Happy Birthday, X Minus One - radio's greatest sci-fi anthology!

Posted by Eric Brightwell, April 24, 2012 11:23am | Post a Comment
Today is the 57th birthday of X Minus One, a science fiction anthology that debuted on NBC radio on 24 April, 1955. 

It began as a sort-of revival of pioneering sci-fi program, Dimension X and the first fifteen episodes were remakes from that series. The remainder of the episodes were originals from staff writers Ernest
 Kinoy and George Lefferts as well as their adaptations of new works by the likes of A. A. PhelpsJr., Alan Nourse, Algis Budrys, Arthur Sellings, Clifford Simak, Donald A. Wollheim, Evelyn Smith, F. L. Wallace, Finn O'Donovan, Fletcher Pratt, Frank M. Robinson, Frank Quattrochi, Frederic Brown, Frederick Pohl, Fritz Leiber, Gordon R. Dickson, Graham Doar, H. Beam Piper, H. L. Gold, Isaac Asimov, J. T. McIntosh, Jack McKenty, James Blish, James E. Gunn, James E. Gunn, James H. Schmitz, Katherine MacLean, L. Sprague de Camp, Mark Clifton, Milton Lesser, Murray Leinster, Ned Lang, Peter Phillips, Phillip K. Dick, Poul Anderson, Ray Bradbury, Richard Maples, Richard Wilson, Robert Bloch, Robert Heinlein, Robert Sheckley, Robert Silverberg, Ross Rockland, Stephen Arr, Stephen Vincent Benet, Steven Tall, Theodore sturgeon, Tom Goodwin, Vaughn Shelton, William Tenn, and Wyman Guin.

Each episode began with announcer (variously Ben Grauer, Bill Rippe, Don Pardo, Fred Collins, Jack Costello, Kenneth Banghart and Roger Tuttle) intoning:

Countdown for blastoff... X minus five, four, three, two, X minus one... Fire! From the far horizons of the unknown come transcribed tales of new dimensions in time and space. These are stories of the future; adventures in which you'll live in a 
million could-be years on a thousand may-be worlds. The National Broadcasting Company, in cooperation with Street 
and Smith, publishers of Astounding Science Fiction presents... X Minus One.

As a result of renewed interest in Old Time Radio, Robert Silverberg wrote a new episode "The Iron Chancellor" in 1973 but did not result in a revival.

NBC was infamous for not showing much interest in their radio programs -- especially as radio waned and TV waxed -- and Dimension X suffered from being bounced around between Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and barely received any promotion. However, they didn't skimp on the writing and sound effects budget and the results were frequently amazing.

Ultimately the series ran for 124 episodes (plus the audition). Its last episode aired 9 January, 1958. Almost all episodes have been preserved and most can be listened to here. They also appear on CDs and Audio DVDs, which can sometimes be found at Amoeba. NB: the ongoing popularity of X Minus One has led to some unscrupulous folks splicing together various previously existing material from different sources to create "newly discovered" episodes. Special thanks to the folks at the Digital Deli Too for their hard work in the name of preserving OTR. Consult with them before splurging.


Happy Birthday, Dimension X - Radio's pioneering sci-fi series

Posted by Eric Brightwell, April 8, 2012 08:57am | Post a Comment
Dimension X debuted on NBC radio on this day (April 8), 1950. The first thirteen episodes were performed live whilst the remainder were pre-recorded. It was directed by Fred Wiehe and Edward King. The narrator and announcer was Norman Rose, who began each program with the introduction, "Adventures in time and space- told in future tense..." before "Dimension X!" boomed and echoed.

Dimension X wasn't the first adult science-fiction anthology program (2000 Plus debuted a month earlier on the Mutual network) but it was, perhaps, the best - drawing from writers like Clifford D. Simak, Donald A. Wollheim, E. M. Hull, Fletcher Pratt, Frank M. Robinson, Fredric Brown, Graham Doar, H. Beam Piper, Isaac Asimov, Jack Vance, Jack Williamson, Kurt Vonnegut Jr, L. Ron Hubbard, Murray Leinster, Nelson BondRay Bradbury, Robert A. Heinlein, Robert Bloch, Stephen Vincent Benet, Villiers Gerson, and William Tenn. Most episodes were adapted from pre-existing works by Ernest Kinoy and George Lefferts but the two also provided original
It was first auditioned as Out of This World, which it was originally auditioned as on February 23, 1950. Though one of the best sci-fi series ever, the famously clueless folks at NBC never gave it proper promotion or care, bouncing it around to various slots on four different days of the week.

It's influence can most easily be heard in X Minus One (1955-1958), many episodes of which wereremakes of Dimension X programs. On TV, Dimension X inspired shows like Tales of Tomorrow (1951-1953), Science Fiction Theatre (1955-1957), One Step Beyond (1959-1961), Twilight Zone (1959-1964), Way Out (1961), Outer Limits (1963-1965), The Ray Bradbury Theater (1985-1986), and Masters of Science Fiction (2007).

All fifty episodes (and a fifteen-minute preview, "Preview to the Future") have been preserved and most can be listened to here. They also appear on CDs and Audio DVDs, which can sometimes be found at Amoeba. Special thanks to the folks at the Digital Deli Too for their hard work in the name of preserving OTR.


Is There a 78 Revival Going On?

Posted by Joe Goldmark, March 5, 2012 05:00pm | Post a Comment
To check out extensive LP label and price guides, head to the Vinyl Beat website!

One reaction to the digitization of our world has been the resurgence of vinyl and record collecting. People say it’s because a record feels real and sounds better than its CD or MP3 counterpart. Also dropping a needle on a turntable feels like a throwback to simpler times. Some people are taking it even further.

Some collectors are going to the roots and discovering 78s. BTW, these aren’t vinyls; they’re actually made out of a shellac mixture and are pretty fragile compared to vinyl. 78s have a broader tonal spectrum of 400hz to 10,000hz and they sound noticeably better than a 45, LP, CD, or MP3. There’s more music in their grooves!

However, there are some prerequisites for collecting 78s. First you need a turntable that can play them. A good portable ‘50s electric tube record player that can be bought at a garage sale for $50 - $100 will suffice. Purists will get an old wind up Victrola from the ‘20s or ‘30s that’s a real piece of furniture. Some prefer the cheap new designer players. They’ll work, but only until you get something better. The next step is to get a 78 needle if needed and to get your player in working order. Finally, you need to appreciate some of the music from before 1956, because there ain’t no Madonna 78s.


The rest is fun. There’s plenty of ways to find cheap 78s, such as garage sales, thrift shops, Craigslist, Amoeba (see Amoeba's online selection of 78s), and record swaps. Select the genres that resonate, and then start collecting and listening. There’s nothing like hearing Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline,” for instance, played on a 78. It’s a visceral experience.

There’s been articles written about 78 collectors like John Heneghan (pictured below), there’s references in movies like Ghost World (pictured to the right) to collecting, and famous collectors like R.Crumb and Terry Zweigoff. There are also dealers like John Tefteller and Kurt Nuack who specialize in high-end 78 collectibles such as some of the pre-war blues records, which can go for up to $5,000 each.

Here at Amoeba, we’ve been selling 78s inexpensively ($1 and up) since we opened and we’re now also archiving some of them for our future web site.

Speaking of 78s, if you have some to sell or know of a collection, Amoeba is always buying

Early Days of the Classical LP

Posted by Rubin Meisel, October 11, 2011 04:05pm | Post a Comment
On June 21st, 1948, CBS engineer Dr. Peter Goldmark introduced the new Columbia long playing record at a press conference. In the previous 15 years, there had been attempts to make a commercially viable long play album with no success. As with the concurrent development of television, the post-war boom made the project commercially viable. 33 1/3 rpm was considered the optimum speed to play the 12 inch long play microgrove records. And being made of a new plastic called vinylite they were virtually unbreakable. For shorter pieces and recitals, there were 10 inch records, but these only survived till the 1950s.
The new LP was considered a huge leap forward for listening to pre-recorded Classical music. A pop song took, on average, two or three minutes to play, which was just perfect for a 10 or 12 inch 78 rpm record. A symphony required up to 5 or 6 records on 78 rpm and had to be changed 10 to 12 times with the music often interrupted in the middle of a musical phrase. There were automatic 78 rpm record changers, but they were clunky and could damage your records. You also had to account for the amount of storage space needed for the brittle, breakable shellac 78s. The most dramatic part of Goldmark’s demonstration was when he was photographed holding a few dozen LPs while the equivalent in 78s were stacked six feet high next to him.
The introduction of the LP was not without controversy. Columbia’s great rival RCA Victor was developing its own system of 7” short playing vinyl records that played at 45 rpm. RCA engineers insisted that quality control problems with LPs would doom it. This started what was to be known as “The War of the Speeds” in which both companies spent a ton of money on print ads to woo the public before RCA conceded and converted to LP. When it was settled, it set up the paradigm that lasted for nearly 40 years: LP for albums, 45s for pop singles.

The LP created a sudden demand for classical recordings. Columbia and RCA, besides putting their new recordings on LP, transferred their classic recordings from 78s. Retailers like Sam Goody sold LP turntable attachments that could be attached to an existing standard record player. Steel or fiber needles and heavyweight tone arms couldn’t play LP microgrove records, so you needed to buy needles with precious stones like sapphire or diamond tips and a tonearm that could track lightly.

RCA and Columbia, who dominated classical in the 78 era, could not fill the demand for classical LPs. The first big new player to enter the market was English Decca. Since there was a well-known label that was once allied with them, Decca USA, they created an American division, London Records. They were one of the first companies that promoted HI-Fi with their recording system ffr (Full frequency recording), which captured low and high frequencies that were not captured before. They had a strong roaster of artists led by the Swiss conductor Ernest Ansermet, whose recordings of Ravel, Stravinsky, and Debussy were considered definitive. Pianist Wilhelm Backhaus was perhaps the most eminent of living German pianists. Erich Kleiber, Eduard Van Beinum, and Clemens Krauss, celebrated in Europe but not well known in America, handled the Austro/German repertoire. London had perhaps it greatest success with a series with Puccini and Verdi operas sung by soprano Renata Tebaldi, often partnered by the charismatic tenor Mario Del Monaco.

American Decca mostly concerned itself with pop music and soundtracks, but they got into the act with guitarist Andres Segovia. They were also the American distributors for Deutsche Grammophon, which was hardly the preeminent label it was to become. With post-war sensitivities, the origin of the recordings were in small type.

The other new player was Mercury Records from Chicago. Mercury was primarily a pop company who had hits with Frankie Laine and Patti Page, but they started a classical series called Olympian in 1951 and hired record critic David Hall to run it. Their first recording was Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition with the Chicago Symphony under Rafael Kubelik. MG 5000 was so astonishingly realistic that a critic reviewing it said it was like listening to a "living presence" and not a recording, which became the motto for Mercury Classics. After fifty or so records, they made their famous first recording of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture with conductor Antal Dorati, which features cannon and church bells that helped sell thousand of HI-Fi sets.

The major minor players in the early days of the classical boom were a far more colorful lot. Here are some of the major minors:

Vox - George Mendelssohn, a distant descendent of the composer and a conductor who emigrated from Hungary, wanted to explore repertoire (particularly Chamber and Instrumental music) that was untouched and major performers like conductors Otto Klemperer and Jascha Horenstein, and pianists Noaves, Wuhrer, and Horowiszki, to build up a huge catalog. He marketed many of them in the bargain two and three LP Vox Box. They also had eminent scholars like Joseph Braunstein to write extensive liner notes. Vox, unlike the other indies, had a half century life.

RemingtonDon Gabor (no relation), another Hungarian émigré who had worked at an RCA pressing plant, created Remington in 1949. Gabor felt that what RCA and Columbia were charging for an LP --  $5.95 (2011 equivalent more than $40) -- was too high for the average consumer and he developed a $2.99, no-frills label. Since post-war musicians in Vienna were mostly impoverished, he was able to make dozens of recordings there for next to nothing. Remington’s early pressing though microgroove were pressed using brittle material that were noisy. They also had tiny 78-style labels that he was able to buy up in surplus. A few years later, Gabor created the super budget label Plymouth to sell at records at $1.99 with even less production value. They did manage to release a performance of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas by the great composer and violinist Georges Enesco, which are worth a small fortune in the used market.

Westminster – The classiest of the indies they featured superb sound and packaging under the musical supervision of yet another Hungarian -- the demanding R. Kurt List, a music critic and conductor. Besides launching the careers of pianists Paul Badura Skoda and Jorge Demus, the label took the eminent 60-year-old German conductor Hermann Scherchen (who was virtually unknown in America) and turned him into a cult figure with his many recordings of Bach and Haydn. They also helped revive the career of a famed Polish/American conductor who got blackballed in America for fighting with orchestra boards in New York and Chicago.

Vanguard – Two recent Columbia graduates Seymour and Maynard Solomon had a love for FolkMusic and Early Classical Music. They went to Vienna and recorded Bach, Vivaldi, Tartini, and other Baroque minor masters. They made a number of recordings with counter tenor and conductor Alfred Deller that introduced so many to Purcell and other English early music composers. The bulwark of these recordings were conducted by the Austrian Felix Prohaska and an Italian Mario Rossi. The Solomon brothers, to their everlasting credit, recorded the blacklisted The Weavers and Paul Robeson when no one else would touch them.

Cetra - Italian recording company recorded most of the Italian operatic repertoire during the forties and the early-fifties. Music executive Dorle Soria got the rights to release them in America. Most of the performances were idiomatic and a little rough but most of this stuff couldn’t be gotten any other way. Soria also launched the Angel label when EMI Columbia separated from American Columbia. Angel had the good fortune to have among its first releases the recordings of Maria Callas. Angel was eventually absorbed into Capitol/EMI.

There are other minor minors like Bruno, Allegro, and Period, who specialized in bringing out recordings from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Allegro got into trouble for putting out the entire Wagner Ring, pirated from the 1953 Bayreuth Festival, under artist pseudonyms. Haydn Society, as the name would indicate, specialized in Haydn with forays into Mozart and was run by the great Haydn expert H.C. Robbins Landon when he was barely out of his teens.

Classical music had a 30% share of the LP market in the early '50s. Additionally, Broadway shows and Light Classical like Kostelanetz and Mantovani were put out by Classical labels. Every large city had its classical stores but New York had the most. Sam Goody’s, The Record Hunter, Liberty Music, and King Karol all battled it out in Midtown Manhattan.

As a teenager in the late-1960s, I saw the tail end of this amazing subculture. In the '80s, I got to meet the men who started the LP business. They themselves were hardly classical buffs or, for that matter, music buffs, but they were great businessmen who knew their customers. Each store complimented each, and they had the inventory and the staff to make them a destination for their customers. It was a special time and place.

Jay Silverheels - Happy American Indian Heritage Month

Posted by Eric Brightwell, November 24, 2010 02:00pm | Post a Comment

Jay Silverheels was a Kanien'kehá:ka actor born Harold J. Smith on May 26th, 1912. He was born on the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation reservation, the most populous First Nation in Canada, and the only nation in which all six Iroquois nations live together. He was the third of eleven children born to Major George Smith, the most decorated Native American soldier in the Canadian Army, who served in World War I.

Harold began going by the name Jay and was given the nickname Silverheels when he played on the lacrosse team, the Mohawk Stars, at sixteen. He later moved across the Niagara River to play lacrosse on the North American Amateur Lacrosse Association team, the Rochester Iroquois. He also boxed and in 1938 placed second in the middleweight section of the Golden Gloves tournament. He lived for a time in Buffalo, where he had his first son, Ron, with Edna Lickers.

The previous year he'd begun working in film, as an extra in the musical comedy, Make a Wish. He married his first wife, Bobbi, and they had a daughter named Sharon. They divorced in 1943. Over the next few years he appeared, usually uncredited, as a stuntman or extra in The Sea Hawk, Too Many Girls, Hudson's Bay, Wester Union, Jungle Girl, This Woman is Mine, Valley of the Sun, Perils of Nyoka, Good Morning, Judge, Daredevils of the West, The Girl from Monterrey, Northern Pursuit, The Phantom, I Am an American, Raiders at the Border, Passage to Marseille, The Tiger Woman, Haunted Harbor, Lost in a Harem and Song of the Sarong.

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