Radio's Lost Treasures

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The jazz world is buzzing about the Savory Collection – a fascinating document of some of the greatest names in 1930s and 40s jazz performing on the radio, where they were free of the constraints of the 3-minute 78-rpm disc and could play the way they wanted.   

Many people have expressed surprise at the range and the scope and the quality of at least some of the less-damaged tapes.  But have you noticed that no one is really expressing surprise that these tapes were even out there?

That’s because William Savory, the audio engineer who recorded all these tapes, was just one of many radio fans who recorded music from broadcasts.  We seem to have a built-in need to document things (and, apparently, a need to think that the things we do now have never been done before).  Well, these tapes are sort of the 1940 equivalent of kids today snapping pictures or taking videos on their cell phones. 

Old tapes of radio performances resurface constantly – though usually just one thing at a time.  Finding a trove of recordings like Savory’s is quite rare.  I did an interview many years ago with an expert on the great but ill-fated and underappreciated cellist Emanuel Feuermann, and she had a tape made off the radio of Feuermann playing with the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra (now the NY Philharmonic) at an outdoor concert in NY.  Well, there weren’t too many possible sources for that tape, and sure enough, after a little digging, it turned out to be a WNYC broadcast. 

So you never know who’s out there somewhere, with a tape deck rolling.  On September 3, 1982, I began my other WNYC program, “New Sounds,” at a time when the station was desperately short of audio tape and was recycling every reel.  So I don’t have a copy of those earliest shows, and since then, I’ve been wondering if someone was out there that night, scratching their head at the strange noises coming from their radio but hitting the record button on their cassette deck anyway.  28 years later, no such tape has emerged.  But hey, you never know… those Savory tapes were lying around for up to 70+ years. 

Do you have a favorite musical “lost treasure”?  Leave a comment