Post written by Christine Ehrick, University of Louisville
On November 2-4, 2017, the second national meeting of the Radio Preservation Task Force took place in Washington D.C. Created in 2014, the Radio Preservation Task Force (RPTF) is a project of the Library of Congress’s National Recording Preservation Board, tasked with locating, assessing, and facilitating the preservation of archival radio. In the past few years, the RPTF has grown into a wide-ranging association, comprised of hundreds of professors, archivists, collectors, and practitioners. The Task Force also has many affiliates and institutional partners, including the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, the Hoover Institution Library and Archives, the International Communication Association, and the National Council on Public History.
Public Broadcasting at 50 – RPTF Conference 2017. Photo by Christine Ehrick
Organized around the theme “From Archive to Classroom,” the 2017 conference brought collectors, archivists, scholars, and practitioners together to discuss preservation strategies, grant writing opportunities, and best practices for bringing more archival radio into the classroom. The conference also featured special sessions of the Cold War Media Project, sponsored and partially hosted by the Woodrow Wilson Center and the Hoover Institution, and a discussion of the history of National Public Radio with one of its founders, Bill Siemering. Participants were also invited to attend a panel discussion on the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Public Broadcasting Act, featuring well-known public broadcasting veterans like Jim Lehrer, Cokie Roberts, and Dick Cavett. Working sessions covered a broad range of radio history and preservation topics, including panels on Native American and Spanish Language/Multilingual Radio, Podcasting, and Journalism. As opposed to a more traditional academic conference, with speakers presenting the results of past and current research projects, the November gathering was structured as a working conference: participants were encouraged to share experiences and discuss strategies for advancing the work of radio preservation in the US and beyond. With the New Year, the Task Force has begun to implement some of the plans made in November.
Of particular interest to this blog is perhaps the Endangered Collections panel, which focused on the challenges and opportunities facing endangered radio collections. Some of the main challenges: radio still takes a back seat to media like film when it comes to archival preservation priorities; continued concerns and caution about intellectual property issues, especially among “risk averse” institutions such as university libraries; and significant shelf space limitations even among institutions who might otherwise be willing to accept endangered radio archives. Collections most likely to overcome the above obstacles, it seems, are those documenting the experience of marginalized communities (indigenous and other communities of color; broadcasts from the LGBTQ community). Task Force members were encouraged to engage in more aggressive marketing of its work and radio preservation generally. Among other things, raising awareness of the importance and fragility of this piece of the nation’s cultural history may help change the calculation (and allocation) of archival shelf space and collection priorities, hopefully without pitting endangered media against each other. The RPTF was encouraged to participate in wider conversations about the ethics (and ecology) of preservation and ongoing conversations about copyright and audiovisual preservation and access. The Endangered Collections group is currently working to identify collections and identify partnerships with academic institutions and educators, with the goal of facilitating the preservation, access, and use of endangered collections.
Even where there may be institutional support (and shelf space) for the preservation of archival radio, budget constraints can make places like university libraries hesitant to take on radio preservation projects. Grant writing will thus be another important feature of this next phase of RPTF work. The Caribbean caucus for example, is working hard to find financial support and an institutional partner to preserve an endangered archive of a long-running Haitian-American radio program out of New York City. Thus in addition to documenting collections, Task Force members are encouraged to identify and pursue grants and other funding sources that can help these collections find a good archival home.
Finally, a key component of raising the profile of radio preservation is the expanded used of radio archives in the classroom. This was the main focus of the conference’s combined Education Sessions, which focused on three interrelated questions: how to promote the study of sound and radio history across a range of disciplines; how to devise effective assignments and learning materials that center on sound and make use of archival materials; and how to identify and address the challenges to integrating the study of radio and sound into curricula. In this large, informal session, participants shared their experiences with using archival radio in the classroom and discussed strategies for expanding that use into a variety of educational settings at a variety of levels. Following up on the conference discussion, the RPTF Education Group has issued a Call for Materials asking group members to contribute syllabi, assignments, and other related educational materials that “promote and enhance the study of radio history and sound at all levels of the curriculum and across multiple disciplines.” The RPTF will collect, organize and distribute to relevant professional associations. The group also plans to develop course templates for university and K-12 classrooms (on media history, U.S. history, and other relevant topics) using RPTF materials and raising awareness about and encouraging the use of archival radio in a variety of pedagogical settings.
The second conference of the Radio Preservation Task Force, in sum, was an inspiring and historic encounter of the varied individual and institutional components of any viable preservation strategy. Participants asked challenging questions, discussed innovative strategies, and made productive connections. The task in 2018 is to put this all this work into practice in order to continue and expand the RPTF’s urgent work to save a vital yet rapidly deteriorating piece of our collective cultural heritage. For updates about ongoing RPTF projects, please follow the official Twitter or join the join the discussion on Facebook.
Christine Ehrick is the Communications Director for the RPTF. Thanks to Alejandra Bronfman, Allison Perlman, Derek Vaillant, and Josh Shepperd for their input.
Post written by Mason Vander Lugt. This is the fourth and final installment in a series about the development of the recording industry in the 1890s. The first, second and third provide additional context.
The first cracks in North American’s monopoly of American record sales began in spring 1893 when Victor Emerson of the New Jersey Phonograph Company formed an independent agency called the United States Phonograph Company. The sub-companies had been authorized to sell phonographs, but only within their respective territories. The United States Phonograph Company, on the other hand, could purchase phonographs from the New Jersey Phonograph Company (presumably at cost) and resell them anywhere, not having signed any exclusive agreement. Leon Douglass of the Chicago Central Phonograph Company organized the Chicago Talking Machine Company under the same principle, around the same time.
Both companies had access to duplication technology that gave them an advantage in the coming years. Both also predicted the direction of the market and invested in spring-motors for home phonographs – Frank Capps’ for United States and Edward Amet’s for Chicago. From the beginning, United States had the expertise and connections to record the industry’s established stars. An impressive USPC catalog in the New York Public Library shows that they recorded many artists made popular by the North American sub-companies. Chicago recorded local artists like Silas Leachman and Bonnell’s Orchestra, but also courted visits from the popular eastern stars and distributed records taken by the other companies.
Meanwhile in New York City, an Italian inventor named Gianni Bettini used his social connections and technical reputation to record the stars of opera. Bettini’s involvement in the industry began with inventing high-fidelity recording and reproducing devices in 1889, but by 1892 he had begun recording on a small scale, and by 1896 was one of seven producers listed in Phonoscope’s “New Records for Talking Machines”. Like the United States and Chicago companies, Bettini held a patent on a duplication process, and would distribute copies of his original records, first through the New York Phonograph Company, then through his increasingly prestigious 5th Avenue Phonograph Laboratory.
After North American collapsed in August 1894, a group of industry elites assembled who would in various forms guide the industry through the decade. The initial organization, Walcutt, Miller & Co., was founded by North American secretary Cleveland Walcutt, Edison recording manager Walter Miller, Edison recordist Henry Hagen, and Edward Leeds, who independently leased phonographs in Indiana. The coalition bought North American’s 14th St. recording laboratory and equipment.
A January 1895 letter in the Edison Papers suggests Walcutt, Miller & Co. intended to work with Edison to assert Edison’s exclusive right to record manufacture against USPC, which George Tewksbury had since joined.
This partnership lasted until February 1896 when Miller and Hagen formed the Phonograph Record and Supply Company and Walcutt and Leeds went their own way under that name. Walcutt and Leeds developed a major recording operation before falling to one of American Graphophone’s many lawsuits in July 1897. Miller would leave PR&S Co. to manage recording for Edison’s National Phonograph Company in May 1897, while Hagen would briefly lead United States’ recording program before organizing Harms, Kaiser & Hagen in May 1898 with sheet music publisher T.B. Harms and New York Phonograph Co. recordist and exhibitor John Kaiser. Leeds would join with L. Reade Catlin to form the influential Leeds & Catlin in April 1899 while Walcutt would help Emile Berliner establish a gramophone company in France.
In November 1896, recording pioneer and sometime smut peddler Russell Hunting began publishing The Phonoscope just in time to document a major boom in the industry. The end of North American’s exclusive agreements allowed independent dealers (or, “jobbers”) to emerge, many of whom would maintain small recording operations while selling records and supplies manufactured by the majors. As with the North American sub-companies, many didn’t differentiate between these classes, making it difficult to know exactly who made what.
The other major development was the introduction of spring motors and cheap home phonographs. The first of these offered for sale were designed by Thomas MacDonald and manufactured by American Graphophone beginning in 1895. United States and Chicago Talking Machine debuted their motors in ’96 which could be sold alone or fitted to a graphophone or phonograph. National’s first spring-motor phonographs, like their first records, were manufactured by United States. Some discount models, like the Amet Echophone, the Euphonic Talking Machine, and the United States Talking Machine were also advertised in Phonoscope.
Some of the first independent record companies were organized by prominent performers from the earlier years – J.W. Myers recorded himself and others under his own name, then as the Globe Phonograph Company, then as the Standard Phonograph Record Company. Russell Hunting similarly recorded himself and others, first under his own name, then as manager of the Universal Phonograph Company founded by sheet music giant Jos. W. Stern. Edward B. Marks, manager of Stern and Universal, wrote in They All Sangthat they considered recording a novel way to plug new songs and promote music sales. He describes their catalog of the standard New York talent but also states “any performer who came into our publishing house for professional copies was dragged down to the laboratory for a phonograph test”. Roger Harding recorded independently before selling his operation to the Excelsior Phonograph Company. George J. Gaskin and Dan W. Quinn advertised their status as free agents and recorded for most of the prominent companies.
Established stars George J. Gaskin and Dan W. Quinn, and up-and-comers Estella Mann and T. Herbert Reed
Most of the independent companies sought out the established talent, though some came to specialize in particular genres or instruments, or attempted to make stars of their exclusive performers. The Lyric Phonograph Company showcased records of Estella Mann when recording women was generally agreed to be prohibitively difficult. Reed, Dawson & Co. made a specialty of violin records and the Metropolitan Band. The Universal Phonograph Company marketed records performed by famous composer George Rosey and his band. The Kansas City Talking Machine Company took records of songwriter Hattie Nevada in addition to selling her sheet music. Many more independent companies developed small recording programs in Manhattan and advertised in Phonoscope. A map of Manhattan manufacturers and dealers assembled from Phonoscope reflects how congested the industry became.
As the recording companies preferred vetted talent at the front of the horn, they vied for the skilled service of qualified recordists behind it. Victor Emerson left the United States Phonograph Company to lead Columbia’s recording department, Walter Miller returned to working with Edison after several years of independence. I.W. Norcross left behind his own successful recording company also to join Edison’s ranks. Calvin Child settled into the Berliner Gramophone Company after making his mark on several cylinder operations.
Some companies specialized in supplies, such as horns, record cases and cabinets. The most prominent of these was Philadelphia based Hawthorne & Sheble who sold novel devices such as the clover-leaf horn before manufacturing disc records in the 1900s. F.M. Prescott offered glass horns in a variety of colors and finishes and a “cornet horn”, shaped like a bugle. The Greater New York Phonograph Company offered “chemically prepared linen fiber diaphragms”. The American Micrograph Company offered a horn with attached stylus that required no reproducer. Some others supplemented their business with magic lanterns, stereoscopes or motion picture devices.
As the decade drew to a close the market re-consolidated into the hands of those companies with the money, the talent, and the patents. Columbia consolidated with American Graphophone and leveraged their prominence as manufacturers and formidable patent pool against all competitors. Edison organized the National Phonograph Company in January 1896 and reduced or cut off the supply of blanks to the independent companies. In the same year, Emile Berliner would receive the investment capital and organize the manufacturing and sales structures that would allow the Gramophone to compete with, and eventually replace the phonograph.
 Victor Emerson clearly dates the organization of USPC to spring 1893 in a relatively contemporary court testimony for the American Graphophone vs. USPC trial in 1896. Chicago’s organization is a bit murkier – a Feb. 1910 article in Talking Machine World notes the company was formed “18 years ago” to service the Columbia Exposition that took place in 1893. Even if the company was formed in name for that purpose, it’s likely they didn’t begin the recording and sales operation until after the fair was closed in October of that year.
“Why is it that the companies manufacturing musical records do not advertise them as the Columbia Phonograph Co. does, giving lists, with the name of each piece?”, wrote Thomas Conyngton to Phonogram in April 1892. Suppressing a sarcastic “why indeed?”, I gave Conyngton’s query some thought and wondered if the persistent lack of documentation might be something other than a conspiracy against researchers after all.
Why did Columbia request catalog readers to “please destroy all previous lists”? Why didn’t they or New Jersey list their artists? It was obvious, really. In the days before duplication, printing a catalog or advertisement meant committing to keep an artist engaged to maintain stock. Printing a name alongside further committed the company to retain a particular person, with all the vagaries of daily life, not to mention show business.
Still, it was clear by summer 1890 that the entertainment uses of the phonograph were the most, if not only, profitable side of the business, so the companies got creative. Some would contract with independent recordists or artists; some would send agents to nearby venues to capture local or traveling performers. Many would open limited recording departments for their local trade, and a few would develop this to an industrial scale and market their products nationwide. Despite most companies’ reluctance to advertise, I believe a sketchy but worthwhile picture of their recording activity can be drawn from the conventions and Phonogram, and newspaper advertisements for exhibitions or parlors.
As previously noted, an 1891 Phonogram article identified Columbia, New Jersey, New York and Ohio as the industry’s major players. At the annual convention the following summer, Chairman A.W. Clancy asked which companies were recording, and (presumably by roll-call) added Michigan, New England, Kansas and Louisiana to the list. Various comments in the conventions and magazine suggest both the Eastern and Western Pennsylvania companies, the Chicago and State companies of Illinois, the Metropolitan, Pacific, Spokane, Kentucky and Nebraska companies also tried their hands. Several more advertised records “for sale” or “in stock” without indicating whether they had taken them.
Browsing newspaper advertisements for exhibitions and parlors, however, delivers a more sober picture. From Honolulu to Philadelphia, and everywhere in between, the lion’s share of recorded entertainment came from the same few companies and artists. Concerts may be punctuated by live performances or recording demonstrations, parlors might mix in some local talent, but programs for each are surprisingly uniform. As Tim Gracyk noted in Popular American Recording Pioneers – “It is remarkable how much was recorded by a relatively small number of artists!”
The New Jersey Phonograph Company was undoubtedly Columbia’s closest competitor. The Newark-based company inherited much of Edison’s practiced talent, including Issler’s Orchestra, Voss’ 1st Regiment Band, George J. Gaskin and the Manhansett Quartette. Recordist, exhibitor and later manager Victor Emerson also recruited new performers, making stars of Len Spencer and Charles A. Asbury.
Charles A. Asbury
Two catalogs from the company exist, both in the Library of Congress’ Recorded Sound collections. The first is undated but is probably from mid-1891. It was reprinted in Talking Machine Review #10. It comprises 15 pages of uncredited band, orchestra, instrumental and vocal music, a small section of vocal [with] orchestra by John P. Hogan and an uncredited series of imitations of sounds from nature. It’s a safe bet that the orchestra was Issler’s. The band was probably Voss’. Repertoire and registers suggest particular singers but I’ll allow readers to speculate if they’d like. Notably, this catalog seems to represent the first attempt to establish a numbering system across a company’s entire catalog, rather than by category as Columbia did.
The second catalog expands enormously from 15 to 32 pages, surpassing even Columbia’s to that date. It’s dated 1892 in print on the cover, and a handwritten note suggests it was published in October of that year. The catalog brings the vocal section to the fore, hinting at a budding specialization. Len Spencer is the star of the show, with 7 pages to Issler’s 5, and a variety of genres and pseudonyms. These are rounded out by chimes, violin, bugle calls, burlesque theater, Irish humor – there’s something for everyone.
The second catalog, and advertisements in Phonogram3:2 and 3:3/4 (Spring 1893) include New York based bands (Gilmore’s, Holding’s, Bayne’s) and singers (George W. Johnson, Dan W. Quinn, J.W. Myers). Because each company held exclusive rights within their territory, it was standard practice to sell each other’s recordings without noting their source. This is especially problematic between New Jersey and New York, who recorded prolifically in the same area and didn’t include their companies’ names in announcements.
Advertisements like this one make it difficult to know who originally took the recordings. Image from Phonogram 3:2.
The New York Phonograph Company was organized by brothers John and Richard Haines to serve those parts of New York State outside of the New York City metro area, which were claimed by the Metropolitan company. The two combined in mid/late 1890 due to financial pressure. Recording and exhibitions were managed by George B. Lull.
Metropolitan’s and New York’s first recordings were taken by local independent recordist Charles L. Marshall and distributed throughout the country[i]. Marshall was an ambitious and talented recordist and in 1889 and 90 seemed to record on a level comparable with or exceeding any of the sub-companies. In later years he would exhibit for New England, open his own parlor, and devise a “scenic theater” combining the phonograph and cyclorama.
New York’s only catalog is a rebranded copy North American’s January 1890 list, with added categories for “Manhansett Quartettes” and “Vocal Solos”, and mention of banjo, xylophone, piplaphone (marimba?) and whistling solos. The Phonogram advertisements (1:8, 1:9, 1:10, 2:1) feature Gilmore’s and Holding’s Bands, Edward Clarance, Joe Natus, and J.W. Myers alongside performers associated with other companies like Russell Hunting and Charles P. Lowe.
George W. Johnson
John P. Hogan
Carlo A. Cappa
A June 1893 article in the New York Sun identifies Clarance as NYPC’s primary recordist, announcer and talent scout, and Frank Banta as their house pianist. It describes Clarance’s tactics – “In his search for things new and original, Mr. Clarance has formed the acquaintance of nearly every man and woman in the city who can play an instrument or sing uncommonly well”. It goes on in some detail about recording John Holding’s popular descriptive[ii] “The Night Alarm”, Frank Mazziotta playing “tumblers filled with water” (glass harp), and the reliability of Gilmore’s Band. Banta and Mazziotta would record frequently with Edison in later years.
Several more New York based bands (Alfred Foh’s 23rd Regiment Band, Carlo Cappa’s 7th Regiment Band, Henry Hall’s Old Guard Band, William Bayne’s 69th Regiment Band) are among the most popular in newspaper advertisements and in the absence of other data I assume these were taken by NYPC.
The company was positioned to capture the great opera, musical theater, dramatic and art music stars. At the fourth convention in Sept. 1893, Haines notes “The New York Phonograph Co. has been able, from time to time, to make records of a high order in small quantities, and in some few cases we have made records of a high order in large quantities, celebrated singers, etc.”, but unfortunately doesn’t elaborate. A November 1892 Phonogram article describes a prominent New York based collector who owned recordings of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Leopold Godowsky, actor Lawrence Barrett and poet Amelie Rives but doesn’t note their source. An October 1892 article noted that “The piano solos of the New York Co. are specially fine”.
Despite New York’s long recording tenure[iii] and Haines’ claim that the company “manufacture a very large number of musical cylinders”[iv], New York’s recordings remain somewhat obscure due to minimal advertising and confusion between their and New Jersey’s recordings. It is possible some artists recorded for both. A rare program noting records’ sources in Phonogram 3:2 lists a Holding record taken by New Jersey and a Myers record taken by New England, though some simple errors cast some doubt on these as well.
The New England Phonograph Company was organized October 1888 in Gardiner Maine, then moved to the Boylston Building in Boston in May 1889. It was managed by Augustus Sampson, and the exhibition department was managed first by F.A. Ashcroft then Charles L. Marshall.
The company was frequently praised in Phonogram for their high-quality band records, taken by Calvin G. Child who would go on to record for Columbia, Ohio, Berliner and Victor in the following years. Acoustic recording was an art and science developed painstakingly over years of trial and error, and each company cultivated the skills of one or more expert recordists[v].
Baldwin’s Cadet Band, led by J. Thomas Baldwin, and Russell Hunting’s “Michael Casey” series of Irish comic skits were New England’s best-sellers. Vocalists Will F. Denny, Edward M. Favor and Richard Jose first recorded for New England and would each go on to successful recording careers.
J. Thomas Baldwin
Will F. Denny
An August 1893 catalog in a private collection reflects that the Cadet Band’s repertoire was deeply influenced the United States Marine Band’s Columbia records. It also features several pages of “Henry’s Orchestra”, led by Thomas W. Henry who had previously played in Gilmore’s Band (as had Baldwin). The catalog concludes with a small section for Charles E. Cooper’s Celebrated Fife, Drum and Bugle Corps and solos by the late great cornetist Walter Emerson.
The Ohio Phonograph Company was organized November 1888, with offices in Cincinnati and Cleveland. It was managed by James L. Andem, a hard-headed visionary in the style of Edward Easton.
Ohio’s star was Dan Kelly, whose “Pat Brady” series of comic Irish skits were often called the most popular series in the country. The Bison City Quartette, a comic troupe already famous on the stage, also found widespread success recording for Ohio.
The only surviving catalog from this company is undated, but was probably published in 1894. Most of the recordings seem to have been imported from the eastern companies, but it also features a local 15 year old contralto named Rose Monks, famous minstrel performer Will Nankeville, cornet virtuoso Alice Raymond and John Weber’s Band of Cincinnati.
The Bison City Quartette ca. 1893, from “His Only Boy” sheet music via NYPL. Thanks to Archeophone Records for including the image in “Waxing the Gospel”
The company also pioneered phonograph “arcades”, or parlors, when most companies were placing individual machines in public spaces such as hotel lobbies, saloons and train or ferry terminals. The arcade allowed the company to monitor how the machines were used and maintain the phonographs and replace records as needed.
The Louisiana Phonograph Company was founded by F.E. Clarkson, and soon managed by Hugh Conyngton who had previously managed the all-business Texas Phonograph Company in Galveston. It was the last sub-company to form, in March 1891, but by the following January was “turning out large supplies of musical records”.
In their own words, “New Orleans is perhaps the most generally musical city of our country and its musicians are very fine”. It was also a resort town, and a description in Phonogram depicts the romantic scene awaiting their patrons – an electric-lit parlor in the city’s west end abutting Lake Pontchartrain, with cool breezes and first-class bands.
Advertisements only list two associated performing acts. Paoletti’s Southern Band, led by George Paoletti, played dances, marches and opera overtures, an arrangement of Dixie “as played in the South” providing the only apparent namesake. Louis Vasnier performed comic sermons in dialect as “Brudder Rasmus” and a variety of minstrel songs with banjo. Remarkably, one of the “Rasmus” records survived the years and climate and was reissued on Archeophone’s “Lost Sounds” CDs accompanying Tim Brooks’ book, which discusses Vasnier and George W. Johnson in detail.
Most of the sub-companies dissolved after North American ceased business operations in August 1894. They were sales agents, after all, not manufacturers. The heads of the New Jersey and Kansas companies had formed an independent venture called the United States Phonograph Company in spring 1893 to bypass their sales restrictions as sub-companies. Columbia similarly distanced itself by merging with the American Graphophone Company and manufacturing phonograph-compatible graphophones and supplies after Jesse Lippincott’s death in April 1894. American Graphophone would attempt to secure Columbia a monopoly of the recording business by enjoining Edison and the sub-companies from using Bell and Tainter’s recording process, but would mostly fail.
James Andem continued to run the Ohio Phonograph Company independently, expanding into Kinetoscopes, recording new artists like Brand’s Concert Band and The Ideal Orchestra, and publishing the only trade paper in the years between Phonogram and Phonoscope, titled Edison Phonographic News. New England would continue advertising Baldwin’s Cadet Band records until at least October 1898. New York dropped out of the business by July 1895[vii].
After a protracted legal process, Thomas Edison bought North American’s assets and founded the National Phonograph Company in January 1896. Andem organized several of the remaining sub-companies, including New York and New England to sue Edison and National for violating their territorial rights. Most would end in settlements. By 1900 only Edison and Columbia would remain in the business. The next and final installment in this series will investigate the independent record manufacturers of the later 1890s.
[v] “The Following Record” pp. 155-180 The Arts of Recording and Phonogenic Performance goes into some detail about this aspect of the industry
[vi] It’s worth noting it’s possible this recording is a fake. Conditions were ripe for forgeries with star power like Kelly’s bringing high profits, and little accountability for pirates. With no other examples to compare (that I know of) we can’t know for sure…