developed into the beginnings of the long-term and very active relationship NRAC was to have with Brunswick over the next few years. From November 15, 1928 NRAC began to produce programs in Brunswick’s Chicago studios on a regular basis (at least once every week in late 1928 and at an ever-increasing tempo).
NRACs first music-based advertising discs were the “Sunny Meadows” programs which featured Ray Miller and His Orchestra. The first of these was recorded on December 14, 1928, with several more following in January 1929. By late 1929 NRAC’s own sessions accounted for as many (or more) masters as Brunswick’s own recording activities.
While these recordings are the precursors of the radio transcription discs which became such a feature of radio programming in the 1930s, the first pre-recorded program discs were conventional 12” shellac 78rpm pressings which were recorded and processed in the normal way. By January 1, 1929 the Maytag programs were being broadcast over 50 stations throughout the United States.
Following the success of pre-recorded programs with both the radio industry and the listening public, NRAC was sufficiently encouraged that by November 1929 the company had opened a New York office and from late 1929 Brunswick’s New York studios also began to be used for the production of discs made specifically for radio use. A newspaper article about Soat published in December 1929 states that NRAC “now releases 1,400 programs monthly over 90 radio stations throughout the country.” By early 1930 the volume of such recordings had increased to the extent that the quantity of recordings being made by Brunswick for NRAC was equal to or greater than the number of recordings being made for commercial release. This situation continued throughout 1931.
This represented a major shift in the normal operations of the record division, and soon after the acquisition of Brunswick by Warner Brothers Pictures Inc. NRAC was also acquired by the newly formed Brunswick Radio Corporation. In October 1930 the company was able to announce a series of programs sponsored by Plymouth automobiles, which the trade publication Standard Rate and Date Service described as “Plymouth’s Radio World Tour with European Broadcasts Presenting King Carol, President Miklas, Chancellor Schober. Count Apponyi, the Lord Mayor of London, and Other Rulers of Europe, Greeting America for the First Time by Radio. Scheduled Dates on Ninety Stations Soon to be Released.” By the end of 1930 NRAC was renewing commercial agreements with over 200 stations (which was a larger number of stations than any network existing at that time could offer).
The syndicated programs produced at Brunswick’s studios throughout 1930 and 1931 featured a wide range of talent, but these (and many earlier) recordings made as “private recordings” [i.e., not intended for commercial release] are not very fully documented in what survives of the Brunswick ledgers. Frequently, the recording sheets list only the masters made at a particular session and give very basic details such as the program name and episode and/or part. Rarely is any information about who appeared on the program or what they performed provided. This situation improves to some extent during 1931, but many details are still incomplete or missing.
From what little is known, many of these broadcast programs included artists or orchestras who otherwise did not record for Brunswick. In many cases well-known artists or groups were credited under a name created for the program (usually reflecting the sponsors’ interests). For example, the group who recorded widely as The Revelers made many program recordings at Brunswick as the “Seiberling Singers.” Some groups are still unidentified as any recognizable entity, although many (if not all) almost certainly had an existence under another (and probably better known) name. It was common to name the band after the program title (as in the Champion Sparkers), but the orchestra was probably led by a musical director who also provided backing to other programs under an entirely different name (and possibly recorded or broadcast under his own name as well).
Certainly much work remains to be done on researching this radio program material, but the lack of complete file data, the inadequacy of the documentation even when it exists, and the rarity of these recordings (which the scant information in the Brunswick files suggests were often pressed in very small numbers—in some cases known to be as few as 5 copies) all combine to make it impossible to provide full listings for such recordings in these volumes. Hopefully, the often fragmentary and sketchy information provided will be useful as a basis on which to build in the future.
Brunswick Records: A Discography of Recordings, 1916-1931 (4 vols). Compiled by Ross Laird. Reprinted by permission.