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Some timely observations on the past, present and future of The Golden Age Radio Collecting Hobby:

This is a feature that has long been suggested to us--and is almost never addressed on other web sites. As The Digital Deli evolved, it was our aim to collect, assemble, disseminate--and originate--as many quality resources as two people could, to provide a foundation to new and more advanced Golden Age Radio--or vintage--collectors alike in their pursuit of this fascinating hobby. Note that we are a staff of two, ardent Golden Age Radio preservationists. We are not a cast of thousands, as has been widely intimated. We believe that there is room for another approach to enhancing and promoting the hobby. We categorically disassociate ourselves from the term 'otr' and what that term has come to both mean and demean over the past thirty-seven years.

We were avid fans of the recordings from The Golden Age of Radio long before the convention term, 'otr', was ever invented. Those who coined the terms 'old time radio' or simply, 'otr', for no other reason than commercial gain, have had over thirty-seven years to rehabilitate what they've wrought. That community has chosen, instead, to perpetuate the commercial status quo--and its lucrative profits--rather than use those ensuing thirty-seven years to redeem or rehabilitate the worst of their practices.

No one held guns to their heads as many of them hoarded, pillaged, and adulterated whole collections of vintage recordings they encountered, subsequently diluting those recordings and their value so as to hawk them at annual 'otr conventions'--their time honored euphemism for a commercial swap meet. We make no excuses for distancing ourselves from these groups and these practices. They continue to do what they've always done--misinform, mischaracterize, and adulterate, with little more than offers of tens of thousands of cheap--or free--recordings. By contrast, we continue to do what we've been doing for over forty years now in one form or another--preserving, researching, developing, collecting, assembling, enhancing, and sharing what we've collected with other sincere, conscientious vintage radio collectors and amateur historians.

This section will grow and expand as have the other sections of The Digital Deli Online, but in a more advisory, editorial -- and, we would hope, collaborative and cooperative -- direction so as to lend a new voice to answer many of the frustrations, misinformation, and -- on a more positive note -- a compendium of suggestions, tips, best practices and perhaps even an exchange of philosophies regarding the subject of collecting and preserving Golden Age Radio for the enjoyment of generations to come. Watch the sidebar to the right, as this section grows and expands to address the needs of both novice and seasoned Golden Age Radio collectors.

We feel no obligation to anoint ourselves as 'expert researchers.' We leave that type of childish grandstanding to others. Those who follow our work can conclude whatever they wish from the relative quality of our articles, graphics and recordings. We have no need to overinflate what we do. The results of our research and preservation efforts will stand--or fall--on their own merits. We're not obliged to simply pronounce something 'complete' or 'complete and accurate' when it's not. We know that no single collection or assembly of vintage recordings is ever truly 'complete'--or truly 'accurate.' Indeed, for true fans of the era, that's one of the era's greatest attractions--the eternal quest to fill in the blanks. As with many of Life's most enjoyable endeavors, it's the journey, not the destination, that's the most fulfilling.

The genuine Golden Age--or vintage--Radio Collecting and Preservation community has a great many challenges facing it--many of which absolutely must be addressed within the next 5 years due to the continuing deterioration of the extant original Golden Age Radio source material.

This section will hopefully expand to deal with best practices, ideals, and philosophy behind the growing and exponentially expanding movement to collect, preserve and share the wealth of both public domain and limited license, privately held, Golden Age Radio or vintage recordings, ephemera, technology, and history regarding The Golden Age of Radio. This timeless resource continues to provide immeasurable pleasure, enjoyment, and continuing new insights into the very qualities that make Golden Age Radio timeless in it's broader appeal. To that end, let's begin with an editorial regarding our evolving thoughts on Golden Age Radio's timeless appeal--and on the state of the Golden Age Radio collection hobby in recent years.

Is it simply nostalgia for better times and better domestic and international conditions?

There are passionate opinions on both sides of this question. Here's our take on the pros and cons of cultural nostalgia in general, and more particularly as it pertains directly to Golden Age Radio preservation.

Proponents who argue against cultural nostalgia tend to cite several common and recurring memes:

  1. Nostalgia is unhealthy because it looks backward instead of forward.
  2. Nostalgia is unrealistic because it clings to the past instead of accepting social, political, and technology changes, dealing with them, accepting them, and moving on.
  3. Nostalgia, in general, provides little tangible value, adding nothing of consequence to the realities of the present and future.
  4. Devotees of nostalgia, in general, are simply hoping to 'escape' dealing with the realities of Life in the present by immersing themselves in unrealistic, outmoded, or even unattainable ideals from the past, by simply 'cherry picking' the best of what they either recall or learn about the Past and seizing upon nostalgic notions or ideals which are simply unrealistic as applied to modern, contemporary life.

By contrast, proponents who find and take a measure of comfort -- to widely varying degrees -- from cultural nostalgia tend to cite the following arguments:

  1. One can learn both good and bad from studies of the Past, and hopefully help to perpetuate the good--and continue to be mindful of the bad-- should bad practices of the Past rear their ugly heads in the present or future. This is the embodiment of George Santayana's timeless observation that "Those who fail to learn from the lessons of history are condemned to repeat it".
  2. Common courtesies -- social, political, religious, and philosophical -- tend to ebb and flow through the generations, occasionally skipping a generation or two in the importance they place on Quality of Life and civility--and then inexplicably resurfacing again. An oft-cited example would be the practice of 'dressing' for family meals and engaging in meaningful dialogue between family members at these daily family events.
  3. Cultural tastes tend to be cyclical in nature and cycle with exponential speed as the means and modern variations of communication develop and evolve.
  4. Basic human needs and instincts are inherently timeless and universal by definition. They transcend political, sociological, ethnic, cultural, and philosophical boundaries, irrespective of how persuasively any minor group of society with an agenda would have the majority steer itself politically, socially, religiously or culturally in the powerful minority's direction. Our social and cultural history has shown repeatedly that the motives behind minority movements such as these generally have a self-serving, economic force driving them.
  5. The practice of 'cherry picking' the best of the Past from the worst of the Past can only benefit a society that often loses its way, or at the very least provide a measure of comfort to society -- if only psychological or spiritual in nature. Those who would deride, ridicule, or continue to marginalize the Past tend to beg the question of their motives. Especially when the objects of such derision or marginalization address demonstrably beneficial lessons of many of the social customs, civilities, culture, politics, or philosophies from the Past.

As pertains to the Promotion and Preservation of the ideals that emerged from the Golden Age . . .

There are as many pros and cons in the evolving points of view and philosophy behind collecting and preserving Golden Age Radio as there are in the issues surrounding any other collection or appreciation of nostalgia or ephemera in general. Many divisive issues exist within the hobby of collecting Golden Age Radio recordings and vintage radio ephemera. This polarization is even more ironic, given the overarching message conveyed throughout the entire period of The Golden Age of Radio: a message of hope, resilience, patriotism, sharing, and global brotherhood. Ironic, because those very underlying precepts should work more in favor of unifying the Golden Age Radio collecting community. But as with many other precepts of the 30's through 60's -- when filtered through modern culture -- there's always some self-serving, economic (as contrasted with altruistic) motivation behind most of the current divisions within the hobby.

The elections of 2006 and 2008 were a direct reflection of the backlash, throughout our great nation, to how far we've drifted away from the principles of the Golden Age of Radio era. Some examples follow:

A long-standing tempest in a teapot within the hobby revolves around the various means of distributing or acquiring Golden Age Radio recordings, scripts, ephemera, and memorabilia. One camp takes the position that the only Golden Age Radio recordings worth having, collecting, distributing or enjoying are those still entombed on highly fragile cassettes, reel-to-reel tapes, or original transcription discs. Tape deterioration can occur as a result of chemical reactions between the magnetic oxide, the binder, the lubricant, water vapor in the air, and particles of dirt from the air. Simple increases in temperature tend to act as a catalyst and speed up the deterioration process.

Conversely, another camp seems more concerned with employing more modern preservation technologies like CD-ROM, DVD-ROM and solid state digital preservation of the recordings previously archived and distributed exclusively on tapes or cassettes.

Another subset of polarization within the collecting community centers around the means of digitally encoding existing Golden Age Radio material on digital media. Modern lossy compression technologies allow archivers to record and store as much as 30 to 45 times the amount of audio material on digital media than can be accomplished with traditional analog or early digital encoding technologies. Digital compression technologies such as MPEG-3 compression have as many champions as detractors within the hobby. Both camps tend to be just as passionate in defense of their respective positions.

An even finer line separates proponents and detractors of the sale and distribution of Golden Age Radio recordings. Some take the position that it's merely a 'quantity vs. quality' issue. The growing trends toward total disregard for quality, copyright, or preservation, in favor of a simple 'numbers game' throughout the hobby is also a highly polarizing situation. There are passionate champions on both sides of these issues.

As it happens, a very vocal and passionate minority of collectors in possession of vast holdings of reel-to-reel, cassette, and original electronic transcription media feel--arguably so--that, since they've invested small fortunes in collecting first or second generation source materials, they are fully justified in charging whatever the collecting community will bear. This buttresses their support of the perception that this material is superior to anything recorded on compressed media. And in all fairness, these collectors, with either the benefit of foresight, circumstance, inheritance, or simply the means of wealth sufficient to pay as much as $1500 for a single transcription or set of reels 'back in the day', are most passionate about obtaining a return on their considerable investment. These collectors feel wholly justified in exploiting every means at their disposal to preserve the value of their investment. Going even further, they actively discourage and deride the practice of employing contemporary digital technology to further preserve or distribute these recordings. This segment of the collecting community may represent as much as 15% of the Golden Age Radio community.

The other 85% of the Golden Age Radio collecting community have neither the access, nor resources with which to obtain these limited, increasingly finite, increasingly fragile and rapidly deteriorating first and second generation media. Even if they did have the access to such media--or the wealth necessary to outbid anyone else for it--the means of transferring this older technology media to modern digital storage media is even more prohibitively expensive and increasingly unattainable. One might argue that this is the more pragmatic group of the two. Since the original media is often inaccessible, they can only rely upon the now common practice of acquiring these recordings digitally, either by direct download, podcasts, trading CD's or DVD's, purchasing cassettes of varying quality, or through large scale trading groups, buying groups or clubs.

One could be forgiven the reference to the 15% as the bourgeoisie of the hobby and the 85% as the proletariat of the hobby -- or more simply, the 'haves' and 'have nots'. This has been a common theme throughout human civilization -- moreso throughout The Golden Age of Radio era itself, when the 'haves' and 'have nots' were more in a ratio of 1% to 99% throughout the period. With the systematic attacks on the American middle class of the past thirty years, the 'haves' have far more, and the 'have nots' have no discernible--or practical--way to ever catch up. The solution to this growing imbalance can be discovered in the very precepts espoused throughout the marvelous Golden Age of Radio itself.

Two recent hypocritical and self-deluding components of the hobby have emerged:

  • The utterly and implacably commercialized Wikipedia articles on OTR, guised in the patina of Golden Age Radio, while nakedly promoting all manner of commercial internet interests.
  • The self-appointed 'authority' on vintage radio, The Old Time Radio Researcher's Group, an offshoot of the failed Yahoo OTR Groups infamous for acquiring missing, highly collectible vintage radio episodes through 'buying hubs', then immediately disemminating tens of thousands of copies of them via P2P sharing hubs, MediaMax and the former Streamload.

The impetus for both of these new attacks on Golden Age Radio Preservation are based on a stated credo that 'all OTR should be free and freely available to everyone'. This hypocrisy, in the face of the fact that they pay often thousands of dollars a month acquiring new radio episodes, usually from collectors who specifically warn them not to redistribute the product of their considerable investment; which, of course OTRR immediately does, anyway, via 'hubs', 'distros', archive.org, otr forums, and MediaMax or other P2P sharing resources.

The OTRR's approach is usually the same pitch to each of these vendors: 'Think of the hobby. Our intentions couldn't be more pure". Then, not long after the episodes are paid for and secured, they go out on the distro hubs to thousands of subscribers, who in turn distribute those to thousands more.

This plays very nicely into the completely co-opted Wikipedia OTR articles, each and every one of which have from 2 to 7 commercial links to Wikipedia insiders' commercial websites--again, in direct violation of virtually all of Wikipedia's stated, published proscriptions. The greatest beneficiary of those thousands of links appears to be the otrsite.com commercial website--arguably the most successful, lucrative and largest commercial Old Time Radio website in the world.

Clearly, as the hobby continues to skew more in the direction of greed, short money, and preservation hypocrisy, the result can only be a further departure from genuinely motivated Golden Age Radio preservation and the worldwide community. Each time some group flim-flams another long-time preservationist out of highly prized or rare Golden Age Radio recordings, another source dries up, and another disenchanted preservationist learns--the hard way--that groups such as the OTRR cannot be trusted. But even worse, those same collectors are then less inclined to release any further copies of rare episodes from their collections to anyone--and everyone loses in the process.

There are collectors throughout the world that have as many as 300,000 recodings in their personal archives. Simply given the known episodes in circulation, that means that as much as 20 to 50 percent of rare or unreleased Golden Age Radio material is still in the hands of private collectors. And given the regularity with which those collectors are being burned by hub-trading groups like OTRR, it's just a matter of time before that resource dries up completely for as much as a generation or more. But as we'll repeat again and again throughout this article, we cannot afford to wait even one more generation to expand preservation efforts for this exponentially and irreversibly deteriorating resource.

As our own holdings have grown from about 60,000 recordings in 2001 to over 330,000 recordings now, while having acquuired another 22,700 transcriptions and tape reels of yet-to-be digitally encoded material, we're becoming all the more wary of releasing any of our own newly discovered rare recordings. Of course the word 'rare', is itself a moving target, because as we've already learned, once you 'discover' what you thought was a rare or unknown episode or show, you find that any number of other private collectors have already acquired similar 'lost' episodes but were loath to release or distribute any of them. So they continue to remain 'lost' to all but the cognoscenti of the hobby.

Keeping our eyes on the prize: the inherent iron of disadvantaging the entire collecting community

What made The Golden Age Radio era different in this regard was the passionately democratic [little 'd'] expression of the dynamics between the haves and have-nots of the Golden Age. The Wall Street Panic, The Great Depression, two World Wars, and a Cold War of fear and intimidation, served more to unify, rather than polarize America. As the memories of these previously unifying influences have faded, they've been replaced over the last three decades by an equally passionate belief that it's every man for himself -- both domestically and internationally -- and let God sort it out.

It's the sociological and cultural miracle forever preserved within the estimated 43,000 shows or series' believed to be held in private and public Golden Age Radio collections, that almost never fails to impress both experienced and novice devotees of Golden Age Radio recordings. The scripts, the production values, the messages, the P.S.A.s, and yes even the quaint -- by today's standards -- commercials and promotions reinforce over and over again, at each listening, the immutable fact that for at least 35 years our proud nation was a cohesive, compassionate, passionately patriotic -- and passionately democratic [small 'd'] -- Nation and People.

Herein lies the saddest irony in the continuing divisiveness in the Golden Age Radio collecting community. The very message conveyed in virtually every recording from the era seems entirely lost on a very vocal minority of the collecting community who convey the impression that every effort to democratize or expand the hobby to potentially millions of new listeners, let alone further generations, is a direct threat to the value of their first and second generation holdings. This is by no means a new social or cultural dynamic in America. But then that's to be expected, since by every indication, the vast majority of 'otr' vendors and distributors don't even bother to listen to their 'commodity', as evidenced by the sloppy research and logs, horrible encodes, inaccurate tags, file names, history snippets, and absent or questionable provenances they cite for their collections.

Perhaps that's the cruelest irony of all. The very content that would inform them about the values of the era and value of the recordings of that era never sink in, though they profit obscenely by distributing inferior recordings--and misinformation--in vast numbers to a naive community of new, technically or historically unsophisticated devotees.

This is not new. We've experienced this cultural dynamic during every new technological evolution in American society. There was a period of 20 years during which radios were such a rare commodity that less than 17% of America possessed them. Television was available as early as 1929, but it was, again, another 25 years before television found it's way into the average, middle-class American home. Telephone underwent a similar transition period, as did VCR's, computers, cell phones, and yes, even most major appliances. All of these technological introductions were slow to arrive to the average American household. During every one of these periods, a minority of the population could take great pride, and a measure of comfort, in the knowledge that they possessed something utterly unattainable by the average American citizen.

And so it is with the technology available to us today, as it applies to acquiring, collecting or preserving Golden Age Radio recordings -- indeed, even photographic or print ephemera of the era. Those with either the access to, or means to acquire, first and second generation recordings and ephemera take great pride in possessing something which the average collector may never touch, hear or see--let alone possess.

What's left to the rest of us, are -- in most instances -- the thousands of digital renditions of these recordings, in varying quality and fidelity to the original, first generation source material. For a pragmatist, that remains enough for the moment. The Digital Deli Online currently archives over 332,000 individual recordings in MP3 format, and another 28,000 still to be encoded, cataloged, archived and prepared for inclusion in the publicly available collection. These recordings are encoded in at least 22 kHz sampling format, at a minimum 32 bit compression rate, though our personal preference is 22 kHz - 44.1 kHz sampling and 64 kbps compression.

Herein lies the one of the most passionately contentious issues in the Golden Age Radio collecting community:

"What is the qualitative, audible difference between a 16 bit to 128 bit encoded MP3, as compared to a first generation, analog recording of the same material? Is the difference truly noticeable across the board? It a compelling enough difference to abandon collecting Golden Age Radio altogether, unless it can be acquired and heard on first or second generation media alone?

Let's review the bit-ing. The Devil is in the encoding details.

Here are some practical illustrations, comparing recordings of identical source material:

First a brief illustration of sampling and bit rates.

Sample Rate 1 second 1 minute 1 hour
44,100 samples/second 16 bit
(This is the CD Standard)
l88.2KB 5.3MB 317.5MB
22,050 samples/second 16 bit 44.1KB 2.6MB 158.8MB
16,000 samples/second 16 bit 32.0KB 1.9MB 115.2MB
Fig. 1
Storage requirements at the indicated Sampling/Bitrate (.WAV's)

Take note of the digital storage requirements for "CD-Quality" recordings in Figure 1. You can store about 80 minutes of conventional CD-Quality recordings on a single CD using a .WAV or .PCM file. By contrast, you can record as much as twenty hours of Stereo AM or FM quality recordings on a single CD using MP3 or similar compression.

Fig. 2
A comparison of Bit rates (.MP3 Compression)

Here's a practical comparison of two renditions of the same recorded material, head to head, .WAV versus .MP3:

First, the analog .WAV rendition, recorded at 11 kHz/8 bit:

And for comparison, the same source material recorded as an .MP3:

Listen to both of them several times, as needed, for comparison purposes. The faint background hiss in the .WAV rendition was faithful to the original source tape. Nothing has been altered in either recording. Though the choice of Apple's QuickTime Player for the comparison was arbitrary, you'll note a small artifact at the beginning of the MP3 rendition as the compression algorithm attempted to deal with the light background hiss more apparent in the .WAV rendition. This could just as easily have been removed with Adobe's Audition, Audacity or similar audio editing programs, but I left it in both renditions to more faithfully illustrate the comparison. The .WAV is approximately 215 kilobytes, versus the 74 kilobyte size of the .MP3. If I'd chosen a CD-Quality .WAV file for comparison, the .WAV would have been approximately 800 kilobytes, as compared to the 74 kilobytes of the resulting .MP3.

Here's a perfect example of the absolute worst type of misinformation being disseminated to the Golden Age Radio Community at large:

Typical Misinformation from A Large, Popular 'OTR' FTP Download Site

It's hard to even know where to begin. The only remotely accurate hypothesis in the above refers to the absurd practice of trying to 'up-encode' highly compressed audio recordings. Apart from that, there isn't one word of accuracy or truth in the remainder of this self-serving website owner's deception. Let's simply deal with the most egregious misinformation:

1. The author cites all Golden Age Radio recordings as simply 'spoken word' recordings. This is an understandable mischaracterization since the vast majority of the site's advertised holdings are contemporary, copyright-protected audio books, which he freely steals from whatever sources he finds, while paying no royalties to the copyright holders. It's also readily apparent that the site owner doesn't bother to even listen to any of his site's 'files'. This practice alone speaks volumes about his site's integrity--as well as to any subscriber that continues to support him. As any genuine Golden Age Radio Collector knows all too well, the foley work and music direction throughout the Golden Age of Radio Era were--and remain--some of the most important contributions to the wonderfully absorbing realism and effectiveness of any dramatic productions from The Golden Age of Radio, be they comedies, suspense, thrillers, detective dramas or virtually any other dramatic genre of the era. The site's contention also flies in the face of tens of thousands of variety programs of the era, wherein the spoken word elements of the recordings took a back seat to the preponderance of musical, instrumental and ensemble recordings of the era.

Even more than in the dramatic genres, the audio engineering behind the Variety recordings of the era rely almost completely on the fidelity and richness engineered into the best preserved transcriptions and reels recorded from the era. The more of this recorded material is preserved in higher encodes of these recordings, the better. Reducing any of them to 8 - 32bit -- or lower -- recordings arbitrarily destroys--forever--any possibility restoring fidelity to any such down-sampled renditions of these recordings. Indeed, it's the stated practice of The Digital Deli Online to simply delete any and all recordings (or simply 'files' in the parlance of his site) that we identify as sourced from this site, so as to ensure that we never perpetuate sub-standard 'otr' garbage. Thankfully, he goes to great pains to identify his site's 'files' with equally substandard graphics, file names, and internal tags, so it's relatively easy to select them out for permanent deletion.

This is what Golden Age Radio collectors actually prefer:
64% prefer 64 kbit or greater recordings

2. The author's self-serving claims are designed to appeal to one--and only one--type of Golden Age Radio Collector. This is the archetypal, 'baseball card-collecting' , 'OTR' accumulator who doesn't respect the era to enough to refer to it accurately as The Golden Age of Radio, let alone 'old time radio'. That's too many words. Too much fidelity to the era. To them, they're just 'otr files'--no more, no less. As with all things with this type of self-styled 'collector', cheaper is better. Smaller is better. Less is more--and not in the artistic sense. To this type of 'hoarder', a box full of hundreds of Home Shopping Club jewelry creations is far superior to 5 - 10 true works of a jeweler's finest craft. 'Bling is King', irrespective of it's quality. These 'otr file collectors' are the lowest common denominator in the Golden Age Radio dollector dommunity. Either by simple ignorance, false greed, expediency, or crass commercialism, such 'collectors' are systematically destroying Golden Age Radio preservation and stewardship. Every recording they touch, they degrade. This is not stewardship. Such operators and eBay vendors are the very dregs of the Golden Age Radio collecting community.

3. The author's title reeks of cruel irony; 'The Spoken Word'--something the author clearly seems to have great difficulty in articulating from Sentence #1. But note that the site operator arbitrarily and recklessly down-samples every recording that passes through his inept, careless mitts. That alone speaks volumes. Note also that he claims to do this to 'save' his subscribers' 'download credits'. Absurd. Recordings that pass through any collector's hands , of varying encodes and bit rates, must be treated individually and listened to individually, so as to determine the respective quality, preservability, or restorabilty of any given recording. Transferring a recording from a 1st generation transcription disk or tape reel to any other format demands conscientious stewardship and the utmost care, utilizing the highest quality transfer equipment, audio cleaning tools, and physical care to ensure an accurate transfer of the highest fidelity achievable with current technology. Indeed, it's been our experience in collecting Golden Age BBC recordings, that virtually all BBC collectors record and preserve their holdings in, at the very least, 64bits, and more commonly at 160 bits. Hence, virtually all Golden Age BBC recordings in circulation are almost uniformly of the highest fidelity--even those from the 1940's and 1950's.

4. The author of the 'Spoken Word' fails to note that transcription recording technology was dramatically advanced during the 1940's, and the advent of magnetic tape recordings exponentially increased the fidelity of all recordings that followed. Bing Crosby himself dramatically advanced this technology precisely for these reasons--to obtain the highest fidelity obtainable with the technology of the era.

5. Finally note the 'I have heard that . . .' device the author employs to underscore his 'arguments'. Such prefaces hold the same water as the infamous 'Some say that . . . ' arguments propounded throughout history by propagandists. These are the typical, time-tested techniques of non-attribution employed by all self-serving propagandists. They create and perpetuate misinformation to the uninformed by simple innuendo or twice-removed hearsay, in the hope that their self-serving misinformation will eventually become accepted as fact as long as it's repeated as often as possible.

Herein lies the very epicenter of the current opposing forces in the Golden Age Radio Collecting and Preservation movement. OTR opportunists versus Golden Age Radio Preservationists. Who will eventually prevail? This is simply a reflection of our society. It won't change until society changes--for the better. There's every expectation and hope that we've now turned that corner. Let's hope for the best.

In any case, each and every one of us must take a stand somewhere on that continuum of American principle and tradition. Time and history will judge. But as with all conflict--philosophical, moral, religious, class-based, ethnic, or economic--it's up to the individual to decide how much of his or her personal integrity he or she is willing to compromise to make a life of quality. As with all preservation efforts throughout history, we ignore or discount all generations that precede or follow us at our own peril.

A tempest in a teapot . . .  or foxes in the chicken coup?

Herein lies my contention that this issue is, has been, and continues to be, a tempest in a teapot among those 'collectors' with an agenda having nothing whatsoever to do with the advancement of Golden Age Radio preservation. Many of these are the same naysayers and gainsayers, with as many as several thousand 30 - 50 year old analog reel-to-reel tapes sitting deteriorating in their media closets, as the magnetic oxide upon which this precious material is recorded, simply powders, stretches, or flakes away with each passing year. All the more reason for them to scoff at digitally capturing this material to digital media for the few remaining years before their tapes simply disintegrate beyond recovery? Or should this be a call to embrace preservation of this material via digital media before it's lost forever.

Going even further, as a simply practical matter, how much of this material can most of them hope to transfer from these 'thousands of reels' of first and second generation media on their own? A third of it? Half of it? Let's hope so, for the sake of historical preservation at the very least. But indeed, therein lies the conceit.

The prime motivating factor has less to do with altruistic preservation of this irreplaceable material, and more to do with the fashionable trend toward contemporary greed.

If that's the answer, so be it. Step up and simply admit it. But isn't it just a wee bit disingenuous to continue all this hand-wringing about the destruction of the hobby as we know it, should this rampant movement towards committing these recordings to digital media continue? It strikes me as more than a bit hypocritical and self-serving for the current movers and shakers in the hobby to continue to rail against 'the horror of digital recordings ruining the hobby', while they continue to line their pockets with sponsorships from the biggest commercial .mp3 sellers on the Internet. That may be citizenship in action today, but it's a far cry from the principles and precepts contained within the source material from which they're enriching themselves -- Golden Age Radio preservation's expense.

You'll find thousands of very popular and widely visited sites on the Internet which would have you believe that they promote the preservation and distribution of Golden Age Radio. The dead giveaway is -- with precious few exceptions -- the presence of the initials 'otr', plastered liberally all over the sites and their pages. These sites would have you believe -- or persuade you to accept -- that the initials o.t.r. are widely respected as an acronym for old time radio, and that this is the 'accepted' means of referring to Golden Age Radio or vintage radio. There are nantural exceptions to every rule of thumb, and while I have occasionally come across something of valid historical, genuinely altruistic or preservationist nature on some of these sites, I continue to observe to my lament, that the vast majority of these sites and their content are either self-promoting, self-serving, or nakedly commercial in nature.

Many continue to insist, on one or more of their pages, that digital renditions of Golden Age Radio recordings, or preachments against the validity of any form of lossy compression techniques -- as applied to collecting or preserving Golden Age Radio episodes -- are either audibly inferior simply by nature of the lossy compression algorithms employed to create MPEG3 content, or that ''mp3's are ruining" or in some other way, doing a disservice to the preservation of Golden Age Radio.

See if you can answer this question:

"What is the state-of-the-art technology currently employed almost exclusively in producing virtually all HDTV Broadcast-quality material you all watch on your 40 - 55 inch plasma and LCD HDTV screens?" (Yes, the ones that cost upwards of $5000 these days).


MPEG2, for the most part, with some of the more cutting edge technology of MPEG3.

The next time any of you see one of these pseudo-experts on 'otr' sites bad mouthing .mp3 renditions of Golden Age Radio recordings, you might think to ask one of them how it can be that the most powerful movers and shakers in the HDTV Broadcasting Industry are betting the farm on MPEG2, MPEG3 -- and the soon to arrive MPEG4 -- for their measly 6.1, 7.1, and THX audio, High Definition Audio-Visual presentations on the most expensive, most technologically sophisticated television screens yet devised by mankind.

Perhaps it's a conviction that the 98% monaural or monophonic, scratchy, hissy, poppy, rumbly, first and second generation recordings from The Golden Age of Radio era were far superior to the state of the art content of today? Superior to the THX-quality or Dolby 6.1 quality, 64-channel mixed audio and video tracks of today?

Or is there perhaps another motivation behind the promulgation and perpetuation of these self-serving memes? A self-serving, self-promoting, self-enriching motivation perhaps? I'll leave you todraw your own conclusions. If you're the kind of person that believes only what you hear or see on the news, you'll more than likely continue to believe the first generation otr-promoters' version of the facts about MPEG technology. This is a grand tradition in Radio. Lee Deforest himself, was one of the greatest charlatans and intellectual plagiarists in the history of Radio, and achieved wildly varying successes by perpetuating his own misinformation about early radio technology.

Thanks to a more recent, ten year round of big lies and memes, the rest of the world now perceives America as a nation of liars, so why should we treat the preservation of Golden Age Radio any differently? The short answer is that America, as a Nation and as a People, fought three wars,-- World War I, World War II, and The Cold War -- throughout the Golden Age of Radio Years defending the disenfranchised of The World against the Big Lie. What we've become as a Nation is due to our loss of contact with each other and the rest of the world. The Golden Age Radio Era forced us to remain in contact with each other -- there were no other alternatives. Commercial communications was about money and power then as now, but it was constrained by the simple fact that Radio listeners needed to listen to understand -- and listen intently to understand. Modern, popular message delivery systems require no such attentiveness, and the advertisers, networks, and politicians of today are simply doing what they've always done best: take advantage of a mass audience's ignorance. We see it in the economy, health care, investment, and consumer protection arenas.

Golden Age Radio made us more intellectually curious and in the days when there were tens of thousands of diverse media ownership, an entire nation's intellectual curiosity is what those advertisers, politicians and networks had to contend with -- and it's what kept them as honest as we forced them to be. Today we have, effectively, no more than five primary media conglomerates controlling what we watch, read and hear. There's no more room for intellectual curiosity. Information has become a commodity, the dissemination of which is offered to the highest bidder. The Internet of today is the closest we'll ever come again to the diversity, intellectual freedom, and popular critique that The Golden Age of Radio offered us as a Nation -- and who can predict how long this era will last?

As the Editor of The Digital Deli Online, I believe passionately in the precepts of the era of The Golden Age of Radio.

Sometimes a simple reality check is in order: a pitch for historical accuracy.

It wasn't the shows and episodes that were being sold to the public throughout the entire era of the Golden Age of Radio. It was the commercials, products, and self-promotion of a given network or station that were being sold. And being sold freely over the free airwaves owned lock, stock and barrel by the entire American Public. The shows, episodes, and media upon which they were preserved meant little or nothing to the Networks once a show had run out of steam. And once Television became the darling of the Networks, these priceless recorded media simply rotted, rusted, tarnished or disintegrated in hundreds of network and affiliate storage vaults throughout the country, unprotected or preserved in any way for future generations. That's how important these copyrights were to them--then. That's how important the archived material was to them--then, and that's how important it was to them to preserve any of it--then. They were simply too short-sighted and greedy to anticipate the remarkable resurgence of interest in this material 30-70 years hence.

Given the obvious disdain that the majority of the Networks showed for these recordings, how is it that much of it even managed to be preserved in the first place? Simple. The vast majority of it was either embezzled, stolen, walked away with, or otherwise lifted from their vaults. Some would say [see how that works?] the motivation was to preserve the material by absconding with it -- to protect it. Some would say, since the Networks and originators of the material showed no further interest in it anyway, why not just walk away with it?

OK, if you're like me, you're morally conflicted by this dilemma. On the one hand it was wrong to remove or embezzle this material. On the other hand, were it not for the hundreds of engineers, crafts people, station managers and other employees and technicians at these stations and networks that took--or kept--this material in the first place, what would now be left from the era? It's definitely a moral dilemma; and time has tended to allow a certain patina of justification and respectability to accrue to those efforts. I just happen to be one of those people who tend to keep an historical perspective on such issues.

How ironic that now we have a situation where generations of our ancestors paid and enriched countless sponsors, businesses, radio stations and networks throughout this era. And yet, here we are, 40 to 70 years after 90% of the copyright to any of this intellectual property was either abandoned, scrapped or salvaged by short-sighted Network bean counters, or simply lost to the generations through neglect or abuse. How is it then, that those of us -- any of us -- willing to step forward and attempt to salvage, restore. archive and preserve as much of this material as possible, are the ones being accused of threatening the preservation movement?

Joseph Goebbels was brilliant at promoting 'The Big Lie' or 'meme' through revisionist history to the point of being accepted as commonly accepted truth. Dr. Lee Deforest, the self-proclaimed 'Father of Radio' was nothing more than a charlatan, liar, and plagiarist, bereft of any moral compass whatsoever, and wholly incapable of producing or creating anything original of his own -- successfully -- without stealing from others. So were our own Father Coughlin at one political extreme (the 1930's to 40's), and Senator Joseph R. McCarthy at the other (the 50's).

Those who invent and promulgate the 'Big Lie' invariably share several motivating factors in common:

  1. A powerful political, religious, personal or profit-based incentive
  2. Self-serving motives designed to enrich the smallest number of beneficiaries at the expense of the majority
  3. A pious, arrogant vanity that their ends justify any means to attain them.

Take this classroom film from 1946, for example:

Click Above for:
1946 - 'Despotism' from Encyclopedia Brittanica Films
(25.18 MB)
(QuickTime Plug-in and High-Speed Connection Required.
Embedded videos do not play on all browser/OS configurations.
Download times vary. Approximate download time on a 1.5Mbit T1
is 1 minute, 10 seconds. Or 12 - 15 min on a dial-up)

This is becoming a chillingly disturbing trend -- in many aspects of American Society -- and has recently begun, yet again, to achieve breathtaking gains in politics, network news, radio, and religion. The basic premise? If you're not with 'us' you're either a reactionary or un-American. These labels, or the threat of having them applied to one's self have all too often proven highly effective in silencing the weakest minded or apathetic among the citizenry. Indeed, a small but highly influential 'otr' group has employed that very same divisive, intentionally polarizing tactic to varying success over just the past seven years.

Simply put, it's one thing to offer constructive ideas, thoughts, and efforts toward the common end of a cooperative effort to preserve and archive -- altruistically -- as much of this material as possible. It's quite another thing to continue to attempt to revise history, in an effort to lend a veneer of credibility and justification to the means by which a tiny minority of the Golden Age Radio Collecting community acquired control of as much as 70% of the era's surviving material. The fate of all further attempts to preserve and archive this finite resource for the betterment of all of us -- those who have discovered Golden Age Radio, and those who have yet to discover it for themselves -- should rightly be shared by all of us, and not by a minority of self-promoting, self-serving profiteers.

I'm both a realist and a pragmatist. What's past is past. What was done is done. What's available in circulation today is, in fact, owing to the sticky fingers, ingenuity, and resourcefulness of those hundreds of radio personnel who managed to justify walking off with those thousands of transcriptions and reels that survive. The remaining balance we owe to the selfless, dedicated efforts of the Armed Forces Radio Service and the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, who denatured and preserved some 300,000 to 450,000 recordings from the Golden Age of Radio. When all is said and done we are indebted to them for doing what the Networks didn't have the foresight, morality, or corporate responsibility to do on their own -- save this invaluable legacy from the landfill. To be fair, I'd like to think that, in many of these instances, at least part of their justification was to save these materials from the trash bin for the sake of posterity.

I'm also realistic and pragmatic enough to know that 'trickle down' theories are utterly obscene rubbish. Let's look at the empirical evidence over the past 30 years alone. Nothing -- and I repeat, nothing -- ever 'trickles down' from the 'haves' to the 'have nots'. This may have been a noble concept at the turn of the century, when many of the robber barons were finding religion as a means to assuage their own conscience, but given today's exponentially greater stakes, this concept is total rubbish, plain and simple. Indeed, some proponents of Religion itself -- the uniquely American variety -- has become the greatest proponents of 'trickle down' economics in the history of our culture. The proponents of these biggest of lies have tried to shove these concepts down the world's throat for over 30 years now. 'Trickle down' will never ever happen -- not in our lifetime, and certainly never in our grandchildren's lifetimes. The Social Security Insurance Program itself -- the only successful altruistic legacy that's survived The Golden Age years -- has been threatened to be scrapped by the promulgation of The Big Lie, yet again to the benefit of the few, at the expense of the many. And if those forces had succeeded in privatizing Social Security, where would millions of those recipients be now that the Stock Market, Realty Markets and Commodities Markets have collapsed?

But please, for the good of the Golden Age Radio collecting community, enough already with the posturing, revisionist history, and self-promotion. Those of us who didn't have the good fortune to work in Radio during the Golden Years can only obtain what's available to us today -- and be both grateful, and good stewards to what we can obtain, archive and preserve. Most of us, even if we'd had hands-on access to Golden Age Radio transcription materials wouldn't have felt morally justified in simply walking out the back door with it. But what would be left now if the more morally challenged among us hadn't?

I can wrap my mind around that concept. What I can't wrap my mind around, is the notion that these people feel some 'moral right' to sitting on this irreplaceable material, simply because it's in their possession and is viewed as an their personal assets, rather than the ill-gotten gains they actually were.

There are in fact genuine altruists in the hobby. Hundreds of thousands of them. Let's simply be mindful of these issues whenever we interact with each other in the Golden Age Radio collecting and preservation community. That's the embodiment of the hobby. That's the 'high road'. And it's the embodiment of the ideals and message from these invaluable, irreplaceable recordings. If we can get this message out to the Golden Age Radio community at large, we can undertake a massive, synergistic push to preserve, archive and disseminate thousands more of the episodes and shows we know exist in private hands before they deteriorate beyond recovery -- for the common betterment and preservation of the entire community, not just for the continued enrichment of the few.

Disclaimer: These comments are the observations, opinions, and conclusions of the editor alone, and are not intended to reflect the corporate position or belief of either The Digital Deli Online, or Digital Presence New England, it's officers, management, or any of it's supporters or contributors. They're propounded solely to promote an honest dialogue about both the History and Future of The Golden Age Radio Collecting and Preservation hobby. Comments welcomed.

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