Hey there, Bruce. I received this press release (with a
cassette tape) in the mail yesterday, and thought
immediately of the list. The dead medium is the 16"
aluminum Transcription Disk, but as you'll see, the story
is a much about a dead cultural medium as a dead
technological one.Date: Tue, 18 Jun 1996 07:48:44 -0700
Subject: Re: hey
ON THE AIR: YIDDISH RADIO 1925-1955
A decade ago, ethnomusicologist Henry Sapoznik (credited
with sparking the Klezmer music revival in the United
states) tripped over a pile of 16" aluminum disks in a
musty storage room in New York City. On the worn-away
labels he could make out some writing: WEVD... WBNX...
"Yiddish Melodies in Swing".. "Stuhmer's Pumpernickel
Program"... "Bei Tate Memes Tish" ("Round the Family
Table")..."Life is Funny with Harry Hirschfield, Sponsored
by Edelstein's Tuxedo Brand Cheese"... In all, more than
100 discs. He paid $30 for the collection. The seller
Sapoznik tracked down an old Transcription Disc
turntable and sat down to listen to his find. He put on
the first disc. A clear, strong voice announced: "From
atop the Loews State Theater Building, the B. Manischewitz
Company, worlds largest matzo bakers, happily present
Yiddish Melodies in Swing..."
Fanfare. Drum rolls. Clarinets begin to swing.
Two announcers continued:
"They do it to Eli Melekh!"
"They do it to Reb Dovidl!"
"They even do it to Yidl Mitn Fidl!"
"Who does what to which?"
"Yiddish Swing takes old Yiddish folk songs and
finds the groove for them in merry modern rhythms.... The
B. Manischewitz Company proudly presents Sam Medoff with
the Yiddish Swing Orchestra... Hit it, maestro..." And the
band launched into a raucous, swinging rendition of
"It was simply unbelievable. Unlike anything I'd
ever heard," remembers Sapoznik. "I felt like I was being
transported back in time to this real living moment in
history == it was unreal. I was transfixed."
He was also hooked. Sapoznik has spent the past
eight years searching for transcription discs of Yiddish
radio shows [a transcription disc is the single 'air
check' of a program used for archival purposes before the
era of tape]. He's combed attics, flea markets == even
dumpsters == in an attempt to rescue and preserve these
remnants of Yiddish radio. "You have to remember, these
are one-of-a-kind recordings," explains Sapoznik. "So much
was so close to being lost forever. What choice did I
Over the years, Sapoznik has amassed the largest
(and only) collection of Yiddish radio in the world ==
more than 500 hours of material. Rich, wonderful and
irreplaceable material from this critical and tumultuous
era in American Jewish history.
In its heyday in the 1930s, Yiddish radio flourished
across America. Thirty stations in New York alone aired
Jewish programming: advice shows, variety shows, man-on-
the-street-interviews, news programs, music and game shows
in both Yiddish and English. The programs in this
collection afford us a snap-shot of American Jewish life
in the 1930s and 40s == the collision of Yiddish and
American cultures, the dawning reality of the genocide
occurring across the ocean, the day-to-day lives of
immigrants struggling to make it in a new land.
The radio rescued in the Sapoznik collection exists
by pure chance == aluminum disks that survived WWII scrap
metal drives and the grinding gauntlet of time. What's
been rescued is random. There are more than five hours of
DER YIDISHER FILOSOF ("THE JEWISH PHILOSOPHER") from the
tiny Brooklyn station WFAB, and only 2 minutes of WEVD's
THE FORWARD HOUR, the most important and popular Yiddish
radio program ever. But what serendipity has preserved is
magical == one-of-a-kind documentary evidence of the
explosive and fertile collision of Yiddish and American
culture in the 1930s == the sparks of which, in books
movies and music, continue to rain down upon us to this
Listen to ON THE AIR and eavesdrop on this singular
moment in American Jewish history.
Funding is requested for the production of ON THE AIR
== 2 half-hour specials for broadcast on National Public
Radio in 1997 [this undertaking will include a major oral
history project involving veterans of Yiddish radio]
produced by Peabody Award-winner David Isay and Henry
Sapoznik. Funding is also requested for the preservation,
storage and cataloging of the Sapoznik collection.
Sound Portraits Productions, Inc.
230 East 12th St., Suite 9-H
New York, NY 10003