Radio Plays, 1945

By Norman Corwin. 25m. A light drama about a boy who loses his dog. He's determined to go to dog-heaven to get it back.

This may be the earliest privately-recorded BBC radio play using magnetic tape. The repeat was broadcast on 30 August, 1945, the original transmission being on 22 February of that year. Due to newsprint restrictions, "Radio Times" was often unable to include details of the cast, and the only information to hand is that Runyon Jones was played by David O'Brien who, at the time, was appearing in the West End production of "Tomorrow The World".

    The following information has reached us, and is summarised by Roger Bickerton below....

    I have no idea who made this recording, but was told that the machine used was a Tonschreiber B, a derivative of the Magnetophon, manufactured by AEG-Telefunken, and that this was one of a very few which were brought back to the UK during the Allied advance in 1945. Miraculously, some of the original reels survived, even more miraculously, some contained recordings of radio plays, of which this is one. Inevitably, there will be some glitches on such an old recording : for instance, the machine's start-up was not instantaneous, so some initial "wow" results, and the final announcements have been omitted.

    Further details of this equipment can be found on www.vintagerecorders.co.uk and on other sites if "Tonschreiber B" is googled.

    In 1945, Army Signal Corps Major John T. Mullin sent at least one of the recovered Magnetophon machines back to the USA in pieces in multiple mailbags. In 1946, he demonstrated "Hi-Fi" tape recording with a reconstructed machine at an Institute of Radio Engineers meeting in San Francisco. In 1947, Colonel Richard Ranger began manufacture of his own version of the Magnetophon, and, that year, he and Mullin presented the fruits of their labours to Bing Crosby and his Technical Director, Murdo McKenzie. The Mullin machine was preferred and it was that, running at a tape speed of 30" per second, which recorded a Crosby "Philco Radio Show" late that year.

    The sound quality of the Corwin play reflects that of the radio signal, but these early machines were capable of quite amazing sonic results. In 1944, a live recording of Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto, with Walter Gieseking as soloist, accompanied by the Grosses Berlin Rundfunkorchester, conductor Arthur Rother, was made on a Magnetophon, and on 29 September of that year, the final movement of Bruckner's 8th., Symphony (Orch. der Berliner Staatsoper, Berlin, cond. von Karajan) was also taped. Remarkably, both were in stereo, and both are (or were!) commercially available. The sound quality is staggeringly good. In the case of the Beethoven, the recording may have been made at night, because distant anti-aircraft fire can be heard during the first movement, especially during the cadenza.


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