The Peggy Lee Bio-Discography And Videography:
The Early History Of Radio Transcriptions & The World Transcription Service

by Iván Santiago Mercado

Page generated on Dec 22, 2017


I. Scope And Contents

An offshoot of this discography's World transcription sessions, the present page offers information on the World Broadcasting System, and on the  radio transcription business in general.  The page grew out of pure curiosity of my part, which led me to conduct a fair amount of research on both topics.  This is, in essence, a condensed history of the transcription business, within which the World Program Service has been singled out as a case model (or, more accurately, a model case).  For commentary more directly connected to Peggy Lee's own transcriptions, consult the three sessionographical pages that cover her forays into the ET realm:  MacGregor, Capitol and, of course, World.

Currently under construction, only selected sections of this page are available for viewing. The page is expected to be fully available before the end of 2017.


II. Transcription Discs: The Basics

An electrical transcription (aka ET) is an audio disc made exclusively for broadcasting on radio or television.  Though ET discs remained in currency until the advent of the digital era, their heyday was circumscribed to the golden era of radio (roughly, from the beginning of the 1930s to the end of the 1940s).  

Known as transcription services, the companies which produced ET discs sent them them out to radio stations across the United States. The stations paid a subscription fee which gave them the right to receive and play new transcription discs, generally on a monthly or weekly basis.  Once the stipulated period of airplay had elapsed, the discs were expected to be either destroyed or sent back to the ET company.  Any commercial (i.e., retail) sale of ETs was prohibited.  

Conversely, the airplay of commercial records was generally forbidden during the golden age of radio. Before the advent of rock 'n' roll and the cult of the disc jockeys in the 1950s, radio and retail saw themselves as competing antagonists. Fearing that it would deter sales, commercial labels did not want their singles and albums to be played on the radio.  Rules which forbade airplay (except when consent was granted) were put in place. 

As a result, the amount of commercial retail discs played on the radio stations was minimal during the 1930s and 1940s.  Most of the popular musical selections on the dial at that time were instead captured live in concert, sung/played afresh for a radio show or, otherwise, sourced from a transcription disc.  

(However, in the mid-1940s, the newly emerging Capitol Records seems to have played a prominent role in gradually changing this model.  The label established a symbiotic, mutually beneficial relationship with Hollywood disc jockeys who played and thus promoted the label's records on their shows.  Still:  before the 1950s, Capitol appears to have been the exception to the rule, at least where mainstream radio was concerned.) 

To sum up:  purpose (radio airplay) and setup (i.e., syndication) distinguished transcriptions from other discs, such as LPs, 45 and 78 platters, all of which were intended for commercial retail.  Transcriptions' other possible distinguishing features, such as disc size, are less definitive when it comes to distinguishing these discs from others. For instance, a transcription cannot be differentiated from any other electrical disc merely on the ground of the speed at which they played. The reason:  most transcription companies opted for 33.3 rpm, thereby sharing such a preference with retail labels whose LPs also played at that speed.  

Physical appearance is another unreliable trait.  Just as with 78s, the material used for ETs was generally lacquer or shellac, with a significant shift to vinyl only after the post-golden era of radio. As for size, it is true that many ETs can be distinguished from LPs on that basis: the former are often 16 inches, the latter 12" in diameter.  Nevertheless, not all transcriptions discs had that diameter.  Even during their golden era, some were of the same size as LPs, and they would increasingly shift to a 12" diameter from the 1950s onwards. 

Finally, the name of the releasing company is not a fully distinctive factor, either.  While it is true that many ET catalogues were produced by specialized transcription companies, it is equally true that retail labels such as RCA and Capitol set up their own branches as well.

Having just offered a general description of the physical objects and their usage, I would like to present next an overview of their early history and rise in popularity. Following that overview, we will concentrate on one sample case:  the World Transcription Service, chosen because of its relevance to this Peggy Lee bio-discography, and because it easily ranks as one of the most successful ET companies ever in existence.


III. Pre-World: The Birth And Essence Of The Radio Transcription

The radio transcription business was borne out of the needs and demands of local radio stations.  The next paragraphs will offer a basic overview of the environment into which transcription companies eventually found a niche.

Back when listening to the radio airwaves was a brand new form of household entertainment (i.e., the late 1920s and early 1930s), stations across the United States primarily filled their daily schedule with informative programming, including news, panel discussions, and even academic lectures.  (This primordial bent toward information is not surprising.  Newspaper impresarios were among the first to venture into the radio business.  They did so partly out of concern and expectation that radio transmission would render newspaper reading obsolete. Universities and municipal entities were also among the earliest station operators.)  

Besides the local stations, there were also two non-local providers of radio programming.  I am referring to the networks NBC and CBS, which were indeed already in existence at this early time.  NBC was then co-owed by a trio manufacturers, the main being General Electric, then its subsidiary RCA, and last, Westinghouse. CBS had been set up by a talent agent, but almost immediately acquired by the manufacturer of Columbia Records, the Columbia Phonograph Company. Their respective program schedules consisted of both information and entertainment, all of it transmitted live.

Local stations could gain access to the networks' programming by becoming affiliated to them, which naturally meant the drafting of a contract, and the payment of fees.  Offering comedy, drama, mystery, and variety shows, the quality of NBC's and CBS's entertainment was of a scale that most local stations could not yet financially or creatively reproduce on their own.  (Naturally, the majors had a greater flow of cash, and greater connections.  By the early 1930s, both networks had already attracted the interest of the major motion picture companies, which became main investors.  Comedians, singers and other entertainers of note were signed to exclusive short-term contracts with either network.)

As they gradually increased their time in the air to up to 24 hours per day, local networks found themselves in need of additional programming.  Even stations which were affiliated to the national networks faced this need, because NBC and CBS themselves did not yet have full-day programming.  

Such was the void that transcription companies set out to fill.  To the all-live programming produced by both local and networks, transcription services offered a convenient alternative:  pre-recorded programming, made available to local stations across the nation on a relatively cheap rate.  The transcription companies produced the programs, and took care of production costs. Meanwhile, and as already mentioned, interested radio stations committed to a subscription plan, which involved paying a fee for the right to receive their choice of programs. Episodes from the chosen shows were sent on a weekly, monthly or annual plan.  Syndicated radio was thus born.

In addition to competitive pricing, convenience and flexibility were the greatest incentives.  Since they were transmitted live, the programs supplied by NBC and CBS could be scheduled only once, at the time on which the networks transmitted them.  Meanwhile, transcription services offered pre-recorded programming, sent out to local radio stations in the form of discs.  Within a pre-stipulated time period (typically a month), the stations enjoyed the freedom and advantage of scheduling (or even re-playing) the discs to which they had subscribed on any day and time of their choice.

The matter of sponsorship, or lack thereof, also provided an incentive.  In these early years, CBS and NBC were making some taxing impositions on their affiliates.  An affiliated local station was expected to find local sponsors for the networks' programs, or else, the station itself would have to pay fees for locally running the network's show on a "sustained" basis.  (That state of affairs would change for the better in years to come, as individual advertisers became more actively involved in the production and sponsorship of radio programming.  But, in these early years, the networks' impositions must have been onerous for affiliates.)  

Sponsorship was not, on the other hand, a significant factor in the early world of transcription programming.  Since they worked on a syndicated model or "subscription-and-fee" plan, ET companies had no reason to make the recruitment of sponsors a demand from its subscribers. What's more, savvy ET marketers willingly and actively helped radio stations find sponsors, thereby increasing the appeal of the ET business model. (Such brand of savvy was notably cultivated by the owner of the World Transcription Service, who will be a subject of discussion later, below.)


IV. Amos 'n' Andy: Paving The Road To Syndication

Recording, the technique or strategy on which ET companies depended, had been available to the world of radio since the first half of the 1920s.  According to Old-Time Radio expert Michael Biel, some broadcasts were being recorded to disc as early as 1923.  In 1927, the popularity of a sitcom named Sam 'n' Henry (broadcast at Chicago's WGN station) compelled its main actors to ask for the program to be recorded on 78-rpm discs, so that discs could be distributed and played at other stations.  But WGN did not acknowledge the actors' request, apparently failing to see any significant advantage in the practice, or perhaps unwilling to allow performers to dictate the station's moves. Refusal led the two actors (Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll) to leave WGN and sign with the more accommodating competition, WMAQ, whose owner (The Chicago Daily News). WMAQ did grant the actors' demand for their new sitcom to be recorded to 78-rpm disc right from its first episode at the station, on March 19, 1928.  

The name of that pioneering sitcom was Amos 'n' Andy. Probably to WMAQ's elation and WGN's chagrin, Gosden and Correll's request proved to be a very felicitous one, financially benefitting everybody involved. Syndication made Amos 'n' Andy hugely popular, not to say anything of trendsetting. In a short period, the show was regularly being distribution on 78-rpm disc over 70 other radio stations (according to Old-Time radio expert, Elizabeth McLeod).  Thus, thanks in no small to its syndication, Amos 'n' Andy became a nationally popular show.

Paradoxically, the popularity of Amos 'n' Andy indirectly led to the end of its syndication in the second half of 1929. NBC bought the show and promptly terminated the practice of recording it on 78-rpm disc. The networks were not yet amenable to the practice.  Until the war years, all the major networks but Mutual remained generally oblivious or wary of pre-recording practices.  (Mutual embraced it as a strategy right from its foundation in 1934, and continued to bask in it after 1936, when it expanded its geographical reach from the East and mid-US to the West.  As for the other two networks, it was only from the post-war years onwards that, as the aforementioned Elizabeth McLeod has pointed out, we heard an increasing number of their shows opening or closing with the acknowledgment that they were "electrically transcribed for release.")

The nationwide popularity of Amos 'n' Andy also led to the creation of a modus operandi that would characterize Old-Time Radio until the advent of tape. After NBC acquired the show, the network rescheduled it from 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. This change of schedule caused an outcry amidst West Coast listeners, for whom it meant that the show would be airing at 4:00 p.m., when they were at work or busy with other activities which they could not postpone. Once again, Correll and Gosden were the ones who came up with a novel strategy that solved the problem: after performing the episode at 7:00 p.m., they and the show's crew stayed until (or came back at) 11:00 p.m. to re-perform the episode. That second performance was the one that West Coast listeners heard at 7:00 p.m. PST, through the courtesy of a transcontinental wire that linked the East Coast NBC headquarter station with the affiliate West Coast stations. Amos 'n' Andy thus became the very first of the hundreds of shows that the networks produced and broadcasted twice a day during radio's golden age, once for East Coast and once for West Coast audiences.

It is the pre-NBC days of Amos 'n' Andy that are of primary interest to the present writeup, however. Before the network's takeover, the resounding success of the situational comedy naturally caused the radio industry to pay close attention, and to imitate the elements or proceedings that had put it such advantageous position. Imitation extended not only to plots and character but also the business strategies which had led to its popularity. Hence, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, many another radio show turned to syndication on 78-rpm disc as well.  Even more importantly for our discussion, a new type of company, specializing in producing their own syndicated programming, was born.


V. The National Radio Advertising Company

At the Discography Of American Historical Recordings, NRAC is identified at the very first company to dedicate itself to syndication.  Historian and discographer Ross Laird describes this National Radio Advertising Company as an agency co-founded in 1927 by former journalist Raymond Soat, along with advertiser Milo T. Gates.  (Though founded in Omaha, Nebraska, its headquarters would be built in Newton, Iowa.)  

Maytag, maker of kitchen appliances (at this point in time, mostly washing machines), was not only NRAC's first client but also the catalyst for the idea.  The manufacturer was on an upward trajectory, experiencing major growth, financial profit, and expansion even into the export field. Maytag also had happened to commission and sponsor a well-regarded local radio program. Seeing how the show had succeeded at finding an appreciative audience , Maytag only regretted the fact the such a program was confined to the Chicago area.  

(The consulted sources do not identify Maytag's program by name. Judging from references about its "music and entertainment," it could have been an entertainment variety show, featuring both musical acts and actors performing dramatizations.  We do know that it ran daily, and that it primarily used talent recruited from the Chicago and New York areas. In any case, this show's relevance for the present write-up is minimal: there were no known attempts at transcribing it. For that reason, further commentary about the show would fall outside of this essay's purview.)

Maytag simply wanted its radio sponsorship to be heard beyond the Chicago airwaves.  To that end, NARC and the manufacturer came up with the plan of creating, producing an pre-recording half-an-hour programs which would include Maytag announcements, and which would be offered for syndication to key stations across the nation.  

Maytag's very first pre-recorded transcription disc was sent out to station KDKA (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) on December 18, 1928 and, around the same time, or soon thereafter, to its KYW branch (which was located in Chicago, back then). Commentary about the whole enterprise was printed on the January 13, 1929 edition, The Pittsburgh Press:  "Radio audiences in all sections of the country are getting new thrills due to the introduction of an entirely new type of radio broadcasting by the Maytag Co. ... The introductory programs broadcast recently from KDKA, and KYW ... were successfully presented and enthusiastically received.  The new type of radio broadcasting ... is known as the So-A-Tonic process, and is exclusively controlled by National Radio Advertising, Inc., of Chicago.  The new process permits the assembling of talent in the largest cities, where a transcription is made by electrical reproduction and transported to the various stations elected to broadcast the programs ... over 50 of the principal stations throughout the United States and Canada.  This constitutes the largest independent radio schedule in the world ..." 

The 1929 article adds that "[t]he initial broadcast was a dramatization of The Yellow Streak, a thrilling story written exclusively for the [transcription] program by Courtney Riley Cooper, nationally known writer of circus stories.  A circus band furnishes the musical background.  The second [transcribed] program dramatized The Kiss, a story with collegiate atmosphere and a distinctive musical setting, written by Pat Barnes, popular radio announcer.  Barnes also directed the production of his story and acted a prominent part in the play."     

Further details about The Yellow Streak are supplied in correspondence sent out by the aforementioned NRAC co-founder, Raymond Soat, in August of 1928.  At that early stage, Soat referred to it as a test program.  His cast list of characters indeed points to a circus atmosphere. the inclusion of a revolver among the props certainly suggest that this was primarily a drama. Soat's list of props also includes one musical instrument, an organ, whose specified purpose is to evoke a merry-go-round effect.  On October 4 and 5 of 1928, the program was successfully recorded on transcription disc at Brunswick's Chicago recording studios.  As already mentioned, it made its debut over the airwaves on December 18, 1928, at KDKA.

In the two or three months that preceded the airing of The Yellow Streak, a general interest in transcription recording was already becoming evident. In one of his letters from October of 1928, Soat states that he already has three advertisers lined up for the sponsorship of transcription shows during the remainder of the 1928-1929 season. Soat's letters also refer to Victor's keen interest on recording for syndication on transcription disc. The impresario's writings intimate that future arrangements with Victor are likely.

 In the end, though, his advertisement agency stuck with Brunswick.  NRAC's transcribed programming continued to be recorded at Chicago's so-called Brunswick Laboratories.  These early, primeval transcription discs from NRAC and Brunswick measured 12 inches in diameter, were made of shellac, and ran at 78 revolutions per minute.   All prospective programs were apparently set to offer weekly (not daily) episodes, and advertisers were generally expected to pay for both talent and production costs.

NRAC and Brunswick operated on an accelerated schedule -- once a week at a minimum. Within a month and a half, before the year was over, Soat counted with over a handful of additional transcribed programs (The Kiss, My Boy, The Golden Wedding Anniversary, Ham And ..., Daddy's Return, Memories Of A Bachelor).  The Kiss was the earliest of those, recorded on November 14 & 15 of 1928. Next would be the the very first music-centered program, to be discussed below.

And so on. NRAC's steady production and presumable success with its series of transcribed programs culminated with its incorporation (or absorption) into Brunswick in 1930.


VI. Sunny Meadows

Sunny Meadows was the name of the aforementioned  all-music transcribed show, the first of its kind.  It was named after its sponsor, the Meadows Manufacturing Company, known for its washing machines.  

Ray Miller And His Orchestra were the stars.  A Brunswick artist, Miller was based in Chicago. He had been spending the second half of 1928 playing in town (e.g., at that city's Sherman Hotel, in early October).  A female vocalist named Mary Williams was part of the ensemble, and there was one or more male vocalists as well (e.g., Bob Nolan).  The selections were primarily songs that nowadays are known as either jazz standards or big band ditties -- "Royal Garden Blues," "I Ain't Got Nobody," "You're The Cream In My Coffee," etc.  

The initial episode was recorded on December 14, 1928. Ensuing episodes of Sunny Meadows would be committed to record through January (5, 12, 18, 25, 28), with the final installment being waxed on February 8 of 1929. Of course, Brunswick proceeded to transcribe other music shows soon after this first one.  They would feature not only big band and jazz but also classical music.


VII. The Rise Of The Transcription Business

The "syndicated transcription" model enjoyed prompt and lasting success during the golden age of radio. Within the next paragraphs, several indicators of such success will be discussed in succession.

An obvious barometer of success was the emergence of several radio transcription companies during the immediate years after the foundation of NRAC, and the debut of The Yellow Streak on the airwaves.  To wit: MacGregor & Imgram (1929; reconfigured as MacGregor & Sollie around 1932; becoming simply MacGregor in the late 1930s, when it added music to its programming of scripted fiction; owned by Chick MacGregor), Langlois & Wentworth (1933; aka Lang-Worth; New-York-based, focusing on Public Domain songs; owned by Cyril Langlois and Ralph Wentworth), Standard (1934; also focusing on Public Domain songs,; owned by KFWB-LA manager Jerry King; eventually turning into a RCA subsidiary), Associated (1935; a branch of Muzak), Davis & Schwegler (1938, Los Angeles-based; formerly a printing firm; focusing on Public Domain songs; said to be out of business by 1940).

A vast array of musical talent recorded for these services at one point or another. For instance, Lang-Worth ET discs featured artists such as Count Basie, Rosemary Clooney, Woody Herman, Lena Horne, Gene Krupa, Jimmy Lunceford, The Mills Brothers, Patti Page, Fats Waller, Fran Warren, and dozens more. Standard boasted performances from the likes of Doris Day, Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Frankie Laine, Red Norvo, The Les Paul Trio, Boyd Raeburn, the Starlighters, Kay Starr, Art Tatum, Jack Teagarden, Martha Tilton, and more. Associated counted with work from Mindy Carson, The Charioteers, Rosemary Clooney, Vic Damone, Eddy Howard, Dick Jurgens, Evelyn Knight, Andre Kostelanetz, Guy Mitchell, et cetera. Even the short-lived Davis & Schwegler managed to nab an act that would become famous in the years following the company's demise, the Nat King Cole Trio.

Then there was the major network that sought to partake of the bounty. NBC created its own ET sub-company, NBC Thesaurus, in 1934. (A minor, partially off-topic clarification is in order. At some point, perhaps not until 1938 or 1939, NBC began to release its Thesaurus transcription programs on discs that RCA Victor manufactured and named Orthacoustic. As a result, the terms Thesaurus and Orthacoustic became intertwined, and often used interchangeably.)

While still in its early years, the transcription model was so embraced that it even gave rise to a brand new radio network.  Offering primarily syndicated programming, Mutual emerged in 1934 as competition for the corporate-owned radio networks (NBC and CBS).  The new network was owned by a coop, consisting of independent radio stations from Chicago, Detroit, New York, and Cincinnati.  Despite the competitive challenges posed by the other, more solvent networks, Mutual remained in place throughout the golden age of radio.  It was not until its sale to General Tire in 1952 that it ceased to be a coop.  Perennially relied on transcription programming and perceived as something of an independent conglomerate, it consistently counted with more affiliates that CBS, NBC, and latecomer ABC.

The success of the transcription business model can also be gleaned from the concern that it raised in the headquarters of the American Federation Of Musicians. Around 1938, AFM's James Caesar Petrillo objected to the model on the grounds that too many local radio stations (including those affiliated to CBS and NBC) were using music transcriptions as substitutes for live musicians, thereby depriving the latter of employment. To appease the infamously combative union leader, most radio stations agreed to keep a staff orchestra under hire. Five years later, Petrillo's persistent displeasure on this matter (and on a parallel matter pertaining to commercial records) would lead to AFM's first nationwide recording ban.

Further indication of the transcription model's success can be found in a late 1930s attempt at imitation.  Paradoxically, the prospective imitators were the commercial record labels, which had hitherto perceived the radio airwaves as a competing enemy, to whom they had forbidden any playing of retail product without express permission. Nonetheless, the persistent thriving of transcription music over the airwaves eventually led to an obvious realization:  there was potential for retail to make money on the radio. 

Hence the retail music industry finally told radio stations that the playing of commercial recordings would be allowed ... for a fee. Unlike transcription services, however, record labels thought that the quality of their product merited exorbitant price tags. According to radio historian Jim Ramsburg, the labels' pricing ranged from $100 to $300 a month. Meanwhile, the asking monthly fee from transcription services averaged $175 monthly (in the late 1940s; probably far less in the late 1930s). Not surprisingly, the record labels found few enthusiastic takers, and their inflated prices only served to reaffirm the hold that ET services were enjoying over local radio stations. 

Radio expert Jim Ramsburg offers several telling statistics, all of them further evincing the hold of the transcription business over the world of local radio. The combined annual revenue of transcription firms was about $4 million in 1938, when the total number of existent companies remained within the quarter mark. By 1940, 700 stations were deemed to subscribe, resulting in a combined revenue of $10 million for the transcription services. In 1942, a survey conducted by the FCC estimated that that 55% of the music heard on stations affiliated to the networks was transcribed (80% for unaffiliated stations). Over the war years, the number of subscribers would continue to dramatically increase, with a total of 150 stations under contract to Associated, 250 to Lang-Worth, another 250 to RCA Thesaurus, 400 to Standard, and 338 to a company that I have not yet mentioned (World).

New transcription companies had also continued to pop up. Arriving in 1941, Keystone specialized in recording network programming for areas not wired to receive it from the networks. The company was not only a creator but also a reissuer of transcription discs, as it had bought and put to use the Davis & Schwegler catalogue. 

Joining the act as well were the song publishing firms and several services which focused on specific fields or genres.  In the 1940s, BMI and SESAC creating ET subsidiaries for the purpose of distributing, through transcription disc, the song catalogues of their affiliate publishers. Within the early and mid-years of this decade, there were also services specializing in country music (e.g., Teleways), mystery dramas and enactments of short fiction works (e.g., Mayfair), etc. Further down the line, the transcription business saw the relatively late arrival of Capitol (1945), BBC's London Transcription Service (ca. 1949) and, boasting not only a radio but also a TV division, Guild (ca. 1954).


VIII. The Fall Of The Transcription Business

Unfortunately for most transcription services, their twenty-year period of comfort came to a halt around 1950.  Among the various reasons for their decline was the emergence of a highly promoted, radio-friendly record format (the 45-rpm single), and the continuous push and pull from a powerful enemy (Petrillo).

In earlier years, CBS and NBC had been less than thrilled with the proliferation of this competing business model.  Those major networks had set out to put the transcription service business to pasture by charging them with the crime of low audio fidelity. Transcription discs -- CBS and NBC would "candidly" have listeners across the nation believe -- suffered from awfully poor sound quality. In actuality, the networks' own transmissions seem to have been far guiltier of this charge. Be that as it may, that tactic made no more than a minimal dent on the competition, and eventually the networks ended up tolerating, accepting, and even joining the model.

The real enemy of transcription services was the music union -- or rather, its leader. As previously intimated, the AFM had been carrying out a long-term, concerted effort to sink the transcription business.  Union leader James Caesar Petrillo believed that transcription libraries had chronically deprived musicians from holding gigs at radio stations. (He reasoned that, if ET discs were not readily available, the stations would hire more musicians to supply background music and musical cues.)

Petrillo tried to wound ET companies where it would hurt most:  in their coffers. Transcription sessions were subject to the highest fees from the American Federation Of Musicians:  $54 for the session leader and $27 for each musician, hourly.  In comparison, AFM's charges for commercial labels were $41.75 per man for three hours.   

Besides such punishing charges from the AFM union, ET companies were also facing increasingly high fees from various collectors -- mainly, music publishing agencies.  As stated by the author of an article published on the October 25, 1952 issue of Billboard, "[i]t is well known that some transcription firms feel the old levy of $15 per tune per year (or whatever the traffic will bear) is too high a fee, particularly in these days of TV and phono disk competition. They want a cheaper rate. Some argue that there is no legal basis for the old fee, that the royalty should be 2 cents per disk, as is the case with records ... One transcription exec stated that publisher royalties are the second biggest expense in the operation of old-line transcription library firms." (The top one was the hiring of AFM musicians, as already mentioned, along with further costs inherent to any recording session.)

Staying financially solvent was thereby becoming something of an uphill battle for transcription services. As the 1940s moved toward its closure, the number of scheduled ET sessions dwindled across the board, and by the mid-1950s, the transcription model seemed to be on an inexorable path toward extinction.
 
Rightly or otherwise, Capitol has been blamed for having carved or initiated that path.  According to Ken Nelson, head of the Capitol Transcription Service from August 1948 onwards:  "Capitol put transcriptions out of business.  They started to give away promotion records, started to send them to record stations.  [Capitol] had recorded a song on transcription called Twelfth Street Rag with Pee Wee Hunt.  The demand for it as a record was tremendous.  There weren't any records [only transcriptions were available].  So they [Capitol] decided to put out a record and give them away [to radio stations, for promotional purposes] ...  So record labels started to give out promotion records.  The radio stations said, What the hell?  We're getting these records for free,  Why should we pay for transcriptions?"  The events in question would have been put into motion around May of 1948, when Capitol released Hunt's version of "Twelfth Street Rag."  The record became the #1 hit of the year and Capitol's top record for its entire first decade, in time reaching the 3-million sale mark.

Mr. Nelson's charge against Capitol might or might not have been overstated, but his description of a new synergy between radio and retail was most definitely on point.  Even more so than Petrillo's stratagems, it was this synergy that spelled out the downfall of transcriptions.

Commercial records and radio stations began to hit it off in 1949, when the music industry's newest physical format, the 45-rpm single, was first made available.  Eager to promote the format, and savvier than in earlier decades, record labels finally started to court radio stations, gifting them with a continuous flow of promotional 45-rpm copies.  (The then-recent, huge success of "Twelfth Street Rag" might have indeed served as a catalyst, but I have not found corroboration on the matter.)  

Radio stations readily enjoyed the bounty.   Well aware that their listeners were more receptive to fresh singles than to transcription cuts, stations across the nation found little reason to continue to spend money on subscriptions to ET services. This new milieu gave rise in turn to the cult of the disc jockey -- a radio personality whose main activity was to play brand new records.  Dee jays became fashionable, drawing in enthusiastic listeners.  

Conversely, transcription programming became nearly passé, and regular radio announcers were deemed uncool. The bulk of the 1950s radio audience came to regard both the men and the type of programming with indifference, if at all.

Thus the concept of "electrical transcribed" music went into decline, and the transcription service model no longer thrived.  This dire state of affairs merited a front page article on the October 25, 1952 issue of Billboard.  According to reporter Paul Ackerman, "income from transcription library sources has fallen off greatly.  A top collection agency handling publishers' mechanical rights stated:  it is no longer a business."

"The trend of the times was indicated some weeks ago," continued Ackerman, "when Standard Radio, one of the old-line firms, was offered for sale to radio stations.  This week, Associated Program Service, one of the large traditional library firms, admitted that it was re-evaluating its entire business operation in order to keep going on a sound economic bias.  It was reported that Associated would cut no more new releases, and would offer its present catalog of stations at a much reduced rate."

Amidst all this gloomy state of decline, there was one exception.  Ambitiously calling itself the World Broadcasting System, one ET service defied the odds, continuing to thrive for most of the 1950s.  The history of that successful company will occupy the remainder of this writeup.  


IX. World Founders

One of the earliest radio transcription companies, the World Broadcasting System was founded in 1929.  All the founders had ties to Brunswick Records. 

At the time, Brunswick ranked as one of the three larger record labels in the United States -- the others being Columbia and Victor.  Mentioned in a previous section of this page, Brunswick's prominent position in the world of radio transcriptions is also worth recalling.  When the NRAC agency needed a facility to record its pioneering transcription programming, its choice was the Brunswick recording studio in Chicago.  That choice was made in 1929, which also happens to have been the year on which the World Broadcasting System was founded.  

The three founders of World were probably aware of the aforementioned partnership between NRAC and Brunswick, drawing direct inspiration from it.  Two of them had previously worked as executives at the label, and the third might have still been under Brunswick's retain when World was founded.  

A corporate shakeup at Brunswick created the environment that led to the eventual emergence of the World service.  The shakeup took place in mid-1927.  It resulted in the ascent of various recently hired executives, such as Jack Kapp (who had joined in 1926, after 11 years at Columbia) and the departure of stalwarts such as Percy Deutsch and Gus Haenschen (a member since 1916).  

Those last two stalwarts joined forces to set up a company exclusively dedicated to the recording of music transcriptions. One of them took charge of executive and financial matters, while the other reigned over all creative and musical decisions. 

Percy L. Deutsch was actually the grandson of one of Brunswick's own founders, a fact which might account for his raise from an earlier position as assistant secretary to that of Brunswick vice-president.  Further specifics about Deutsch are not to be found in the sources that I consulted. In general, the sources lead to the impression that he came up with the idea of setting up a music transcription company and  provided the bulk of the financial backing, but even those basic points are not confirmed.  In any case, Deutsch carried the rather grand title of World's president.  (To my knowledge, his last whereabouts found him serving in the 1951 board of directors for a prospective new label, dedicated to producing and releasing instrumental albums on reel, and set up as a subsidiary of Audio-Video Products.)

A college graduate in engineering as well as a pianist by trade, Walter Gustave Haenschen had been recruited by Brunswick in 1916, when that company made the decision to branch into the emerging business of record selling and record producing. (By that time, Brunswick had already spent over 70 years selling sports equipment -- billiard tables, bowling balls, pins. In the early twentieth century, the company's inventory had added toilet seats, car tires and, finally, both pianos and phonographs.)  For the duration of his stay at Brunswick, Gus Haenschen served as manager of the label's Popular Record Department.  He also moonlighted as an artist.  His own piano-led band sessions, for which he generally used a pseudonym, were recorded and released by the label. 

Brunswick and World were not Haenschen's only distinguished sources of employment.  He actually enjoyed a long career in the field of commercial music, serving as musical director for several network radio shows (e.g., CBS' Saturday Night Serenade, from 1938 to 1950), and keeping his position as World's music director for 22 years -- from 1929 until well after the label had been sold and resold to other parties. 

As for the third founding member of the World company, Milton Diamond was an attorney for Brunswick Records. During the early 1930s, he might have actually continued to work for Brunswick as well.

In 1933, Diamond's services were also requested by E. R. (aka Ted) Lewis, head of Decca Records in the UK.  The project of their mutual interest was the prospective sale of both Brunswick and Columbia to UK Decca, for which Diamond was to serve as Lewis' liaison in the US.  That sale did not come to pass, but the creation of an American branch of Decca did, in 1934.  Diamond retained his position as Lewis' American liaison.  In fact, he was given the titles of secretary, legal counsel,  and associate chairman of the board at Decca (US). He remained attached to World, too, as the company's attorney, until the mid-1940s.  

In 1946, the lawyer was instrumental in the setting up of British Decca's newest American subsidiary, London Records, where he was part of the board of directors for a year.  Then, in 1947, Diamond became legal counsel for the American Federations of Musicians, a job that he could only have taken after severing his former ties with London, Decca and World.


X.  World's World

The World Broadcasting System seems to have been the very first company exclusively dedicated to the production and -- through its subsidiary, the World Program Service -- distribution of music transcriptions. Taking advantage of their former ties to Brunswick, the founders had little difficulty in establishing connections with top talent. Within a handful of years after its foundation in 1929, the company had succeeded at amassing a vast and varied catalogue of music, thereby attracting the attention of radio stations across the nation. 

Indeed, the quantity and quality of acts who recorded for World grew to be more and more impressive as the years and decades went by. A partial list should at least mention The Andrews Sisters, Mildred Bailey, The Delta Rhythm Boys, Les Brown, The Page Cavanaugh Trio, Eddie Condon, Bob Crosby, Xavier Cugat, Dorothy Donegan, Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey, Bob Eberle, Roy Eldridge, Duke Ellington, Helen Forrest, Vincent Gomez, Benny Goodman, Glen Gray’s Casa Loma Orchestra, Buddy Hackett, Gus Haenschen himself, Lionel Hampton, Dick Haymes, Woody Herman, Harry James, Gordon Jenkins, Jonah Jones, Louis Jordan, Kitty Kallen, Evelyn Knight, Peggy Lee, Monica Lewis, Jimmy Lunceford, The Mills Brothers, Red Norvo, Helen O’Connell, The Les Paul Trio, Claude Thornhill, Mel  Tormé, John Scott Trotter,  Jerry Wald, Jimmy Wakely, Lawrence Welk, and Victor Young.

But World did not limit itself to the recording and distribution of such acts' instrumentals and vocals.  The company also supplied a variety of production aids to its subscribing stations.  Those included background music, musical sounds, cues, fanfares, jingles, et cetera.  (Background music, in particular, was of great appeal to stations unable to pay for a staff orchestra.)  Still further, the World Program Service offered scripts, format suggestions and music programming (as opposed to just a hazard assortment of songs), thereby making the creation of structured programming a fairly easy procedure for radio engineers and radio announcers.  Of course, similar services and production aids would eventually be provided by several other competing transcription companies, but World's pioneering status probably gave it the upper hand.  

World is also remembered as the first music-oriented company to use discs that played at 33 r.p.m., the speed which became the common standard for both commercial LPs and radio transcriptions.  (Lest the point is confusing, I should stress that World did not introduce the 33 r.p.m speed.  The ET firm adopted it from the film industry, where the speed had been used in order to record the soundtracks of the earliest talkies, as well as several cinema-bound music shorts.)

Another outstanding decision on World's part was to use vinyl for its discs. Actually, vinyl and acetate served as alternates during the early years of this transcription service. In the words of Old-Time Radio expert Michael Biel, "[World's] acetate pressings were very thin and flexible. They are a red clay color and feel slightly greasy to the touch. The vinyl discs were a little thicker, stiffer, and were slightly translucent purple." Vinyl eventually became the material most widely used by World and -- following its lead -- by the majority of transcription services.

With such pioneering efforts and marketing strategies, the World Broadcasting System successfully enticed the radio industry from the outset, maintaining a steady flow of subscribers through the 1930s and 1940s.  In the estimation of A. J. Millard, author of the book America On Record: A History Of Recorded Sound, World was one of the top-ranking transcription companies of the 1930-1950 period, along with C.P. MacGregor, RCA/NBC Thesaurus, and Standard Radio Transcription Services. Of those four, World was the only one that continued to have a healthy number of subscribers beyond 1950. None of the other aforementioned firms had the longevity and market reach of the World Broadcasting System.  


XI.  Decca's World

By 1943, the number of stations which subscribed to the services of the World Broadcasting Sysstem had surpassed the 300 mark.  That was the year in which World was sold to Decca Records.  A major factor behind the purchase was an ongoing musicians' strike.  Among record labels, the strike triggered a need for already-recorded-but-yet-to-be-commercially-released music.  World's large library of transcriptions had the potential to fulfill that need. 

This 1942 ban or strike deprived both record labels and transcription companies from access to members of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM).  Aware that it would probably go into effect on August 1, Decca and the other majors had gone into an overtime recording schedule during the preceding months.  In general, they stockpiled enough masters to allow them to release new singles for the next five months, or thereabouts.  Their common calculation was that a settlement with the musicians' union would be reached by the end of the year, and the ban would thus be lifted.  

When no such lifting took place in early 1943, the majors found themselves in a precarious situation.  AFM leader James Caesar Petrillo was just unwilling to settle until his original demands were met.  Needing to refill its depleting vaults (and not wanting to miss on the hit potential of the brand new songs that were being plugged at the time), Decca resorted at first to a cappella sessions.  Singers from the label's roster were backed by choral groups, in substitution of music players.  The other majors followed Decca's lead, but the strategy proved to be short-lived for all of them.  In June of 1943, an incensed Petrillo made a point of contacting some of the vocalists who had agreed to this stratagem, extracting from them promises that they would not make themselves available for future sessions.  He also forbade arrangers from supplying   record labels with any new material.  

The music record industry was thus thwarted. In despair (or perhaps in an antagonistic mood), some record executives resorted to recruiting rural, little-known non-unionized musicians.  Others traveled abroad, hiring foreign musicians whose band playing was they waxed on record.   The records were then brought to the United States to create an overdub, featuring an American singer backed by the pre-recorded, foreign track.  (I should clarify that both of these practices were far more common during a later, second ban period.  For this first ban period, my understanding is that neither strategy was put into extensive use.  Instead, the most frequent practice was the hiring of choral groups to back a cappella singers, as already stated above. For further details about the ban, see section XIII of this discography's research page about Lee's work with The Benny Goodman Orchestra.) 

Meanwhile, Decca's Jack Kapp had pulled another card out of his sleeve.  He had purchased World for the reported bargain sum of $750,000. According to Michel Ruppli's The Decca Labels: A Discography, the purchase had been triggered by the AFM ban.  Kapp's intention was simply to turn World's transcriptions into retail releases. 

Kapp and Decca's own spin on the sale is reflected on the label's own historical chronology, as published on the August 28, 1954 issue of Billboard magazine.  Phrased in the present or historical tense, the chronology states that, in 1943, "Decca buys World Transcription, Inc. for its studios, recording facilities, and to enter the electrical transcription business."  

Another probable reason for the purchase was the opportunity to acquire the physical disc themselves, in order to use their raw material (i.e., shellac).  The ongoing World War II had just made shellac scarce, due in part to the fact that it was being reserved for the manufacturing of artillery and other weaponry.  By decree of the War Production Board, the amount of shellac parceled out to music companies would thus end up being 70% less than in pre-war years. But, thanks to its acquisition of the World library, Decca had gained access to shellac that the label could recycle as needed.    
On September 18 of 1943, Decca became the first label to arrive at a full settlement with the American Federation of Musicians.  (Musicraft had repeatedly tried before, only to be callously ignored by Petrillo, who was unshaken in his decision to wait for one of the majors to bite.) Decca agreed to a royalty fee, payable directly to an AFM fund which had been set up for the benefit of underemployed musicians. (According to one source, the fee amounted to a half a cent for each sold recording.  A more detailed source claims that it was a quarter of a cent per each 35-cent record, 2.5% for records with a price tag higher than $1.99, and a 3% from any transcription transactions.)

Attorney Milton Diamond, one of the original co-owners of the World Broadcasting System, had negotiated the deal between Decca and the AFM.  Embracing the World Transcription Service as well, the deal came with some stipulations of interest. Decca was given permission to commercially release any numbers from the World transcription catalogue, including numbers newly recorded on the service.  In exchange for this deal, Decca would make full-scale payments to the musicians who had played on the given World transcription. The full deal was for a four-year period, officially starting on January 1, 1944 but informally effective from the day of signing. (There were additional stipulations that are of no direct interest to this write-up.  Most of those amounted to a lording of AFM above Decca's own handling of the transcription service.  Petrillo was granted regular access to World's books and catalogue, for inspection.  World was required to seek permission from AFM before the undertaking of any production tasks other than the recording of songs for transcription disc.)
 
As a result of this early agreement with the Federation, Decca enjoyed quite a few months of advantage over its main rivals. Columbia and Victor (& its NBC Thesaurus service did not arrive at any concrete agreements with AFM until nearly a year afterwards.  As for the other transcription services and small record labels, most of them settled in the weeks that followed the Decca agreement. They agreed to pay about the same royalties as the major.

The potential benefit of Decca's four-year deal with AFM became apparent  shortly before January 1, 1948, when a second record ban became effective.  Like the first, this second ban forbade musicians from doing any recording activity for record labels and transcription services.  However, Decca's four-year agreement made it possible for the label to commercially release any music from its World transcription catalogue.  

Decca is known to have done so in the case of two World transcription numbers cut by Russ Morgan And His Orchestra.  In 1947, Morgan and his band had recorded "Beg Your Pardon" for the World Transcription Service.  Either then or (more likely) years earlier, Morgan had also recorded "All Dressed Up With A Broken Heart" for the service.  Around February of 1948, those two numbers were released on Decca 78-rpm single #24339.  Artists on other labels had made hits of both songs had at the time.  Although his versions did not achieve hit status, audience interest in these numbers might have translated into a modicum of sales for Decca and Morgan.

When all was said and done, however, ownership of the World catalogue might have been of limited benefit during the two ban periods.  in 1948, Jack Kapp told the press that "very few World e.t.'s ha[ve] been used as Decca records, since the e.t. artists' contractual agreements with other diskeries [have] often intervened."  The unsurmountable obstacle was the fact that --Kapp added-- "[m]ost of World's e.t. artists ... are signed for exclusive retail-recording contracts with other platteries."  Accordingly, Russ Morgan's  aforementioned World transcription cuts had been confidently re-released on a Decca 78-rpm single only because the artist was under Decca contract.

The second AFM ban was particularly unkind to Decca's finances.  For the six-month period beginning in January and ending in June of 1948,  the label's net profit was reported to be $427,212.  This was a disastrous decline from the company's net profit during the same period in the previous year ($889,149). The need for additional monetary input explains why, in 1948, Decca decided to put World for sale.  

In addition, the transcription company might have never supplied Decca with enough of the benefits that had been originally envisioned by the record label.  Publicly, Kapp made a point of boasting about having doubled the number of World’s subscribers during the last five years.  It was also announced, with some fanfare, that the service's catalogue had grown during the last four of those same years -- from 3,800 selections in 1944 to 4,600 in 1948.  Privately, however, Kapp might have felt that the service had outlasted its usefulness.  To continue to thrive, Decca obviously needed money, and the sale of World would certainly provide a hefty sum.


{To be continued. Next entry: Ziv's World.}