We take great pains to obtain--and provide--the most accurate, up-to-date information we can uncover about the Golden Age Radio activities we support. True enjoyment of Golden Age Radio programs is a matter of taste and degree. We recognize that the vast majority of those who listen to radio programs from The Golden Age enjoy them as nothing more than an occasional novelty. There's another body of listeners that have an interest in one program or one genre of programs from The Golden Age. Then to varying degrees, like the majority of Golden Age Radio fans: they've acquired a collection of their favorite individual programs or genre and identify their interest in Golden Age Radio as a 'hobby'. And finally, there are the relatively smaller body of Golden Age Radio collectors that consider themselves archivists, preservationists, or Radio historians, who approach their interest in Golden Age Radio as either an educational pursuit or an avocation.
There are no finite points of delineation between these arbitrary categories of Golden Age Radio fans. It's a continuum that shifts and expands and contracts depending on several factors to which we can all relate:
- The availability of programs we enjoy.
- The quality of the available programs that we enjoy.
- The amount of time we make available to enjoy our favorite programs or collection.
- The accuracy of the information available regarding our favorite programs.
- External expenses we incur to enjoy our favorite Golden Age Radio programs.
The availability of the programs or genre of programs we enjoy is based on a finite supply of recorded media of varying durability. In all too many instances the recorded media still available is quite fragile. The Golden Age of Radio began with the advent of broad-cast radio signals that--if recorded at all--were recorded onto either 'wax' cylinders (in reality, resin based cylinders, for the most part), or onto early electrical transcription discs--and in later years of broadcast recording, on open reel magnetic tapes.
All of these recorded media are quite fragile to varying degrees. And all of them are susceptible to deterioration and mishandling. There are wildly varying estimates of the existing pool of available media from The Golden Age of Radio. The only estimates we can quote with any certainty are the recordings in the collections of The Library of Congress, The Military, museum archives, university archives and public and private published special collections. The remaining media still available--but not publicly accounted for--reside in the holdings of the thousands of private collectors throughout the world.
How many are there? Estimates for American Radio on recordable media range between 350,000 and 650,000 unique exemplars. The figure could be as high as one million. Great Britain's BBC cites some 370,000 archived, first or second generation holdings in their own archives. We cite the number of believed, first and second generation recordings to underscore a further point below.
The quality of available recordings is yet another continuum. Without specifically addressing the preservation of sound quality, we can all relate to whether a recording from The Golden Age is at least audible. From that point forward in the continuum, listening quality becomes highly subjective. Even a human's age is a determining factor. Many listeners can tolerate the occasional pops, clicks, or skips from marginal electrical transcriptions as long as there's enough of the recording intact to hear a complete, recorded presentation. Audio-cleaning tools available to the modern collector span the range of marginal to exquisite--at a commensurate continuum in cost.
The time that any of us can devote to either a hobby or an avocation is a resource--like any other. Finding, acquiring, archiving, converting and documenting a growing collection of Golden Age Radio recordings requires an efficient budgeting of time--for the hobbyist or avid collector alike. At one extreme, we tend to spend nine to fifteen hours a day, seven days a week to upgrading and maintaining both our archived recordings and our website. For most, a few hours a week is invariably the norm.
Sooner or later, every category of Golden Age Radio collector will express interest in more in-depth information about a favorite recording or performer. We have every right to expect that the resources we employ to find additional information about The Golden Age of Radio are accurate. Or at the least, indicate the level of accuracy we can expect in using that resource. This can be as simple as the file name or internal tag of a digital recording. Or it can be the label affixed to an electrical transcription disc or tape. It can be an online resource we consult, or an authoritative publication on the subject of our inquiries. Whatever the resource, we hope--and expect--that the resource we employ is a reliable, accurate resource.
Nothing is free. We all attach value to our time. We all attach value to our monetary resources. We all attach value to our intelligence. And most of us attach value to our basic human resourcefullness. We attach some degree of value to any and all of these finite resources. If the resources we expend prove to be expended efficiently, we're pleased. If the expenditure of these finite resources result in dissatisfaction with the result we feel wasteful, cheated, or disillusioned, to one degree or another.
THE BALANCING ACT
The point of our preface is that the utmost personal enjoyment of Golden Age Radio--or any hobby or avocation for that matter--is a balancing act. It's a series of trade-offs between available resources, expenditure of resources, and the very subjective quality we attach to the result of these personal efforts. The ultimate conclusion can best be posed by a simple question:
What steps can we take to ensure that we consistently obtain a satisfactory experience from the resources we expend toward collecting and enjoying a Golden Age Radio Collection?
Research: In General Terms
It's not a physical minefield of course, but it nevertheless requires a prudent level of precaution. And that map? The map is research. While some of us tend to be rugged individualists, the vast majority of us would rather take the road more frequently traveled. For the new or seasoned Golden Age Radio collector alike, searching for information about a favorite Golden Age Radio program or performer should most often be a simple matter of going to the nearest public library, or using an Internet search engine.
A brick and mortar library--private or public--can almost always be trusted to provide reliable, well-sourced, dependable research resources on most subjects. Or if you like a cuppa joe or a latte while you do your research, there's always the nearest Barnes & Noble or Borders. But whether you attempt to find current information about Golden Age Radio while getting your caffeine fix, or cold turkey at the library, you won't find a great deal of accurate, timely information at either brick and mortar venue.
With rare few exceptions, most of the information you'll find in researching your favorite Golden Age Radio topic via hold-in-your-hand books will be:
- Not readily available.
- Patently false
With rare few exceptions, most of the published information you'll find on Golden Age Radio topics will be derived from the same, cross-contaminated pool of unreliable, unverified, unprovenanced, anecdotal information you'll find on the Internet. It's that simple. And if you go the Barnes & Noble or Amazon route and pay for 'authoritative' books on Golden Age Radio in general, you'll find it's the same, recycled, anecdotal, cross-contaminated misinformation you've found elsewhere.
The explanation is painfully simple. There has never been a systematic, peer-reviewed, standards-based attempt to research or archive Golden Age Radio programs outside of The Library of Congress and jealously guarded institutional archives. The vast majority of the sources of information employed to produce the $40 - $100 'authoritative' Golden Age Radio books in current circulation are apocryphal, anecdotal, or based on loosely evolved, jealously guarded 'quasi-research' from the old time radio, or 'otr' community that's evolved over the past thirty-five years. The incentive to keep churning out all of this misinformation is equally obvious--it's been very lucrative so far.
The handful of good ole boys that conspired to exploit the highly commercialized 'otr' cottage industry have spent thirty-five years scrambling to grab everything in sight related to Golden Age Radio recordings and related ephemera. But it's those same ham-fisted practices that have caused most of the serious Golden Age Radio preservationists and archivists to pull up their tents and retreat en masse from the mainstream collecting community that's devolved into 'otr'.
And perhaps 'devolved' is too harsh. It depends on what day you might ask us. If it's one of those days where, in researching a new Definitive Radio log or article, we're finding that all previous information about that canon is either utterly anecdotal, or obviously and intentionally false, we're understandably a bit more peeved. If it's one of those days where, with a simple internet search, phone call, email, or newspaper research everything seems to fall right in line, we tend to be more forgiving of the OTR excesses and misinformation of the past.
This may seem quite obvious, but it's our own ears that help us the most. Surprising, since the overwhelming majority of corrections, debunks, misinformation and outright deceptions we've uncovered in the past two years of preparing our own Definitive series of logs, has shown that using our ears places us in the minority of researchers.
We don't wish to harp on it, but having now completed some three-hundred twenty original logs and articles of our own, it's patently obvious that 99% of the errors we've uncovered--and corrected--were due to listener error . . . or absence of listening at all. Now don't get us wrong. We're all for any time-saving technology or practice that can save us the precious resources we devote to our own logging efforts. We simply can't understand side-stepping the 'listening' step. Is that not the most crucial step in logging an aural medium like recordings?
Sources: Who or What to Consult - Or Not Consult
We're often asked who or what we consult to create our Definitive logs and articles. And in fact, one or two vintage Radio research books have popped up in the past few years gathering together a wealth of possible sources for researching vintage Radio programs. Indeed, given an unlimited budget and travel expenses, here's where we'd probably spend the most of our time in an ideal world:
- The Library Of Congress
- The Smithsonian Institute
- The U.C.L.A. Media Library
- The Frederic Ziv respository in Cinncinati, Ohio
- The Thousand Oaks Library in Thousand Oaks, California
- The U.S.C. Media Library
- The AFRS/AFRTS Repository
- The University of Maryland's Library of American Broadcasting
- The Paley Center(s) for Media
- Australia's ScreenSound Archive
- Many of the more prominent Vintage Radio Clubs throughout the world
There are undoubtedly a few more of the more prominent archives we're overlooking, but our own 'short list' above, would accomodate 90% of the programs in which we're likely to take an interest for the forseeable future.
We can also readily cite a short list of sites or resources we'd never--ever--regularly rely upon:
- The Vintage Radio Place logs
- The OTRR
- Vanity-published OTR references
- Wikipedia [with rare few exceptions]
- Commercial sites like OTRCat, Tennessee Bill OTR, Yesterday U.S.A., Calfkiller OTR, and the like.
- OTR Forums [with, again, rare few exceptions]
We also feel compelled to cite the radioGOLDINdex with an honorable mention. We've cited the radioGOLDINdex as a reliable source--for transcription information--in virtually every log and article we've prepared to date. Not only is 90% of its information reliable and forthright, but one of its precepts--like our own--is that all research is fallible and subject to correction. And as best as we can determine, the radioGOLDINdex often updates its tens of thousands of database pages with up to date information and corrections.
An obvious--and fair--question is what sets the sources we trust apart from the sources we don't trust. The answer is fairly obvious--hearsay versus historical, contemporaneous facts. It's been our bitter experience over the past two years to discover that the overwhelming majority of information coming from the OTR community in particular, is simply aprocryphal, hearsay or anecdotal. And again, don't get us wrong. We all enjoy a wildy fanciful OTR yarn now and again--but not when it's taken as fact.
We've also discovered, over our two-year journey of discovery and research, that historical facts are not all that welcomed in the greater OTR Community at large. We've all witnessed the explosion in OTR sites, forums, and blogs popping up over the past three years especially. In that entire time, we've yet to see another fact-based, or research-based site pop up on the internet. The overwhelming majority of those new sites are intent on driving traffic to their respective sites for one commercial purpose or another. They contribute nothing original of their own.
Here's pretty much how it's evolved during that same period:
- 'Site A' pops up offering 10,000 'free OTR' episodes.
- 'Site B' pops up offering 50,000 'free OTR' episodes.
- Not to be outdone, 'Site C' pops up offering 100,000 'free OTR' episodes from someone else's sites, simply embedding links to the other sites' bandwidth or storage repository(ies).
- And, not to be outdone, 'Site D' pops up offering not only all of the above, but all manner of copyright-protected audio books, daily recorded political talk show feeds, comic book archives, and archived films or television programs--all from someone else's BitTorrents. Then, in an added flourish, turns around and begs, demands, or cajoles for donations ranging from between $100 to $5 for varying limits of access to someone else's holdings.
So yes, it's become a minefield out there.
Other Litter on The Landscape
As long as we're venting, allow us a moment more to do some vicarious venting for all dedicated vintage Radio researchers, collectors and historians. Our Top Ten Pet Peeves that have sprung up in just the past three years--in no particular order:
- Non-standard dating of circulating recordings (e.g., anything other than YY-MM-DD, such as 49-12-31--except of course for Brits)
- Stereo-izing the 99.9999999% monaural vintage Radio recordings of the era simply to make larger files.
- Upsampling the overwhelming 90% majority of circulating digital exemplars from their nominal 16/22 and 32/22 orginal encodes to 128/44 encodes simply to make the recordings three to eight times larger.
- A.K.A.s in .mp3 episode labels.
- Padding out circulating recordings with as much as twenty minutes of silence to give the appearance of either the complete recording or a better encode of a recording.
- Downsampling any circulating recording.
- Deceptively mislabeling a circulating recording.
- Manipulating an AFRS or AFRTS recording to make it appear to be a commercially broadcast recording.
- Intermixing AFRS or AFRTS recordings with commercially broadcast recordings, without identifying the denatured exemplars.
- Episode sequencing a long running [read 3 years or more] Radio canon straight through from, for example, 1931 through 1954. As we've amply demonstrated, all such attempts are simply exercises in arrogance. We've yet to log a series running more than three years without uncovering at least 2 to 5 blatant errors or unresolved ambiguities in such sequencing schemes.
We could have made it a Top Twenty--or Fifty--but these ten certainly cover the vast majority of the landscape in OTR's race to the bottom. Among the few more we'd have added would be:
- Citing any of the holdings of The Library of Congress as 'most authoritative,' or even more misleading, 'official.' Let's disabuse this fallacy one once and for all. As the old saying goes, "garbage in, garbage out." The Library of Congress doesn't 'vet' all of the publications, ephemera or recordings it contains. It's simply a national repository. As such, its holdings are only as accurate as what was submitted to it--period. Broadcast logs, engineering logs, and recording annotations within its repositories are only as accurate as the human beings who first wrote them--secretarial transcription pools for the most part. The mere housing of these materials by the Library of Congress does not confer perfection--or authority--on them, Q.E.D.
- Broadcast logs, engineer logs and advertisers' logs are, as well, only as accurate as those who wrote or typed them. We have in our possession over 5,700 such logs ourselves from various sources. It's obvious in researching them that in numerous instances--and for myriad valid reasons--the scripts and logs for a specific production were changed prior to or even at air-time. Those in circulation or in private holdings are only as accurate as the day and time they were last committed to paper.
- And indeed our own reliance upon scripts, and most particularly, newspaper listings and spot ads, has often left us with ambiguous findings and results. Either the promoter of the program sent inaccurate or subsequently revised information to the newspaper agencies or a last minute scheduling problem precluded an update to the newspapers. Spot ads, thus far in any case, have proven to be the most irrefutable source of accuracy, but they're few and far between in many instances. And indeed even a couple of the spot ads we've cited were rendered inaccurate due to the last minute unavailability of a guest star for a production.
- Citing John Dunning's On The Air: An Encyclopedia of Old Time Radio. Published in 1998, Dunning's compendium is a wealth of otherwise readily unavailable information--dated information. That's the important distinction. The intervening thirteen years have seen an explosion in more readily available resources and more up to date findings on hundreds of the programs chronicled in Dunning's book.
And so it goes . . .
We've never shied away from consulting a reliable source of contributing information on a Golden Age Radio program. Those results have been very fruitful. And occasionally those results have posed even more historical questions than they answered. That's the very nature of historical research. There's always yet another clue undiscovered--always.
No less than Norman Corwin himself could not recall--nor retrieve from his prodigious contemporaneous notes--what happened to a script he'd written about time he spent with his dog, Nick, while he penned the 26 By Corwin cycle of Columbia Workshop. This is entirely understandable, especially from a playwright as successful--and productive--as Mr. Corwin. Now 100 years old and still possessed of all of his mental faculties, this simply underscores the fact that there will always remain even more unanswered questions regarding either the chronology or broadcast history of a given Golden Age Radio production--always. We kinda like it like that.
Those authors citing their latest publication as the be-all, end-all for the subject canon are the best examples of the rank arrogance the OTR years have wrought. There is no "be-all, end-all" source of information for any canon from the Golden Age of Radio. To state otherwise is simply disingenuous.
We're often asked why we haven't yet published a printed compendium of our own. While it's a tempting prospect, we're loathe to be part of the problem versus part of the solution. If we ever did commit any of our findings to a printed publication we'd be honor-bound to erect a web page for that publication, so as to cite addenda, corrections, and newly discovered information--in perpetuity--for that publication. That would be the only honorable and intellectually honest way to publish a book on programs from The Golden Age of Radio. Sure, it might cost a couple hundred dollars a year to maintain and update, but given the profits and residuals from a successful printed publication, it would not only pay for itself, but it would remain an intellectually honest research effort.
Would a book repeatedly qualifying and disclaiming the accuracy of its own findings really sell? That's an intentionally rhetorical question. It'd be a novelty to be sure. A vintage Radio publication that forthrightly renounces its own omniscience? Unthinkable, no? But then, an accompanying website for such a publication would be a viable solution to be sure. Something's popped up since--or during--publication? Provide the addenda, corrections, or conjecture for all to retrieve on the website. A rather obvious--and honest--solution, we think. Funny that it hasn't occured to anyone before. Thank goodness our pages are copyright protected!
So until an 'angel' presents him or herself with an offer to front the money for such a publication--or series of publications--we'll continue to proceed the way we have, publishing all we uncover--warts and all--right here on the Internet. Nothing 'sub rosa,' no particular 'agenda'--other than attempting to set vintage Radio history right--and right here before our peers--or 'betters'--to critique, correct, or improve, as the case may be. Who are our 'betters'? Why all of the 'credentialed OTR experts,' naturally. [We'd genuflect at this point, but that's hard to depict on the Internet.]
And who are our peers? The tens of thousands of naturally inquisitive fans of a particular genre or canon of vintage Radio programming and its history. We have no interest whatsoever in joining the ranks of our 'betters'--now or in the future. We're entirely content remaining honest, avid, inquisitive vintage Radio fans.