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Dead medium: The Aluminum Transcription Disk
From: paul@harpers.org (Paul Tough), disay@well.com (David Isay)
Source(s): David Isay, Sound Portraits Productions, Inc.

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

From: paul@harpers.org disay@well.com
To:

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

was thrilled.

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

Dayenu.

"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

have?"

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

day.

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.

David Isay
disay@well.com
Sound Portraits Productions, Inc.
230 East 12th St., Suite 9-H
New York, NY 10003
(212) 353-2548