Around 1998 I began a web page that discussed the collecting of home recordings in the form of "acetate" lacquer records (and other varieties such as plastic pasted onto cardboard), and included sound recordings of some of my earliest acquired records of this sort. The page started as an early form of blogging, however, eventually I did not change it much, especially when the turntable I used to sample a few quit working (the wiring connected to the cartridge went bad). Although my intention was to keep updating it, this proved too much of a hassle especially since I was hand-coding it with HTML code, which was just too time-intensive, especially for material with such limited appeal.
Now that the concept of blogging has become more in vogue, and websites such as this one at blogspot have solved many of the coding issues, I feel it is high time to update the page, fix some wrong information, links, etc., and perhaps add some new info.
Plus, I will be playing some of these acetate recordings at a local phonograph collectors meeting next week, many of which I have not heard yet myself (due to current lack of decent turntable, along with the the fact that these records are so fragile and each time a record is played it wears it down significantly.
At any rate, I will copy below the original text begun in 1998, along with some corrections and updates.
I have a collection of acetates which I occassionally find atantique stores, thrift stores, flea markets, yard sales, attics, etc. Many of these have very little information written on the labels, and most are homemade recordings. These I find particularly interesting, because you never know what you're going to get. Many are boring, others poorly recorded, but occasionally you'll find a gem, such as a recording of a rare radio program, or better yet, a sampling of the radio dial -- where the recordist recorded the radio while turning the dial, giving us a rare snapshot of history, of what one may have heard on the radio at that particular time. Those early days of radio were much more interesting, and of greater value, than today's preprogrammed, satellite-delivered, computerized playlists.
At any rate, first some technical background about these rare, one-of-a-kind records.
Acetates are records, usually recorded at 78 RPM, usually 10 inches in size, recorded on primitive home disc recorders, which were on the market during the 1940's. They have an aluminum metal base, coated with black lacquer, which the recording stylus etches (cuts) the groove into while recording. Most recorders had a constant-pitch feedscrew which moved the arm containing the recording-stylus across the record at a constant rate.
As the website "Vinyl Engine" explains: Since the 1930s, most blank acetate discs have been manufactured with a base, usually aluminum (although glass was used during the war years and cardboard for inexpensive home recordings), that was coated with nitrocellulose lacquer plasticized with castor oil. Because of the lacquer's inherent properties, acetate discs are the least stable type of sound recording.
If you are going to collect "acetate" (lacquer) records, keep in mind that the castor oil base that the lacquer material is composed of is highly unstable. Saran wrap is particularly an enemy. Once I received a lacquer record bought through ebay that was wrapped in Saran wrap. When pealing away the saran wrap, castor oil was all over the place, pulled right out of the record. I still haven't played it, but at least the grooves are large and still visible so there should still be some sound left, although I'm sure very noisy.
RCA marketed a lower-priced system, until Aug. 7, 1944 (when they destroyed the remaining label printing plates and leftover label stock), using pre-grooved records, however, since the groove moved the recording stylus (instead of a feedscrew), it only made small impressions in the groove wall. The frequency response has been reported to be a very narrow 2 KHz to 2.1 KHz. [Now I don't know what the source is for this paragraph -- should have
Some brands of these recorders and recording blanks (the actual records) include Presto, Wilcox-Gay, Recordio, Rek-O-Kut, Tru-Kut, and Meissner. Recording blanks were also made by Audiodisc (out of New York City). Blanks are still being made by Transco and Apollo.
The quality of home recordings (of the 1940s-1960s) is usually horrendous, as the machines themselves had many sonic limitations, and people usually had limited experience using them.
Acetate records for amateur home recording have blank labels, which are there for people to mark the title, artist (or "recorder"), date, speed, and whether the disc plays "outside in" or "inside out". "Outside In" means you put the needle on the outside like most records (and the needle works its way to the center while it plays -- the groove moves the needle along). "Inside Out", or "Center-Start", means you must put the needle on the innermost groove, and the groove will push the needle toward the outside while it plays. "Inside Out" records are quite rare.
Transcription discs recorded by radio stations, however, particularly the 16-inch variety, usually have the second side recorded inside out; it is so the equalization changes are less noticeable....equalization (that is, treble and bass) changes, particularly with diminishing treble response, as the needle makes its way toward the center, and was particularly noticeable on these early records (but not noticeable to the human ear on modern stereo LPs).
Acetates are interesting to collect, however, since you never know what you're gonna get -- Forrest Gump would like them. They rarely have identifiable information written on the labels, and are usually impossible to identify the source -- who recorded them, whose voice(s) is (are) recorded on them.
I am (was) in the process of sampling & encoding some of my collection of weird records, including these acetates.
Check this one out....it's a home acetate record (recorded on a Presto blank, with a pink Presto label). This 10" record was recorded at 78 r.p.m. (and "outside in" on both sides, as most records). As Steven Phipps points out, perhaps they forgot to cross a "t" and it's actually supposed to be
On one side, it says:
The other side says:
If anyone knows who this is, please write me and explain.
This is a 1-minute sample of this "Slinky Duet" acetate, taken from the most interesting part of the "Down By The Old Mill Stream" side (the last minute or so of the side). The entire record is recorded at low volume, until the very end of this side. Since the volume was low, the scratchiness is very loud and a bit unnerving....that is, until the very end, when the recordist finally discovers the problem. Listen to it to find out what happened.
Next is a 78 RPM acetate apparently recorded at a radio station for airplay, announcing a minstrel show at a Woodridge High School, presented by a Lion's Club, done with 2 actors imitating the voices of Amos & Andy. Could it be the original Amos & Andy actors?
1952 Motorola TV commercial
Here is a recording of a country music radio program, including a commercial for a 1952 Motorola TV. The grooves are so shallow, I had to keep moving the stylus back until it played each groove, then edited it on the computer until I had something that makes enough sense. As you can tell by listening to it, it might require quite a few more hours or days of editing than it might be worth, to get the whole recording.
"Singing Hills" and 1952 Motorola TV (mp3)
Here's a woman reading from"University Days", a speech by James Thurber. Halfway into the recording, when she's cut off, the other side of the record starts, where you hear her counting.
[A previous post explained that a visitor to the Weird Records site several years ago, Michael Petruzzi, wondered if it were another woman, but perhaps it only sounds like a different person because of the change in equalization? Michael further elaborated that "the woman is clearly reading from a book, and as for her name it's Geri (can't really make out the last name). The date is September 25 or 26, and sounds more like Sept. 25, 1951. Also, at the beginning of the lecture, she mentions the town, which sounds like Montclair
Mike Petruzzi also discovered two possibilities as to what Montclair, NJ private school this record came from: the most likely would be Larcordaire Academy (taught by Dominican nuns), otherwise it might be the Montclair-Kimberley Academy (now co-ed, but all-girls at the possible time of the recording).
Woman's Lecture (mp3)
Here's one sent in by visitor Tyrone Settlemier. As he explains: "This is a dictaphone cylinder that was sawed in half. It was then recorded on a standard cylinder machine. I think this was made with a phonograph horn, by (drunk?) phonograph collectors in the 1950's. Anyway, definately a WEIRD item. Those horrible clicks are because of a large crack in the cylinder. It's possible the crack was caused by sawing the cylinder, which means they would have recorded over the crack. Very interesting...... Glenn Sage at tinfoil.com transferred this for me. I hope we're still on speaking terms now that I sent this for posting, just kidding. It was fun to watch his reaction the first time this was played, when I could see, since I was laughing too hard." -Tyrone
Choose your format: mp3 | WAV
Jim Stephens, who does audio restoration for a living, did a quick restoration of this recording, removing the clicks and pops, resulting in something more listenable. Play the "mp3" version above, to hear the results. Jim advises that: "when transferring acetates, don't use the "phono" input of your amplifier. Hook up your turntable to a tape deck that has microphone inputs and use those nstead. This will sidestep the RIAA phono equalization curve and the recordings will come out a lot cleaner-sounding."
[posted 10/24/1999] Here's a new one, sent in by Barry Schneck: liebestraum.mp3
[posted 10/28/1999] Here's another from Barry: 2BlackCrows-part1.mp3
[posted 12/2/1999] Also from Barry: please2.mp3
[posted 12/2/1999] Wilcox Recordings, from John H. Meyer radiopromo02051940.mp3
Home-cut Records, from Dan Howlett
How The Record Cutter Works
"Now this is the way the gadget works: this tube here has got to light up almost continuously, and this one over here on the right will light up from time to time on the highs. It's recorded on there, you see the wax coming off in a little circle? Well, at the end of your recording you simply pick that up and dispose of it - it's highly inflammable, so you've got to be careful with it. Then, of course, when you're finished recording you simply lift the recorder, switch this back to phono playback, put the reproducer arm on and listen to what you've recorded."
How The Record Cutter Doesn't Work
wilcoxgay.mp3 comes from a Wilcox-Gay Recordio disc and seems to have been made for Margie and Mary by two half drunk guys playing with a recorder. The record seems to have suffered some water damage and the felt pen writing on the label has wiped off. It sounds like something they made on a friend's recorder to send to their girlfriends elsewhere in the world. [Here's a sample of a few minutes of the same recording ran through a restoring process by Antonio at Hinkchkraft Studios.]
zephyr-backstreet-eddee-chauder.mp3 comes from a Zephyr recording disc and has the title "Back Street" or something similar to that and then recorded by "Eddee Chauder". Most of it seems to be jazzy music but at the end of this clip the lady operating the phonograph gets frustrated at the machine. There is more chattering in the background but I can't make out what they are saying.
The Wilcox-Gay record was recorded at somewhere between 33 and 45 RPM instead of 78RPM outside-in (my player has a variable speed inbetween the standards). The speed varies slightly throughout the record so it seems as though they had a bad recorder or were not very skilled in
download 15mb mp3
download 1 mb mp3
The Newcomer Twins on WWVA (Wheeling, WV)
Chuck Miller recently acquired a cachet of rare 1940's acetates of West Virginia radio station WWVA (Wheeling). He originally transcribed these acetates, which were recorded at 78 RPM, at 33 1/3 RPM and used a combination of Diamond Cut Millennium and Cool Edit 2000 to resample the sound back to its original pitch.
note the braille labeling on the jacket, as they were both blind
As Chuck explains:
These discs were recorded by two performers on the station, Maxine and Eileen Newcomer, both blind since birth who later developed a following throughout West Virginia as popular singers. I've transferred several of these to CD, and several of them are now in the possession of the Country Music Hall of Fame, as the Newcomers never recorded professionally. As they were blind, much of the information on the dust jackets was printed in braille!
mp3 #1: Down By The Old Red Depot (1.8 mb)
This was taken right off the air at WWVA in Wheeling WV in November 1944. They're talking with Wyn Sheldon, then they start singing "Down By The Old Red Depot."
Here's one of their songs as performed on WWVA radio in the early 1940's: mp3 #2: Margie (720 kb)
And here's another clip of the Newcomers on the radio. Note that the radio host first asks the Newcomers if they'll see all the skyscrapers in their home town (Harrison City, Pa.), oblivious to the fact that Maxine and Eileen Newcomer were both blind. Then another announcer makes a crack about how he'll write to them in Braille.
mp3 #3: Newcomer Twins with Lew Clawson, Aug. 19, 1943 (1.8 mb)
For the full story, read Chuck Miller's article, Collecting Radio Station Acetates - and the story of the Newcomer Twins chuckthewriter.com