This is the second installment in my “Have A Strange Christmas” series where I highlight a different strange Christmas record every week through the end of December.
Just about everyone has heard of Waffle House if not eaten at one, or passed their iconic school bus-colored signs. What a lot of people don’t know is that they used to regularly record Waffle House related songs and include them in the jukeboxes in their restaurants for their patrons to enjoy while chowing down. Some of those songs include There Are Raisins in My Toast, 844,739 Ways to Eat a Hamburger, Waffle Do Wop, and I’m Going Back to The Waffle House. These were not short commercial jingles but full length, professionally recorded songs. Originally, the songs were shipped to the establishments on 45 RPM records under the Waffle Records label to be loaded into the jukeboxes alongside regular music. Jukeboxes are still in each restaurant today but they’ve all gone digital. The records weren’t sold to the public, but in 1999, the chain released their first CD, Waffle House Jukebox Favorites Volume 1, whichcollected many of these musical culinary classics. The 10 track CD has been out of print for over 20 years, but you can download the complete digital album from Bandcamp.com for a mere $1,000!
I’m not sure about present day, but Waffle Records used to recognize the top Waffle records played in their restaurants’ jukeboxes with their annual “Waffle House Tunies”. Waffle Records also picked a “Scattered, Smothered, and Discovered Artist of The Year” every year as their way of supporting aspiring musicians.
Bacon Spirits Bright
In 2001, Waffle House released a Christmas CD called It’s A Waffle House Christmas. Jerry Buckner and Gary Garcia, best known for their 1982 hit Pac Man Fever, Waffle-ized numerous Christmas songs for this 16-track title. There are several tracks credited to “The Waffle House Carolers”, whoever they are, but that’s just the syrup on the waffles. Some of the other songs include a Frankie Valley-like version of Santa Claus Is Coming to Town performed by “The Four Seasonings”, a humorous Elvis inspired ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas reading, and Heading Home For The Holidays done in distinct Dolly Parton style by Mary Welch Rogers, the wife of one of Waffle House’s co-founders. Rogers also lends her vocal talents to Heading Home for The Holidays.
Rogers didn’t get to sing just because, at the time, she was the wife of one of the co-founders, although that didn’t hurt. She’s a professional singer who recorded songs with 20th Century Fox Records in the late 1970’s, plus, she was the one who came up with the Waffle House song idea in the first place back in 1984. I emailed Rogers, now 73, asking her about It’s A Waffle House Christmas, but she declined to comment beyond, “I enjoyed recording and writing some of the WH songs”.
Mistletoe And Maple Syrup
Without a doubt, the standout track on the CD is The Waffle House 12 Days of Christmas: “At the Waffle House on Christmas, my true love gave to me, 6 different omelets, 5 pork chops grilled, 4 eggs a frying, 3 sausage patties, 2 waffles baking, and a bowl of delicious, hot grits.” I figured I’d spare you the lethal caloric intake from the last 6 dishes. Five of the songs are repeated at the end in instrumental form for Christmas karaoke purposes. Apparently, karaoke is a thing for some families on Christmas day. Mercifully, that was never a tradition I was exposed to.
Christmas, The Waffle House Way
If you’re of that age then you know big name companies releasing Christmas albums was hardly unusual back in the day. Goodyear, JC Penny, A & P Supermarkets, BF Goodrich, Avon, True Value, Firestone, and even KFC put out their own Christmas records every year and they were very popular. Those albums, however, were compilations of standard holiday hits. In the case of It’s A Waffle House Christmas, some of the songs were originals and most of those that weren’t had their lyrics “modified” to promote the brand. As to why Waffle House would put out their own Christmas CD in the first place, they explain on the CD’s rear insert: “At Waffle House, the holidays are always a favorite time for good cheer and happiness. This year we decided to capture that same spirit in a special CD collection of holiday songs, all served up with fun and tradition the Waffle House way.”
Like the Jukebox Favorites CD, It’s a Waffle House Christmas was only sold on the chain’s website and is hard to come by. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit I spent many, many (many) months scouring eBay to score my original copy. I finally ended up buying one from Jerry Buckner himself, the guy who wrote or co-wrote many of the WH songs. He even signed the cover for me.
If you need your Waffle House Christmas fix and can’t find the CD, don’t fret. You can listen to the entire album for free on YouTube (link provided at the end of my article) like 2,200 other Waffle Heads (I just made that name up) have. Some of the comments people left on YouTube about the Waffle House Christmas CD include, “If your party’s not this lit, don’t bother inviting me”, and “could this be the worst Christmas album ever?”
The House That Waffles Built
Waffle House started in 1955, 68 years ago, in Avondale Estates, Georgia by two neighbors who wanted a 24-hour, 7 days a week, sit down restaurant, with an emphasis on treating customers like family. It’s now in 25 (mostly mid-west and southern) states with almost 2,000 restaurants, employing over 40,000 people. As their website states, “Waffle House was founded on the principals of providing the friendliest service in town…” Co-founder Joe Rogers, a former short order cook himself, said, “We aren’t in the food business. We’re in the people business.” Incidentally, he named his restaurant “Waffle House” because the waffles were the most popular item on the menu. Waffle House says their restaurants collectively serve over 300,000 waffles every day. Now that’s a lot of waffles.
WafflesAnd Chow Mein
Waffle House as a company bought back the very first Waffle House restaurant at 2719 East College Avenue in Avondale Estates, Georgia which changed hands back in 1973. The two founders, Joe Rogers and Tom Forkner, had built the original property for $14,000 but the company hasn’t disclosed what it paid to buy back the building which had been a Chinese restaurant for the previous 20 years. In 2008 it was restored to its original 1955 stainless steel glory and turned into a museum.
The small section of the eatery has been outfitted with a period counter, 13 stools, cooking equipment, lighting, condiments, wood paneling, and even plates and mugs. There’s also a small memorabilia room featuring old menus, uniforms, hats, t-shirts, and lots of slogan buttons. For the perfect photo souvenir, there’s an opportunity to stick your head into holes of life size cut outs of vintage servers. And yes, there’s a working jukebox so you can play your favorite Waffle House song. If you’re thinking of visiting it’s by appointment only and you can’t eat there, but admission is free.
“Could this be the worst Christmas album ever?”
Christmas is a special time to spend with family and friends, to exchange gifts, to hope for peace in the world, and to play strange holiday music. If you think It’s A Waffle House Christmas is odd, come back here every week for the next 3 weeks and be amazed at even stranger holiday recordings. Have A Strange Christmas.
Trivia:When the first Waffle House opened in 1955, per their menu, a bottle of Coca-Cola cost 10 cents, hashbrowns cost 20 cents, waffles were 40 cents each as were eggs, 0.65 for a cheese omelet, a hamburger cost 30 cents, filet mignon was a whopping $1.50, and slice of fresh pie set you back 20 cents.
Trivia: Waffle House claims there are 1.5 million possible hashbrown combinations including cheese, onions, and sausage gravy.
Trivia (from WaffleHouse.com): “In 2015, Waffle House proudly served its billionth waffle.”
Trivia (from Wikipedia):“The founders of the Waffle House brand died in 2017 within less than two months of each other: Joe Rogers Sr. died on March 3 and Tom Forkner on April 26.”
Trivia (from Wikipedia):“In the 1960s, S. Truett Cathy, the owner of a local diner called the Dwarf House, contracted with Waffle House to sell his proprietary chicken sandwich, the Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich. However, the Chick-fil-A sandwich quickly overtook Waffle House’s own items in sales and Waffle House ended the deal, prompting Cathy to spin off Chick-fil-A into its own chain.”
Trivia: August 24th is National Waffle Day.
Trivia: In 2018, legendary country music star Bill Anderson released the single, “Waffle House Christmas”, after having spent a Thanksgiving at a Waffle House.
Every word in every one of my articles is 100% written by me. I never use ChatGPT or any AI technology. Ever.
You won’t find articles like this anywhere else. ‘This the season for giving. Please help support my website blog. Become a Patreon supporter today for just $1.
Jerry Buckner wrote or co-wrote many of the Waffle House songs including The Waffle House 12 Days of Christmas and scored a hit with Pac-Man Fever. Read my 10 Q&As with Buckner only on Patreonalong with more interesting details about Waffle House.
This is my third-year presenting “Have A Strange Christmas”, where I take a deep dive into strange Christmas records. This holiday, I decided to do something a little different. Rather than cram 5 albums into one very lengthy article, I’ll be posting one strange Christmas record each week starting this week through and including the last week of December. I kick off my series with none other than Bob Dylan.
I recall reading a story about John Lennon playing a Bob Dylan record for Paul McCartney. I think it was around the time The Beatles were recording their Rubber Soul album. McCartney said he didn’t like Dylan’s voice, to which Lennon responded, “Listen to the words, man.” Dylan’s unquestionably a very gifted songwriter, but I’ve never been able to completely get past his whining, gravelly voice. His Christmas album is no exception. Yes, Bob Dylan recorded a Christmas album.
Dylan’s voice is about as far afield from Bing Crosby and Perry Como as it can get, but that didn’t stop him from belting out an entire album’s worth of Christmas songs in October of 2009. Besides his voice sounding like it’s been roasting on an open fire, Robert Allen Zimmerman was born and raised Jewish, although he later converted to Christianity and changed his name. Dylan said everyone can relate to Christmas music regardless of religion. I agree with him on that score, although I find it difficult to relate to most of the songs on Christmas In The Heart (Columbia 88697 57323 1).
Perhaps if Dylan had used his God-given songwriting talent to write some brilliant Christmas songs of his own for this album, that might have rescued it. After all, we’re talking about the winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature. Instead, what we have here are 15 Christmas classic covers in two nostril, throat-sonic sound. So much so, I think it should’ve been called “Christmas In The Throat”.
Kleenex Says Bless You
Diving into the songs on Christmas In The Heart, sixteen seconds into the first song, Here Comes Santa Claus, it sounds like Dylan’s voice cracks. Other than that, the song is actually pretty good, as is Winter Wonderland. I’d also put Little Drummer Boy in the same category. Must Be Santa is a hoot and is the unquestionable standout track. The rest of the songs on the album, however, are enough to reduce the baby Jesus to tears.
Dark And Blurry
To those Dylan devotees who feel I’m being too hard on him, I liked him when he was a Traveling Wilbury, and I’ve already acknowledged that I think Dylan is a songwriting genius. Which is why, 27 years ago, I went to see him perform live in Portland, ME. I sneaked in my Minolta 35mm SLR camera and managed to get some snaps from the mezzanine. Dylan was wearing a very unusual shiny silver jacket that looked like it had a million tiny mirrors sewn on it. “Recording devices” weren’t allowed but I had no idea cameras fell into that category. Security staff were going through the audience literally ripping the film out of people’s cameras (this was before there were digital cameras and smartphones). That’s why my photos came out dark and blurry because I was clicking quickly while trying my best to conceal my camera. I also had the flash turned off so it didn’t give me away.
My opinion of Heart must be in the minority because the record opened at #1 on the Billboard Holiday chart, reached #5 on the Folk chart, made it to #10 on the Rock chart, and peaked at #23 on the overall album chart. It would seem music lovers across the board loved this record.
Laughing All the Way
Indeed, on Amazon, 82% of the reviews are 4 stars or above. Yet I found comments that were more along the lines of what I was thinking: “…it’s almost painful to listen to him try to sing. This may be the worst Christmas album I’ve ever heard”; “You have to LOVE Dylan and/or have a fantastic sense of humor”; “It’s like sticking a large bore needle into your ear into your brain”; “Awful. Sounds like my cat in heat…”; “A strange take on many classic songs and it reminds me of being at a Christmas party where everyone has had a few and someone brings out a guitar.”
The Season of Giving
In light of its success, Dylan must have made a bundle off of this album, right? Wrong. Not that he needed the money, mind you. To his great credit, all proceeds went to charity. In the US, Feeding America benefited, while in the UK it was Crisis, with the rest going to the World Food Programme. Strange as it may be, Christmas In The Heart fed a lot of hungry people in the world.
All I Want For Christmas Is You
One thing I do love about Christmas In The Heart is its visual presentation. The front cover artwork of a horse driven sleigh taken from an antique print reminds me of Christmas albums gone by. Inside the CD booklet is a great color illustration of Bettie Page as a sexy Mrs. Claus. If Mrs. Claus looked like that in reality, Santa wouldn’t dare leave her alone with the elves for 5 seconds, never mind all night long. The deluxe CD edition also came with 5 blank Christmas cards that reproduced the album cover art. Bravo.
The creativity didn’t stop with the album. Must Be Santa was released as a 45 RPM single. The promotional copy was issued on red colored vinyl and came packaged in a cardboard sleeve with vintage graphics and a label that made it look like an old 78 RPM record. Bravo again. Incidentally, Must Be Santa was backed with Dylan’s reading of ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas which wasn’t included on the LP or CD. It’s the most uninspired reading I’ve ever heard in my life.
“I think it should’ve been called ‘Christmas In The Throat.’”
The Ten Worst
A 2013 Rolling Stone readers’ poll named Must Be Santa one of Dylan’s 10 worst songs. I beg to differ. Granted, it isn’t his best effort, but it’s a fresh, fun polka take on an old Christmas classic that you don’t hear very often. The only thing better than the song is the video which depicts a Christmas Eve party we’d all love to have been invited to. In the video, Dylan meanders through the house singing while wearing different hats. He winds up outside on the porch with the big guy himself. It’s been viewed over 7 million times.
Back In Stock
If you missed this album when it came out and want a copy to play so you can clear out the stragglers at your Christmas party, you’re in luck. The CD is easily found on eBay and reasonably priced. Prefer vinyl? You’re in luck again. The record was just re-issued last month for the album’s 14th Anniversary. Why wait one more year for 15? Amazon put out their own exclusive red colored vinyl edition. Don’t bother trying to track down the original 2009 record (which came bundled with the CD) unless you’re okay with spending over a hundred dollars.
After the album came out, some music reviewers in the press suggested Christmas In The Heart was an intentional parody of vintage Christmas albums. Dylan responded by saying those reviewers didn’t have a clue about him or his music. Christmas In The Heart isn’t a parody, but it is strange.
Trivia:Dylan produced “Christmas In The Heart” himself but used the pseudonym “Jack Frost”.
Trivia (from krcgtv.com/features/beyond-the-trivia/beyond-the-trivia-best-selling-christmas-artist): “The artist who’s sold the most Christmas albums is Elvis Presley and his 1957 album, ‘Elvis’ Christmas Album’, is the best-selling Christmas album of all time. It contains Elvis’s iconic version of ‘Blue Christmas’. So far, it’s sold some 20-million copies. Kenny G is second on the list at seven million albums, followed by Nat ‘King’ Cole and Mannheim Steamroller.”
Return here next week for the next installment in my “Have A Strange Christmas” series.
Every word in every one of my articles is 100% written by me. I never use ChatGPT or any AI technology. Ever.
You won’t find articles like this anywhere else. Please help support my website blog by becoming a Patreon supporter today for only $1 or make a donation of any amount via PayPal.
If you listened to public radio in New England in the 1970s and 80s, even into the 1990s, chances are you remember the name Robert J. Lurtsema. Lurtsema hosted and produced a very popular 5-hour morning drive classical music program, Morning Pro Musica, for nearly 29 years. The radio show emanated from WGBH, a 100,000 watt FM public radio station in Boston. For a time, his show was also simulcast on WGBH-TV.
Lurtsema wasn’t just a well-known Boston area radio personality. Morning Pro Musica was carried by numerous public radio stations throughout New England, and for a time, over many NPR affiliate stations throughout the US via satellite. At its height, the program had a half million listeners. The Christian Science Monitor called Lurtsema “the world’s greatest alarm clock”.
Even if his name doesn’t ring a bell, you’ve probably heard Lurtsema’s distinctive voice. He voiced the opening to Public Television’s Mystery! (Produced by WGBH-TV), narrated many public TV documentaries, narrated an episode of the PBS TV series Nova, and can be heard on several records.
I only knew Lurtsema as the host of Morning Pro Musica, but he had a profound influence on me as an undergraduate studying radio at Emerson College. My voice wasn’t anything like his but I adopted his speaking style. To say it was laid back would be an understatement. Thus, I earned a reputation at my college’s non-commercial radio station for being incredibly boring on the air. I wanted to work in public radio so it didn’t concern me that I wasn’t as exciting as Howard Stern. Unfortunately, I was never able to break into public radio, though I did score interviews with the two biggest public radio stations in Boston; WGBH and WBUR. WGBH actually called me to do some fill-in announcing but I was recuperating from eye surgery at the time and was reluctantly forced to decline. They never called again. Like a single beautiful woman, you only get one chance with public radio. I ended up working in commercial radio so I was forced to develop a personality. But I digress.
Getting To Know You
As I got to know Lurtsema better through my research, it turns out he lived quite a life. He served in the US Navy for 5 years and held all manner of jobs before finding his calling as a classical music radio host. He was awarded a lifetime scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music. My research also revealed he was passionate about environmental causes, nuclear disarmament, medical research, and civil rights. He sat on dozens of boards for music organizations throughout New England and was the artistic director for 5 years for the “Brown Bags for Kids” series at Worcester’s Mechanics Hall. He narrated two children’s records…The Story of Babar and Peter and The Wolf. He performed live narrations with orchestras. He authored 2 books, was a sculptor, painter, photographer, and composer (his bassoon quartet composition was adapted as the theme music for the PBS-TV program “Julia Child and Company”).
During his radio years he became an unofficial US ambassador as it were, having received formal invitations from the governments of France, Germany, Scotland, Greece, Canada, Israel, Finland, and the Netherlands. The latter country hosted him as one of 40 distinguished guests of Dutch heritage (the Dutch spelling of his last name is Luurtsema).
Back in late 80s, I had my clock radio set to wake to Morning Pro Musica even though I wasn’t a classical music buff. “Start your day with Robert J”, as the slogan went. Lurtsema began every show with a recording of bird songs…a recording he made himself. The bird songs would play without interruption, often for as long as 5 minutes, and then slowly mix with his opening classical piece. What a wonderful way to wake up! He had a calming voice which the New York Times likened to “warm fudge”. His pauses were so long you could drive a Mack truck through them. He was a welcomed alternative to screaming morning DJs in hysterics over nothing, playing music that was equally meaningless. In a promo for Morning Pro Musica, one listener described Lurtsema’s program as “sanity in a world soon to become insane. It’s an opportunity to take that last deep breath before you get on the fast track.”
Have A Taste
On the flip side of the record so to speak, not everyone held Lurtsema in such high esteem. Many were annoyed by his notoriously infinite pauses. Some considered Lurtsema narcissistic. Classical snobs didn’t like the selections he played or the way he framed them. Still others felt Lurtsema was just plain boring. He was an acquired taste, but for myself and hundreds of thousands of other listeners, it was a taste that lingered pleasantly on the palette.
The music Lurtsema played (he spent hours meticulously planning each program months in advance) and his on-air personality (or lack thereof) wasn’t all he was known for. He also insisted on writing and reporting his own newscasts during his show, something none of the other music hosts could get away with. He always opened his news segments with, “Here’s a look at some of the items in the news as edited and reported by your ‘Morning Pro Musica’ host.” The morning after the 1980 presidential election in which Ronald Regan defeated Jimmy Carter, Lurtsema announced, “there is no news worth reporting this morning”, and proceeded with his show. WGBH tried to replace his news with live hourly NPR news reports from Washington, D.C. and California. According to one telling of the story, Lurtsema threatened to quit and the radio station backed down, while another story said listener protests were so overwhelming that the station was forced to restore Lurtsema’s own newscasts.
Live From Tanglewood
From 1995 onward, during the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s opening weekends of their summer seasons, Lurtsema broadcasted live from Tanglewood, a music venue in Lenox, MA, and the home of the BSO since 1937. During this period, Morning Pro Musica featured live performances and interviews with John Williams, Seiji Ozawa, and Arlo Guthrie just to name a few. Other notable guests on his program included Aaron Copland, Isaac Stern, John Cage, and Itzhak Perlman. In the radio industry, or at least in the public radio realm, Morning Pro Musica became the gold standard for classical music programs.
Tell Me A Story
Lurtsema hosted special Christmas editions of his morning show featuring Christmas stories he narrated himself. Over the years, his listeners wrote in asking for copies of his moving readings. In 1981, he answered their requests with his first and only solo record…Robert J. Lurtsema Christmas Stories, which celebrates its 42nd anniversary this year.
In case you couldn’t tell, the cherubic faced man in the Santa Claus suit on the cover of Christmas Stories is indeed Mr. Lurtsema. The image, with his obscured smile, gives us a glimpse into his playful side. According to Wikipedia, “Lurtsema displayed a subtle sense of humor. On April Fool’s Day 1982, he stood in for the singing birds with his own deadpan chirping, and on April Fools’ Day 1992, the birds were replaced by howling wolves. Aware of his reputation for long pauses, on another April Fools’ Day, Lurtsema presented selections of his ‘best pauses.’ One morning, he devoted his full five hours to playing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ in all of the variations that he could find.”
Lurtsema vs. Shatner
Like Morning Pro Musica and Lurtsema himself, Christmas Stories is unusual and at the same time remarkable. Besides the fact that it was put out by a radio announcer, this Christmas album doesn’t include a single Christmas song and Lurtsema doesn’t sing any songs, which would’ve proved interesting in itself. I envision him doing a spoken holiday song a la William Shatner. If you’re looking for sing-a-long with Robert, this isn’t it. Rather, it’s a showcase for Lurtsema’s voice and unique delivery, both of which were well suited for the subject matter.
Perfect 5 Star Rating
Robert J. Lurtsema Christmas Stories enjoys a rare 5 out 5-star rating on Amazon. Some of the comments from the reviews include, “an amazing set of Christmas stories (and history) told by one of the best voices of our time. A must have for the holidays and Christmas Eve. I am not religious and I find these moving and in the true spirit of the season.” Another person wrote, “this collection of Christmas stories is carefully chosen and beautifully delivered. The recording quality is exceptional. A wonderful album!” Still another opined, “for beauty of language and soul of reading, this is a great addition to any library of Christmas recordings. Highly recommended!”
Despite such high praise, Christmas Stories didn’t exactly go platinum. I have a memory of seeing multiple copies of this record embarrassingly collecting dust in discount record bins. Its appeal would’ve been very limited. Lurtsema was popular, but he wasn’t Frank Sinatra. Besides, the album was distributed by a very small record label, Philo Records, which catered to folk, jazz, and world music, and operated out of a converted barn in Vermont.
CD Or Not CD, That Is the Question
In spite of or perhaps because of its limited appeal, there’s decent inventory of Christmas Stories on the used record market such as eBay and for reasonable prices. Alas, the coveted CD is more expensive and much harder to come by, which is odd since it was distributed by Rounder Records which had much wider distribution. I ended up finding one on Amazon of all places! The Amazon listing shows “CD-R”. To me, that meant the seller was selling copies, which is against US Copyright law. I went ahead and purchased one anyway and was extremely surprised to receive an original CD, not a copy, and it even included the original Rounder Records mail-in postcard. As of this writing, the listing is still on Amazon but there are no more CDs available. I contacted the seller about this and they apologized and said their inventory constantly changes.
If you’re not into physical media as I am, Amazon sells the MP3 download of the album for under $10. If you’re entertaining the idea of buying Christmas Stories, I’d suggest getting the digital download, CD, cassette tape, or a sealed or mint copy of the vinyl record so the crackles and pops don’t compete with the star of the show. I’ve included links at the end of my article. Unfortunately, there are no liner notes by Lurtsema or any background information about his readings, and the CD doesn’t include any bonus tracks.
The Bird Is the Word
Earlier I mentioned recordings of happy chirping birds that Lurtsema used to open each show with. If you’ll allow one of my trademark digressions, WGBH radio released a record and cassette of those recordings in 1984, entitled Dawn Chorus: The Birds of Morning Pro Musica, which can also be sourced on used music sites. Lurtsema isn’t heard on this recording, just his birds.
Lurtsema On Record
There are other Lurtsema related records you might find of interest, such as the Paul Winter Consort’s The Man Who Planted Trees from 1995, beautifully narrated by Lurtsema, and Voices ofThe Loon from 1980.
There are 2 additional Christmas titles I’ll briefly bring to your attention if you’ll indulge me, though they’re not Lurtsema records per se. Wassail! Wassail! from 1995 features a mix of early American Christmas music and narration. Of the 21 tracks, 4 are narrated by Lurtsema, including a powerful reading of The Angels and The Shepherds. Though long out of print, this CD is available on used record sites.
I donned my detective’s fedora and after some extensive digging, discovered The Christmas Revels: In Celebration of The Winter Solstice. It includes just 1 reading by Lurtsema which is why it flew under my radar. The track I speak of, The Shortest Day, is a poem written by Susan Cooper. It times out at less than 90 seconds, but it’s 90 seconds of full throttle Lurtsema. You can easily find this CD used, and possibly the original gatefold vinyl album as well, but amazingly, I found this 43-year-old title being sold new on CD by none other than The Christmas Revels themselves (link at the end of this article).
Since I was already wearing my detective’s fedora, I decided to track down David Lurtsema, Robert Lurtsema’s only brother. I’ve become quite the detective since I started my own blog and after some searching on the Internet and a few phone calls, I was able to connect with him. David’s 81 and still working, yet he managed to carve out some time for a late night (very late night!) phone conversation.
Peter: What did you think of Robert’s radio program, Morning Pro Musica?
David: “Um, I really didn’t hear that much of on the air for him. As far as radio is concerned, I went to his studio a couple times, but that was about it. And listening to his program…not very much because I [couldn’t] get it [where I lived].”
Peter: Can you give me one interesting or humorous story about your brother?
David: “When he passed away, they had a big celebration of life at [an] Episcopalian church somewhere in Boston; a big church. [Editor’s note: It was Emmanual Episcopal Church in Boston]. There were like 5,000 people there and they asked me to get up and speak. What the hell am I going to say? So, I figured I’d say what he said and I told a story that he had told me that’s true as far as I know. My brother was in demolitions in the Navy. The captain called him in and said, ‘Robert, you’ve been recommended for E4’, because he was an enlisted man. He was a 3rd class petty officer for three times and [he never took the test]. [The captain said,] ‘I want you to promise me you’ll take the test and you’ll study hard.’ Well, if he took the test and passed it, he knew that he would be extended because doing demolition work, they needed these guys. He said, ‘Okay, captain, I’ll take the test and I’ll study hard.’ So, he did and the captain called him in again and he said, ‘Robert, you’re the only man in the history of the Navy to get 100%…Wrong!’ I got up in front of 5,000 people to tell that story. It got a couple of laughs.”
Peter: I was in Rhode Island visiting relatives a couple of months ago and I went to visit Robert’s grave in Canton, MA, where his ashes are interred.
David: “I’m so glad you’re telling me. I know where it is now. Great. That’s where he was supposed to go but I never got the word what happened with that. All I got with the word was, was that Betsy [Robert’s girlfriend] was bitch moaning and complaining that he didn’t have some great, ah, thing built for him, and I think the thing about the family was, well [chuckling], why don’t you take some of the money and give it to him yourself?”
Peter: Since I’m writing about Robert’s “Christmas Stories” record, what was Christmas like as a child in the Lurtesma household?
David: “Well, I don’t have a lot of recollection of it because there was 10 years between us. So, in other words, when [Robert] was old enough to go in the navy, I was what, 6, 8 [years old], somewhere in there. So, I remember how the Christmas’ were for me but to remember him there, it wasn’t very often
Peter: But did you decorate and have a tree?
David: “We did. We decorated to the hilt. The tree [had] many lights and many ornaments. A lot of presents.”
Peter: Any other stories you’d like to mention about your brother?
David: “Another thing you may not know about him, as long as I’ve got it in my head…I don’t talk to anybody about this much, so I’ve got to bring it out of the memory. He was a child prodigy. His IQ was up like 160 or something. Off the charts. He graduated high school with 2 double promotions…he had 2 [college] degrees in 4 years…a degree in public relations and communications and, ah, I can’t remember what the other one was. It’s been too long now.
“He did children’s stories in Phoenix with a collaboration with some people there. He did, ah, what else? I can’t think right now.”
Peter: He wrote a couple of books.
David: “Yes. He wrote a book on music. I have the book. It’s basically written for musicians because most people wouldn’t be able to comprehend what was in there.”
Peter: I only knew Robert as a listener of his show. What was he like as a person?
David: “When I got out of the Navy, I lived with him for a month or so. We both loved a lot of the same things but his lifestyle was more erratic than…erratic is probably the wrong word. I should say looser than I wanted to live. He liked to go to nudist colonies. That’s fine, but too much of anything is not good.
“I remember his apartment in, ah, oh, I can’t remember the name of the town.”
David: “Yes. Thank you. He had an apartment in Cambridge. His bed was suspended by 4 cables coming out of the 4 corners of the ceiling and the cables were attached to springs to hold the thing together and the mattress on top of that. So, the bed was suspended off the floor. That was quite the thing. He was very innovative.
“I went to a psychic a few years after he died [to get] in touch with him. We had a lot of conversations back and forth and it was all taped…and the psychic is getting a kick out of his personality because he [had] a very unusual sense of humor. She caught that right away as soon as she started talking. She’d never met him. It was very revealing. The things I wanted to say to him about how I wished we had spent more time together and how he regretted not doing it because he didn’t really know who I was until later. A lot of good things happened from that. I was so glad that I had done it.”
In terms of Lurtsema’s gifted story telling on Christmas Stories, his brother says that stemmed from their father. “My father was a storyteller. He was a carpenter. He would come home in the evening and have dinner with us; my two sisters, my brother and I, and he would always tell stories about the day. He would talk about Mrs. McGillicuddy or Mrs. Schwartz, or whatever, with an accent that was theirs so you knew what nationality they were. It was kind of play acting but it was very entertaining for us. And of course, all that rubs off on everybody.”
“As far as his storytelling and so on”, David continued, “I have those records you’re talking about. There’s The Man Who Planted Trees. If you haven’t heard that it’s excellent. And Christmas Stories and so on. I went to a lot of performances when I was…in Boston…one where [Robert] was doing imitations, voice overs, I guess it was for Peter and what was it…”
Peter: “Peter and The Wolf”.
David: “’Peter and The Wolf’. Thank you. It’s late here. Later for you though.”
David said something at one point in our conversation that I wanted to end with because it had an important message for all of us: “He was somebody I loved greatly and admired, but we just didn’t spend enough time together and we were both very sorry about that.”
As with his radio program, Robert J. LurtsemaChristmas Stories is a refreshing break from the usual onslaught of holiday chestnuts we subject ourselves to on an annual basis. It requires one to slow down or even to stop and contemplate the reason for the season. Anyone could’ve recorded these stories, but not in Lurtsema’s inimitable way. As much as I enjoy listening to this wonderful album, I can’t help but feel sad knowing there will never be another show like his or another host like him. If he were still alive today, he’d be 92, and if his health allowed, I’m certain he’d still be playing those singing birds every morning. Two-plus decades after his passing, I still miss waking to his voice. He truly was the world’s greatest alarm clock. I don’t know what the voice of God sounds like, but I can only hope it sounds a lot like Robert Lurtsema’s, prolonged pauses and all.
My eternal thanks to David Lurtsema for sharing his memories, memorabilia, and photographs.
Trivia:RobertLurtsema was originally hired to host ‘Morning Pro Musica’ only on weekends. Not long after, he was promoted to the coveted weekday morning drive slot when the seat became available, yet he still continued to do his weekend shows, working 7 days a week for the next 22 years. In 1993, ‘Morning Pro Musica’ went back to weekends only, which Lurtsema hosted until his death. On June 12, 2000, at age 68, he died from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a rare illness of the respiratory system.
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If you own records like I do, you probably have a few that never saw life on CD, or perhaps they did but the CDs are hard to find or too expensive, yet you’d love to listen to those albums on CD. If you’re technically inclined you could copy the records onto CDs yourself, but you probably wouldn’t be able to eliminate the pops and clicks and generate high definition artwork.
Where To Turn?
I have a few records that were never released on CD and probably never will be. I prefer not to play them since they’re collectibles, yet I wanted to be able to enjoy the music. Yes, I still own and play CDs and I own 2 CD players, yet I didn’t have the ability to transfer the records onto CDs. Even if I did, they would include all the noise from the records. If I used a service to do this, I wanted to be sure my records would be handled with care and I’d end up with something I’d be happy with. I searched the Internet and found a resource I felt comfortable relying on…Record Rescuers in San Diego, CA.
Recordrescuers.com, a division of King Tet Productions, has been in business for almost 30 years and was one of the first to offer this kind of a service. It isn’t a store, a sideline business, or a part time hobby. Owner Eric Van der Wyk is an audio engineer and composer as well as a graphic designer and musician. He plays the electric sitar amongst other stringed instruments and studied Classical Indian music under Ali Akbar Khan. He’s worked on audio and video projects for Warner Brothers, the late Roy Clark, Troma Entertainment, Buck Trent, and many others. His website (link at the end) has numerous glowing reviews from satisfied customers from around the world, be they professionals or regular music lovers like you and me.
The process to turn your records into custom CD-Rs is pretty simple. The first step is to contact Van der Wyk to discuss your needs and coordinate mailing your record(s) to his studio. Pack your records securely, include a check for whatever you owe (or Van der Wyk can invoice you via PayPal after he receives your platters), and send them off. Some of his customers actually have records shipped directly from the sellers they bought them from.
Once received and paid for, Van der Wyk dubs your precious albums onto CD-Rs, and in the process, removes most if not all of the surface and other noise in the records’ grooves. Everything is done in the digital domain in 24 bit/96kHz (high resolution) which Van der Wyk says is twice that of a Blu-Ray DVD movie soundtrack. He’ll also craft the artwork for the CD-Rs if you’ve included that option.
Depending on how busy Van der Wyk is, you’ll generally have your albums and new CD-Rs back to you in about a week, give or take. He does his work in the order received, but rest assured, he won’t allow your albums to sit around for an extended period. He prides himself on turning around his projects promptly.
Despite the company’s name, Record Rescuers isn’t limited to just LP’s. Van der Wyk also works with 78 and 45 RPM records, cassette tapes, reel-to-reel tapes, and DAT tapes. He’s even transferred MiniDiscs to CD-Rs, though you may have to ship him your MD player.
But wait, there’s more, as Flex Tape’s Phil Swift might say. Van der Wyk also repairs cassette tapes and transfers VHS tapes and any kind of film, including Betamax and 8mm, to DVD. It’s one stop shopping for all of your audio and video restoration needs.
Van der Wyk’s graphic design experience kicks in when it comes time to create the high-definition artwork that goes in the front and back of the jewel case and gets printed on the CD-R’s surface (if you’ve paid for that service). This makes him as much an artist as an audio engineer. He has many examples of his finished work on his website and you can see images of the albums he’s recently restored on his facebook page (link at the end).
In my case, after I emailed and then spoke with Van der Wyk, I shipped him 3 albums…Kay Martin’s I Know What He Wants For Christmas (But I Don’t Know How To Wrap It), Paul McCartney’s RAM (in mono), and John Bult’s Julie’s Sixteenth Birthday. Allow me to briefly break down each record and its corresponding Record Rescuers CD-R for you.
I Know What He Wants For Christmas
I wrote extensively about this album in an old “Have A Strange Christmas” blog post, so I’m not going to rehash the details here. For this article, suffice to say it’s an adult Christmas record from 1962 with cheeky songs like Hang Your Balls On The Christmas Tree, Santa’s Doing The Horizontal Twist, and I Want A Casting Couch For Christmas. Side B features live bits from Kay Martin And Her Body Guard’s risqué comedy shows (“Ms. Martin’s received 11 requests and not a damn one of them is for music!”)
This record was reissued in 2015 on RockBeat Records, which is impossible find, but was never released on CD. I have the original pressing on dark green vinyl and I didn’t want to degrade the condition with each play, so I asked Record Rescuers to transfer it to CD-R.
After I received the newly minted CD-R, I popped it into my beloved vintage Technics SL-P999, unsure if it would even play CD-Rs considering it’s 34 years old. It read the TOC. So far, so good. With fingers crossed, I pressed the “Play” button with some degree of hesitancy and was amazed at what my vintage Blueroom Minipod speakers reproduced. The sound quality was eyebrow raising, without a single snap, crackle, or pop from a 61-year-old record! The organ sounded, like, crazy, man. Martin’s voice is somewhat reminiscent of Lola Albright’s with a pinch of Lucille Ball, and it was strong and clear. The mostly spoken word comedy show portion had a few sonic issues that managed to find their way onto the CD, but nowhere near as bad as it sounded on the record.
The album artwork Van der Wyk generated was equally impressive, and he invested quite a bit of time getting it just right. A previous owner had written on the front cover and used Wite-out and colored markers which I asked to be cropped out. Although this personal touch made my copy unique, I didn’t appreciate how it ruined the front cover. All in all, the CD-R is a great acoustic and artistic restoration of a wild vintage holiday album. Kay Martin herself would be titillated.
Paul McCartney’s second solo album after the Beatles broke up was RAM from 1971, and what an album it was. Every track was a winner, not just the #1 hit Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey. RAM was issued in stereo, but interestingly, in Brazil, a mono version was also released. Mono versions were also shipped to US AM radio stations (AM stations broadcast in mono) in a white cover with a white label. Other than the Brazil pressing, the mono version was never made available commercially to the public.
That changed in 2021 when the mono version of RAM was remastered at Abbey Road studios in London and re-issued as a limited-edition vinyl record (my copy is stamped #14868). It was never released on CD though there are various bootleg CDs of the album. Why would anyone want to hear this fantastic album in mono? Because the mono version uses a different mix from the stereo version. Some actually prefer the mono mix to the stereo mix.
Record Rescuers came to the rescue again, expertly transferring my record to CD-R. The plain white artwork is hardly exciting but Van der Wyk worked his magic and made the CD-R look great. The quality of the recording was fab. This is one CD that will find itself in my CD player very often.
3. Julie’s Sixteenth Birthday
Were it not for this record cover from 1981, country singer John Bult would’ve remained unknown. It’s gone down as one of the worst album covers in history. At first glance, the picture looks like an older man trying to pick up an underage girl in a seedy bar. Or, judging from the expression on her face, perhaps he got her pregnant and he’s trying to comfort her. Interpret the cover however you wish, but you must admit it isn’t exactly Sgt. Pepper. For his part, Bult said he never approved that cover photo and had assumed one from a professional photo shoot was going to be used. He wasn’t a happy camper, and from what I’ve read, apparently still isn’t to this day.
Julie’s Sixteenth Birthday was reissued in a small batch four years later, still using the same embarrassing front cover, but it was never put out on CD. This was another opportunity to put a scarce album on CD-R so I could enjoy it without fear of degrading the original.Here again, I was blown away by Record Rescuers’ work. The artwork for this title, which presented a bit of a challenge, was spot on. The sound was perfect, as if I bought the CD from a record store. I could practically hear the truck accident described in the depressing title track. Not bad for a 42-year-old record!
Here again, I was blown away by Record Rescuers’ work. The artwork for this title, which presented a bit of a challenge, was spot on. The sound was perfect, as if I bought the CD from a record store. I could practically hear the truck accident described in the depressing title track. Not bad for a 42-year-old record!
I reached out to Van der Wyk to get more information about his craft.
Peter: Why did you get into the audio restoration business?
Eric: “As a struggling artist in the 70s, (with no budget for decent recording equipment) I had an idea that by 2000 I would connect my reel to reel tape deck to a computer and use it to make my old tape recordings sound better. I achieved this in 1996 by creating new interfaces for a computer, that’s when I decided it was a career idea, not a hobby. This lead to my suite of related services for restoring irreplaceable audio recordings from LPs, 45s, 78s, cassettes and reel to reel tapes.”
Peter: Does your background as a musician give you an advantage in this kind of work?
Eric: “I think it helps immeasurably. My broad knowledge of music styles and appreciation for diverse genres helps people to know they’re in good hands. I try to find something to love about every recording that I’m given to remaster. I think it helps to love what you’re doing and have passion for preserving something that’s important to my clients.”
Peter: What specific equipment do you use in your home studio?
Eric: “Over the past 25 years I’ve been steadily upgrading and appending the equipment in my studio, the software involved and the techniques that I’m developing. Like a Doctor or a Lawyer, I consider this a “practice” so my work is always evolving and (in my opinion) on the path towards perfection. I use a professional turntable with a unique interface I developed, it is equipped with 7 unique Pro Cartridges, ranging in value from $200 to $900 each and are selected based on various aspects of the type of record involved.”
Peter: Your process doesn’t involve applying any subjective equalization to the original music, right?
Eric: “For normal LP and 45 conversions, correct. I do what I call an “honest restoration” which means that no frequencies are boosted and no compression is added. Great care is taken to preserve the original stereo image, dynamics and dynamic relationship between the tracks. What you end up with is something cleaner and hotter but technically “flat” so you can apply your own personal EQ settings on playback and it will respond. Artists and record labels appreciate this because I’m not “ruining” the recording trying to make it sound “modern”, and it is appropriate for re-issues. Many of my clients have stated that my remasters and hot, yet warm, and not “cold” like many digital recordings are considered to be.”
Peter: Do you ever receive records that have so much noise or defects that they’re beyond restoration? What’s the most challenging project you’ve worked on?
Eric: “Most of the 78s I receive are home-made “acetate” recordings which only had a few good plays back in the 1940s. Today these records have more noise than signal, the noise is literally louder than the voice. So, I developed a nine-step process to make them “listenable.” Any recording that can’t sound “stellar” or “excellent” can at least be improved to become “listenable.” These records are typically from 1947, my website for this service is 78toCD.com and there’s a link to a New York Times article about this.”
Peter: What are a few of the more rare or unusual record titles you’ve received from clients over the years? What’s the oldest record you’ve ever handled?
Eric: “I’ve done a few old Edison records that were over 100 years old. Songs like “The Old Grey Mare”, that’s a lot of fun. It really shows the genius of Edison that his “unbreakable” records from over 100 years ago still work! How many “things” today will last that long?”
Peter: Do you have a rough idea of how many records you’ve restored since you started?
Eric: “That’s a great question, I really haven’t kept track. However, when my clients order the optional cover art, I also post a Hi Def jpg of the front cover to my company facebook page. There are now over 5,000 examples of OOP album covers to peruse.“
Peter: Your clients are really passionate about their records, aren’t they?
Eric: “Indeed, it makes what I do fulfilling and satisfying.”
Peter: You’ve got the best job ever! You’re your own boss and you get to listen to music all day and get paid for it.
Eric: “I’m grateful every day to be doing such important work for so many interesting people. It’s challenging, stressful, long hours, but I love being busy with such relevant work. It certainly is a blessing to be successful at a business I made up.”
Van der Wyk mentioned a New York Times article. This was perhaps his most famous project. Two years ago, he was asked to restore several 78 RPM records for a then 94-year-old woman who had recorded them back in 1946. Not long after, Madeline Forman packed the records away and forgot about them, knowing her childhood dream of being a professional singer could never become a reality. She rediscovered the dusty records more than 7 decades later during COVID. Her son got in touch with a cousin, who in turn, recommended Record Rescuers to restore the records. The heartwarming story received national press coverage.
That’s great, you say, but how much does all of this cost? It’s more affordable than you might think. Each CD-R of a restored album costs $35 which includes a jewel case and a label on the CD-R. If you want glossy color front and back artwork in the jewel case then that costs an additional $10. For “full artwork”, which includes the front and back artwork plus color printing on the front of the CD-R instead of a label, that costs $25. Based on the CD-Rs I received, I’d highly recommend this option. If you want an extra copy of a CD-R, that adds another $5-$8.50 per CD-R depending on what artwork level you prefer. If you send in 78 RPM records, those are $7.50 per side. For a complete menu, refer to Record Rescuers website (link at the end). You’re responsible for the cost to ship your records to Record Rescuers in CA but Van der Wyk ships your first order (up to 5 LPs) back to you via USPS Priority at no charge. From my own experience I can tell you he does an excellent job packing the records to insure they arrive back to you in the same condition you sent them.
With the thousands of albums Van der Wyk has restored over the last 2+ decades, you might wonder why he wouldn’t make a bunch of extra copies and sell them on his website. People would be willing to pay good money to get high quality CD-Rs of rare or obscure records. Van der Wyk knows that wouldn’t be fair to the customers mailing in their records to him. Moreover, it would be illegal under US Copyright law, though there are companies that somehow manage to fly under the radar and make CD-R copies in bulk of records and sell them.
If you’ve got audio media, be they LPs, 78s, 45s, reel-to-reels, cassette tapes, or a combination thereof, and you want to get them on CD-R and get the best sound quality and visual presentation, I can think of no better company than Record Rescuers to trust your precious music with. You’ll be very pleased with the end results as I was.
And if you’re looking for a unique Christmas or Birthday gift for that special music lover in your life, look no further than Record Rescuers. Imagine their surprise when they see the custom CD-Rs and listen to the music! Unlike some other gifts, this is something they’ll keep forever and enjoy many times over.
“Billy Joel’s “52nd Street” was among the first commercially released on the compact disc format (it was one of 50 CDs released on October 1 in Japan…
“Mercedes-Benz was the first automobile manufacturer to offer a CD player as a factory option in 1984.
“Born in the U.S.A.” became the first compact disc manufactured in the United States for commercial release when CBS and Sony opened its CD manufacturing plant in Terre Haute, Indiana in September 1984. Columbia Records’ CDs previously had been imported from Japan.
“For years after CD players hit the market, they remained unpopular and were mostly limited to fans of classical music. Dire Straits then released “Brothers in Arms”, the first totally digital album. It sold 30 million copies and is credited with launching CD players into the mainstream.
“David Bowie was the first major artist to convert his entire catalog to the compact disc format in 1985.
Tony Bennett’s 1987 “The Art Of Excellence” was the first album to be initially released on CD instead of the traditional vinyl format.”
Inputs/Outputs: Headphone out, Line out, Bluetooth 5.2.
In the box: Sound Burger,Quick Start Guide, Audio cable, USB-C cable.
Colors: Black, White, and Yellow
Pros: As much fun as you can have without getting arrested. Easy to setup and use. 12-hour playback. Replaceable rechargeable battery. Bluetooth 5.2. Good sound. Great retro style.
Cons: Lifting tone arm can be tricky. Can’t defeat the phono preamp. No volume control. Susceptible to vibration. No place to store locking pin. No non-grip surface. Speed controls are delicate.
Don’t drive up to your favorite fast-food joint and ask for a Sound Burger. They won’t know what you’re talking about. But chances are, people into vinyl records will. Audio-Technica first released the Sound Burger late last year. It sold out within 2 days and until recently, had been on constant back order. So, what is this thing that had people waiting months to get? The Sound Burger is a new, belt-driven, portable Bluetooth turntable inspired by the original model introduced by AT some 40 years ago. It’s practically become the hottest thing in audio since the phonograph was invented. Nipper now has something cool to listen to when he goes outside to do his business.
Hurry Up & Wait
I was able to score my Sound Burger through a contact at AT, but still had to wait a few weeks to get it. Burgers are just now starting to show in stock on AT’s website, Amazon, and other places (links provided at the end of my article). I already own 3 turntables, so why get another one? My turntables are heavy, full size, and I don’t have room for them since I was forced to sell my home, so they’re packed up in boxes. I wanted a turntable that was easy to move, wouldn’t take up a lot of real estate, wouldn’t take up an afternoon to setup, and wouldn’t cost a lot. Those cheesy Crosley “suitcase” record players with their ceramic cartridges weren’t even a consideration.
A portable turntable is a rather odd device when you stop to think about it. Are people really going to lug a box of records around and then plop down in a park, or wherever, and start listening while passersby gawk? It would come in handy if you frequented used record stores or flea markets and wanted to preview albums before you bought them. It would also be a very cool thing for a dorm room, provided no one steals your Burger. In my case, my Sound Burger is staying safely in my house. Besides, I get enough strange looks as it is when I go out in public.
Preparing Your Burger
Setting up the Sound Burger is as easy as deciding what condiments to put on a burger. The first order of business is to unscrew the locking pin on the back. Don’t forget to do this or you’ll damage the tone arm. Disappointingly, there’s no place to store it so be sure not to lose it. The next thing to do is plug in the included USB-C cable and start charging the Li-Ion battery. Now comes the fun part. Lift the lid, lift the tone arm, remove the rubberized clamp, place a record on the platter, apply the clamp (which cleverly doubles as a 45 RPM adapter), close the lid, turn the unit on, select 33 1/3 or 45 speed (sorry, no 78 RPM), and place the tone arm on the record to start the platter spinning. Your Burger is now well done.
Well, not quite. You need to connect it to something for the sound part of the Sound Burger to work. You have 3 options: There’s a stereo 3.5 mm headphone output, 3.5 mm stereo line output (audio cable included), and Bluetooth 5.2. There’s no volume control so if you’re connecting to something that has no volume control then you’re at the mercy of Sound Burger’s fixed level output.
That output, as I discovered, is quite low, to the point where I wasn’t able to enjoy my cherished closed back Oppo PM-3 Planar Magnetic headphones. I switched to my Tin HiFi T4 wired ear buds but the sound level was even lower with those. Unfortunately, neither of those models have a volume control. Why AT failed to include a volume control on the Sound Burger is a mystery. A simple rotary volume control couldn’t have been beyond the realm of human engineering and couldn’t have been that costly.
Above the Burger’s Power and Speed buttons is a simulated vented area that one might understandably mistake for a speaker grille. To be clear, the Sound Burger doesn’t have a built-in speaker. You must connect it to something to be able to hear it. This might strike you as odd that a portable audio device lacks a speaker, but I’m actually glad AT didn’t include a speaker. It would’ve added to the cost, would’ve been mono, would’ve sounded horrible, and would’ve had no volume control. Hands up anyone who wants to pay more for a useless feature.
Sound Burger’s Sound
Putting the unfortunate headphone experience behind me, I next connected my Sound Burger via Bluetooth to my portable Muzen Cyber Shell portable Bluetooth speaker. It paired and connected almost immediately and sounded excellent (thankfully, the Cyber Shell has a volume control). I have read of instances where the Sound Burger’s Bluetooth refuses to play nice with certain Bluetooth speakers and ear buds so you might want to have a plan b from outer space just in case.
Speaking of playing nice, the most important Bluetooth test was my Dayton Audio HTA100 hybrid tube integrated amplifier which has a Bluetooth receiver. My Sound Burger refused to pair and connect to it despite repeated attempts and with it literally sitting right next to my integrated amp. This was incredibly disappointing because the HTA100 is my primary audio system which I use daily. Upon further investigation, it turned out my HTA100 was connecting to my Vizio TV’s Bluetooth even though my TV was totally turned off (not in standby)! Huh? I went into the Vizio’s settings menu and instructed the TV to forget the HTA100. Once I did that, the Sound Burger paired and connected to the HTA100 within seconds and remained connected. It then connected automatically every time I used it. Double yay!
What Do You Like On Your Burger?
I was in a jazzy and bluesy mood so I began by playing a few tracks off of Richie Garcia’s vintage “A Message from Garcia” (Modern Harmonic MH-8078). This mono album from 1956 is not exactly the most vibrant recording, but it was enjoyable on the Burger nonetheless.
From there, I turned to the fantastic “Nina Simone Sings the Blues” (RCA LSP-3789). I bought this record a number of years ago through Vinyl Me Please but had never listened to it for various reasons. Now I know what I was missing. The Sound Burger did it justice and if it had a “repeat” function I would’ve used it.
I turned up the heat even more when I put on “The Drifter” by Mike Flanigin (Black Betty BBST-4068). Believe me when I say there isn’t a bad track on this album. When “Nina” began to play, I cranked up my integrated amp’s volume up to 45% and closed my eyes. It was a Sound Burger in paradise. Vocals were clear and strong, the bass was powerful, and I could hear each individual instrument.
To wind things down, I played my near mint copy of Shadowfax’s “The Dreams of Children” LP (Windham Hill WH-1038). Despite the recording being 38 years old, the music sounded perfect. I’m well acquainted with this record and I was pleased with everything I had heard.
Like A Version
The Sound Burger’s Bluetooth transmitter is version 5.2 which is one level below the latest 5.3 version. There’s not a lot of difference between versions 5.2 and 5.3, but 5.2 is superior to older Bluetooth iterations…version 5.2 is more stable and has improved latency (delay). It also requires less power in order to maximize battery playback time which AT puts at 12 hours on a full Burger charge (a USB-C charging cable is included).
Juice Me Up
While I’m on the battery topic, major kudos to AT for making the 2100mAh battery user replaceable. AT doesn’t yet sell replacement batteries but generic replacements can be easily sourced if you get desperate. I’m tired of Bluetooth devices with built-in batteries that aren’t user replaceable, requiring you to dispose of them (and the money you paid for them) when the batteries are spent.
If you want the best sound reproduction, there’s always the old-fashioned wired option via Sound Burger’s 3.5 mm line out (a short, inexpensive audio cable is included). Again, make sure whatever audio device you’re connecting to has a volume control. I need the wireless option since my HTA100 only has one set of analog inputs and they’re taken up by my cable box. One minor complaint- The Sound Burger has a built-in phono pre-amplifier allowing it to be conveniently connected to an auxiliary input. The problem is if you have a stereo receiver, integrated amplifier, powered speakers, etc., that has a dedicated phono input like my HTA100 does, there’s no way to defeat the Sound Burger’s internal pre-amp, meaning you can only connect it to an aux input. There’s also no ground screw on the Sound Burger, but so far, I haven’t noticed a hum problem.
Get To the Point
One of the keys to a turntable’s sound is its cartridge and stylus. In the Sound Burger’s case it’s the moving magnet ATN3600L which retails for $24 and is described by AT as good for “casual listening”. It’s the stock cartridge used on many budget turntables but don’t be put off by that. The ATN3600L enjoys a solid reputation in audio circles for its overall sound quality and tracking, with some claiming it sounds as good as cartridges many times its price. To my ears, it sounds good if slightly bright and aggressive. Regardless, it’ll have to do because there’s no upgrade path. But let’s be honest…the Sound Burger is not an audiophile piece of equipment, nor does it claim to be. Yet I have no complaints when it comes to its sound considering its price point and what it is…a Burger, not a Kobe A5 Wagyu Tomahawk steak.
Where’s The Beef?
Since the Sound Burger only weighs about 8 times that of a McDonalds’ quarter pounder, it’s very susceptible to vibration. Tap on its surface while it’s playing a record and expect to hear a corresponding loud pop from whatever you’re listening to it on. It’s too bad AT didn’t add some weight inside like a hunk of steel for a little more damping and a more quality feel, though I suppose extra weight would be counter to a product designed to be portable.
While we’re on the topic of touch, the Sound Burger’s plastic exterior is smooth and slippery…not the ideal surface for a portable device. Granted, it has a small handle on the back, but whenever I moved it, I instinctively lifted and carried it. I didn’t want it swinging around carefree from its handle and potentially banging into something. A rubberized coating and/or knurled areas to provide a good grip would’ve been appreciated. As a side note, in a couple of weeks I’ll be evaluating a generic carrying case.
Tracking force is the weight required for the stylus to follow the grooves in the record. Too little weight and the tone arm will lift off the record. Too much weight and the sound will be distorted and you could damage your record and stylus. I measured my Burger’s tracking force at 3.35 grams straight out of the box. The ATN3600L user manual recommends 3.0-4.0 grams with 3.5 grams being standard. Mine is within spec but I would’ve preferred it at least meet the standard and there isn’t any way to adjust the weight.
I Got Screwed
As you can see from the above graph, my Burger was exceeding the speed limit with 33 1/3 averaging 34.05 RPM, while 45 RPM topped out at 46.24 RPM. Being the anal audiophile that I am (some would say “anal audiophile” is being redundant), I decided to manually adjust the speeds using the 2 access holes on the bottom of the Burger along with a small, flat-head screwdriver. I was successful at adjusting the 45 RPM speed but 33 proved more elusive. The tiny white plastic adjustment piece broke off the potentiometer before I could finish my tinkering. As a result, 33 1/3 is now stuck at 27 RPM rendering it unusable (I’m in the process of getting my Burger repaired through Audio-Technica). Luckily, I saved this speed adjustment task for last. I had already completed my evaluation before tackling the speed issue. My advice to you is unless the speeds are way off, leave the trim pots alone. They’re too delicate to fiddle with and it isn’t worth the risk.
Let’s switch gears from technical to color, or Technicolor. The Sound Burger was first released in a limited-edition red version last November to celebrate AT’s 60th Anniversary and the 7,000 Burgers sold out. Earlier this year the Burger was made available in black and white, and more recently, in yellow, all priced at $199 each. Had it been me, I would’ve made the limited edition in silver which was the original and only color when it debuted back in 1983 as “Mister Disc” in the USA. I would’ve made the red color part of the regular line up. AT would’ve sold many more than 7,000 if red had been a standard color. It’s also a great color for marketing purposes.
“Mister Disc” was a weird name but it fit the era. Besides, the name “Walkman” had already been taken. In the UK and Japan, it was called the “Sound Burger”, and that’s the name AT used for this 2023 reboot. It’s certainly a more playful name though equally weird. Perhaps it was intended to hint at the fun that was in store for the new generation of Burger lovers.
61 Years and Counting
As I mentioned, AT has been around for almost as long as I have. It was founded by Hideo Matsushita in Tokyo in 1962. It was initially a phono cartridge manufacturer starting with the AT-1, the first affordable phono cartridge. Today, the company’s product lineup includes an impressive selection of turntables, headphones, microphones, professional equipment, and of course, phono cartridges. Their limited- edition AT-LP2022 turntable is a head turner with its dense, clear acrylic chassis, platter, and Shibata stylus. At $1,200, it’s a tad more expensive than the $199 Sound Burger.
Need A Lift?
From comments I’ve heard and read, handling the tone arm is apparently the most difficult part of using the Sound Burger. There’s no space for a tone arm lift, so it has to be accomplished manually. I’m right- handed and I have a slight shake in my right hand, which hopefully is nothing serious, yet I had no problem managing the tone arm. There was only 1 instance when I slightly scraped the stylus on the record while lifting the tone arm. That said, I can see it being a little challenging for some users.
Light Me Up
I admit I’m a closet light freak. I love lights on my audio gear and I suspect I’m not alone. We’re part of the great silent audiophile majority. Lights might not make any contribution to sound quality but they definitely raise the fun factor. The Sound Burger has small power/charging/BT and speed lights, but the speed light only comes on when it’s set to 45 RPM. Had I been the Product Manager for this model (AT, if you’re listening, I’m available), I would’ve made the speed LED bi-colored so it would be one color for 33 1/3 and another color for 45 RPM. That way there would be a light on regardless of the speed setting.
While we’re on the topic of lights, I would’ve placed a single blue LED in the center of the Bluetooth pairing button instead of making the power light do triple duty. I also would’ve back lighted the “Sound Burger” name whenever the unit was on. Did I mention I love lights?
Have It Your Way
I’m not done. I would’ve included a downward firing LED mounted to the outside of the lid above the record on the side that houses the tone arm. Not only would it look very cool illuminating a spinning record, it would also aid in placing the stylus if you were looking to drop it on a specific track. The cost of these additions would’ve been minimal as would the power to light them, it would’ve further distinguished the Burger from the original model, and it would’ve multiplied the fun factory by ten.
May I Take Your Order?
Put simply, Audio-Technica‘s Sound Burger is the Happy Meal of portable turntables. Like fast-food, it’s convenient, fun, provides instant gratification, and sounds delicious. It even has a cover to prevent one’s drool from coating the platter. In a word, you’ll flip over the Sound Burger. Get it? Flip? Burger? See what I did there?
Disclosure: I purchased my Sound Burger at an accommodation price, though notin return for this review.
Main audio system used in this review: Dayton Audio HTA100 hybrid tube integrated amplifier with Bluetooth 5.0, Blueroom Minipod speakers with Transparent Audio Hardwired Speaker Cables on Perlegear speaker stands, Sunfire True Subwoofer Super Junior with SVS SoundPath subwoofer cable, and TrickleStar TS-1104-7 Tier 1 Advanced PowerStrip.
Trivia (from Wikipedia): “Since the late 1990s, Audio-Technica supplied microphones and headphones for US television shows such as ‘Big Brother’, ‘Deal Or No Deal’, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions, and several international events.”
Trivia (from Wikipedia): “In 2005, Audio-Technica developed ‘Uniguard’, a method for making microphones resistant to radio frequency interference from cell phones, Bluetooth devices, wireless computer networks, and walkie-talkies. 13 patents were involved in bringing the feature to fruition…”
Links to buy Sound Burger(I don’t receive a commission if you buy one):
When I was a kid, my parents owned a primitive beach cottage in southern Rhode Island. Don’t picture anything extravagant. After they bought the one room cabin, they hung a up bed sheet to create a “private” room. The sink had a hand pump that went to a well in the back of the house. There was no TV, no telephone, and no bathroom. Our neighbor across the street let us use their shower until we finally installed one of our own in the shed. It may have been primitive, but it was our little slice of paradise for some 17 summers. My mother nicknamed the cottage “Peace of Mind”. I drove by it last year and the original cottage is long gone, replaced by some monstrosity with central air on tall concrete pilings.
Its location is important to my story because it explains how I was able to pick up AM radio stations from New York. Along with Rhode Island beautiful music station WLKW, I credit these stations for sparking my interest in a career in radio broadcasting. The three NY stations I listened to were WNBC 660AM, WINS 1010AM, and WNEW 1130AM. All 3 are still around today in one form or another.
1. WNBC 66AM
When I was a wee listener, WNBC-AM was a talk and “adult top 40” music station. It was the flagship radio station of the NBC radio network. I was around 12 or 13 years old at the time. This station was my gateway drug to Don Imus and Howard Stern, both of whom went on to become national shock jocks. One WNBC poster pictured Stern and Imus with the slogan, “If we weren’t so bad, we wouldn’t be so good.” If my mother had known I was listening to them she would’ve confiscated my radio!
In 1988, General Electric, who had purchased the NBC network, sold off all of NBC’s radio stations per FCC regulations during that time (one company couldn’t own both television and radio stations in the same market for fear of a monopoly). WNBC-AM was sold off and became WFAN-AM, the world’s first 24/7 sports station. WFAN still resides today at 660 on the NY AM dial (I use the word “dial” knowing radio “dials” don’t exist anymore).
Thanks to the miracle of Internet radio, you can listen to original WNBC-AM broadcasts, sans Don Imus and Howard Stern, courtesy of Time Warp Radio out of NY. The station streams at 128 kbps in MP3 but I must warn you, the sound quality of some of the recordings is sub-par. The source material is aircheck tapes. Back in the day, air check tapes were cassettes a DJ would use to record his air shift. The station’s Program Director used the tapes to critique the announcer’s performance. The tapes were typically “scoped”, only capturing the DJ’s chatter (the tape machine automatically went into record mode every time the microphone was turned on), not the music or commercials. However, the quality of such tapes is much better than some of what I’ve heard on this station. I have an aircheck tape from my time in radio and the quality is very good. Perhaps some of these tapes were late generation copies of the originals and/or were in poor condition.
You’ll hear the original announcers (with plenty of reverb, making them sound like they’re broadcasting from deep inside the Bat Cave), news, station jingles, and the original commercials. You’ll hear the music as well, but since these are aircheck tapes, there will also be segments where all you hear is the DJ introducing the songs and speaking at the tail end of songs. In other words, no music. You’ve heard the slogan, “all music, all the time”. During those segments, it’s all DJ’s, all the time. There are also segments where the program ends abruptly, presumably marking the point when the aircheck tape reached its end and stopped recording.
If you’d like a sound quality upgrade and more music, try 66 WNBC. It’s a tribute Internet radio station streaming out of NY that replicates WNBC’s playlists from the late 1970’s to the early 80’s with an occasional original station jingle but no announcers (and no annoying reverb). The first time I tuned in they were playing the top 66 (for “66” WNBC) songs of 1976. Another time they were running down the top 66 songs of 1982. Sweet.
If you want to relive the days when AM radio was still a primary source for listening to music, check out WNBC 660 Time Warp Radio and 66 WNBC. I’ve included the streaming links at the end of this article.
2. WINS 1010AM
WINS was one of the first all-news radio stations in the US and it still exists today on the AM and FM dials and on the Internet. In fact, I was in New Jersey briefly a couple of months ago and rented a car to get to my destination. I punched up WINS 1010 AM on the car’s radio and it instantly brought back memories of listening to WINS at our R.I. beach cottage all those years ago. After WINS switched to an all-news format in 1965, it had the sounds of teletype machines running in the background while the news was being reported. Originally, they had a live microphone stationed at the machines in the newsroom to capture the sound. Sadly, they stopped the teletype SFX several years ago which is a shame. Fast forward many years later when I read the news live on WPRO-AM, I played the sounds of a dot matrix printer in the background.
Be that as it may, if you don’t reside in the tri-state area, you can tune WINS on the Internet and hear what’s going on in New York and around the world. Give them 22 minutes and they’ll give you the world. Unfortunately, your imagination will have to supply the teletype sounds in the background.
3. WNEW 1130AM
WNEW-AM was a massively popular radio station primarily playing music from the great American Songbook (not to be confused with WNEW-FM or WNEW-TV). So why, at 12 years old, was I listening to this AM music station? What can I say? I was a strange child.
I well remember WNEW’s wonderful specialty shows like Tony Bennett Time (Bennett actually recorded a jingle for the station), The Make-Believe Ballroom, and Sinatra Saturdays. Legendary WNEW DJ William B. Williams has been credited as the first to nickname Sinatra the “Chairman of the Board”. I also remember some of the DJ’s occasionally going off the rails and slipping in a Beatles, Bee Gees, or Stevie Wonder hit or some other song that had nothing at all to do with the great American songbook. I never understood that. Don’t get me wrong. I love music as much as the next person, but I also appreciate structure, and WNEW-AM wasn’t a free-form radio station. As a listener, it was like sitting comfortably on a train going 100 MPH and the engineer suddenly hitting the brakes without warning.
The station wasn’t only known for its music. It spent a fortune building a first-class radio news team. At its height, WNEW’s newsroom had more than 26 reporters and writers. It was said to be the first music radio station that broadcast local newscasts every hour. According to writer Paul Colford, WNEW’s reporters roamed the country and the world, traveling “to Africa to interview Albert Schweitzer, they roamed the South to size up the civil rights movement, they broadcast from Vatican Square and Cape Canaveral.”
As time went on, the station began to show its age, as did its listeners, who ranged from 80 to dead. Such an audience was not appealing to advertisers. Fewer advertisers resulted in reduced revenue. This, combined with the fact that the days of AM radio stations playing music were all but over, resulted in WNEW’s death. Colford wrote this obituary: “WNEW-AM / 1130, the 58-year-old outlet for the music of Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne, Mel Torme, and America’s greatest songwriters, died today after a long illness marked by financial losses, anemic rating, schizophrenic programming, and the dismissal of practically every personality who made it special.”
The new owners, Bloomberg, changed the call letters and put in place an all-financial format. As the New York Times put it, WNEW went from Sinatra records to stock reports. It was the end of a slow, painful death. Prior to that, the station had been sold in 1986 and the owner’s cut costs and screwed around with the programming, adding talk shows and gutting the newsroom. It marked the beginning of the end…the Titanic started taking on water. The station changed hands again in 1988 and the new owners further contributed to its decline. In December of 1992, WNEW 1130 gently slipped below the airwaves.It’s hard to believe the station has been gone for more than 30 years and that makes me feel old and irrelevant.
Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. WNEW-AM is back! Well, sort of. Time Warp Radio, the same Internet radio network that brings you vintage 66AM WNBC broadcasts, also streams old WNEW-AM broadcasts. As with the WNBC stream, WNEW 1130 Time Machine’s sound quality at times leaves a little something to be desired, though it streams at an above average bit rate of 192 kbps. It also relies on airchecks, meaning there will be segments where you’ll only hear the announcer and no music.
The station’s playlist includes music from the 1920’s and 30’s, which makes no sense to me. All of that said, I’ll take it over nothing at all. In a way, the quality makes it even more authentic since music over AM radio wasn’t exactly high fidelity. It’s a gas to hear the original WNEW announcers, station jingles, weather, news (I heard a story on Watergate), and even the commercials the station played back then (Gimbels, Barneys, ShopRite, etc.).
Here’s a thought- How about WNEW-FM creating an HD2 station for WNEW-AM? WNEW-FM has had a string of failed HD sub-channels…all Christmas music, Smooth Jazz, and even a Russian language station (pause to scratch scalp). I would think a WNEW-AM HD2 channel would be a no brainer.
I’m pleased to report there’s another option with consistently better sound quality: Metromedia Radio out of New York City. Metromedia was the company that owned WNEW-AM from 1956 until 1986. Metromedia officially closed in 2014 and Metromedia Radio, launched in 2010, operates with its blessing.
The station features former WNEW announcers and original jingles, yet the shows were recorded after WNEW went silent, which confused me. The station’s description says it streams “in the tradition of WNEW 1130…the world’s greatest radio station…with the help of former WNEW-AM and Metromedia Radio talent and executives.”
I got a hold of Joe Fay, Metromedia Radio’s General Manager, to help me understand what I was listening to. “About 12 years ago”, Fay explained to me in an email, “I was able to buy a large collection of various surviving reel-to-reel tapes from the WNEW-AM archive (about 200). The tapes were largely WNEW jingle packs, various promotional materials, and actual pre-recorded shows such as WNEW Music Spectaculars. I digitized everything and started the Metromedia Radio stream back in 2010. As I digitized, I also edited content, resulting in WNEW bumpers and the voiceovers of [WNEW announcers] Jim Lowe, Ted Brown, and William B Williams. It’s been really fun crafting this station. Thankfully, I have had the support of the Brown and Williams famil[ies].
“I also started a Facebook group”, Fay continued. “Via the group, I met up with former WNEW talent such as Bill Quinn, Dick Carr, and Marty Wilson. In 2014 we started producing radio shows for syndication. Unfortunately, that did not work out, but those shows were put into our Metromedia Radio library. Bill Quinn is still producing shows for us on a weekly basis. Additionally, I was able to connect with Sid Mark, Mark Suduck (former Metromedia Los Angeles) and Jason Wall along with other DJ’s who were interested [in] airing content on the station. Most recently I have been able to find and digitize about 100 mid 1970’s show[s] produced by William B. Williams.”
As to the origin of the music and the format, Fay told me, “The automated stream of music is from my personal collection. Our streaming of automated music is model[ed] after the Dick Carr, Middle of the Road format. Dick was the Station Manager at WNEW from 1967 through 1969. [The programming] is consistent with the music WNEW played from 1955-1985. Within the archive, I have old tapes labeled ‘Non-Stop Music Hours’ that also served as a source for building out my person music collection and would naturally be added to the automated stream. Artists like David Allen or Jane Morgan [was] unknown to me, until I listened to some of the old tapes. They are now on the playlist.”
That playlist remains much more faithful to the great American Songbook than the WNEW Time Machine stream, but lacks the authentic vibe WNEW 1130 Time Machine provides. You’re listening to actual WNEW-AM broadcasts on the Time Machine, whereas Metromedia Radio is more of a tribute station with Live365 commercials. Still, a high-quality copy can be almost as satisfying as the original, and that’s certainly the case here.
The last WNEW related Internet radio station I’ll mention is The Jonathan Station, named after famed WNEW-AM announcer Jonathan Schwartz. His is the only name (and voice) I remember from those summers listening from Rhode Island so long ago.
If his name sounds familiar, it should. Schwartz is the son of composer Arthur Schwartz (That’s Entertainment, You and the Night and the Music,Dancing In The Dark, and By Myself). He’s written several books including an autobiography and recorded a handful of albums. He was on the radio for nearly 60 years, most of that time on WNEW and later, WNYC. He also had a stint at Siriux/XM radio on their Sinatra channel.
Schwartz at the mic in 2018. Photo from Schwartz’s facebook page.
Schwartz’s on-air delivery was unique to say the least. He would talk for lengthy periods with frequent pauses, both of which are third rails for most DJs. He would recount stories of famous singers and songwriters, including Frank Sinatra. According to Wikipedia, “Sinatra himself was amazed by Schwartz’s knowledge of every song he had ever recorded.” Schwartz wrote the liner notes for the Sinatra release, The Voice- The Columbia Years 1943-1952, for which he won a Grammy for Best Album Notes in 1986.
Five years ago on Father’s Day, at the age of 80, Schwartz launched his own Internet radio station called The Jonathan Station. As you might have surmised from Schwartz’s background, it features music from the great American songbook. Surprisingly, Schwartz’s color commentary is nonexistent. You’d think he’d be all over the station since he named it after himself and has the name recognition. He didn’t even record any station IDs. It’s as if he went out of his way not to be on the air, yet his vast knowledge and gentle voice was exactly what I wanted and expected to hear. The Jonathan Station’s website says the station is “the home of Jonathan Schwartz”, yet whenever I tuned in, Jonathan wasn’t home. Schwartz did host live weekend programs on his station before he retired in 2021, but so far, I’ve yet to hear repeats of those shows. Individual shows are accessible for playback on The Jonathan Station website, but I wanted to hear them on my Internet radio as part of the station, not from a computer. After all, it’s The Jonathan Station, not The Jonathan Computer.
Instead, what I did hear was a show called “The Penthouse”. At first, I thought I had tuned the wrong station or that the station’s metadata was incorrect. Strangely, The Jonathan Station’s website makes absolutely no mention of “The Penthouse”. Likewise, The Penthouse’s website makes no reference whatever to The Jonathan Station! I donned my detective’s fedora and requested clarification from The Jonathan Station’s Program Director, Bob Perry, who coincidentally, also happens to be President of the company behind “The Penthouse”. Weeks have passed and I’ve yet to hear back but will certainly update this section if/when I do.
Legend has it, the last Sinatra song WNEW-AM played before going off the air was Frank’s cover of We’ll Meet Again. Thanks to WNEW 1130 Time Machine and Metromedia Radio, we have.
Tony Bennett Time
One major drawback to such “set and forget” Internet stations is that they rarely break from their standard programming. However, a few days after his passing, Metromedia Radio played an old William B. Williams radio show that featured an excellent interview the announcer did with Bennett along with lots of his music. At least one station was paying attention.
You now have a plethora of stations that will give you a blast from the past. I’ve listed all their streaming links below for your convenience. If you’re a Recommended Stations supporter, your support helps to keep this blog and these kinds of articles going. To become a supporter and discover even more interesting stations, join today for just $1 and get my Recommended Station in your in box every month.
Trivia: During one of his radio shows,Jonathan Schwartz gave a negative review of the third record in Frank Santra’s “Trilogy” album. Unfortunately for Schwartz, Sinatra knew the man who owned the radio station and had Schwartz fired.
Trivia:Both 66 WNBC and 1130 WNEW were advertised as broadcasting in stereo. How could mono AM radio stations be in two channel stereo? In the 1980’s, some AM stations broadcast in stereo using 1 of 5 different competing systems, each requiring dedicated hardware to decode the stereo signal. The FCC adopted Motorola’s C-Quam (Compatible Quadrature Amplitude Modulation)system in 1992 as the AM stereo standard. That standard had already been employed years earlier in Canada, Australia, Mexico, and Japan. According to Wikipedia, there are 43 AM radio stations in the US still broadcasting in stereo using the Motorola system, most of which are small, independent stations.
Trivia: In 1966 and 67, WNEW-AM partnered with the Superior Match Company to feature WNEW announcers on matchbook covers. Inside each matchbook was a coupon for free entry into NJ’s Palisades Amusement Park, which at the time cost 40 cents.
I profiled this Hitchhiker Station in January of 2020 when I was writing Recommended Stations for Como Audio’s blog. Theater Organ Radio is the kind of station name that gets my attention. To be honest, when I think organ music, I think of being at a hockey or baseball game, in church, or riding a vintage carousel. ATOS Radio, however, is not that kind of station.
The American Theater Organ Society funds and runs ATOS Theater Organ Radio. The ATOS is focused on the preservation and promotion of the theater pipe organ and its music. Founded in 1955, the non-profit has over 60 chapters worldwide with over 3,000 members. I wonder if their members are organ donors as well. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
It’s hard for us to imagine going into a movie theater today and seeing and hearing a live organ, but in the 1920s and 30s when films were silent, the mighty organ provided the soundtrack. According to Wikipedia, there were over 7,000 organs in US cinemas between 1915-1933. Wurlitzer was perhaps the best-known theater organ and the company built more than 2,000 of them into the early 1940s. According to Smithsonian Magazine, in 1926 at its height, Wurlitzer shipped an organ a day. After the early 1930s, many theater organs were sold or scrapped. Less than 40 organs remain in their original venues today.
Since I wrote about this station 3 years ago, there have been some important changes. For one thing, ATOS Theater Organ Radio now streams at 128 kbps in the AAC codec instead of MP3, so the sound quality is even better. Secondly, the station has added more music to their library which now includes 6,000 CD tracks, 2,500 vinyl remasters, 1,200 live concert recordings, 500 archival tracks (78’s etc.), and exclusive content drawn from their archives. There’s even a new station logo.
What will you hear on ATOS Radio? The selections are surprisingly diverse. Here’s a sampling of songs that were piped into my ears during my listening sessions: On the Sunny Side of the Street, My Heart Will Go On, Brahms Lullaby, They Can’t Take That Away From Me, We’ll Meet Again, The White Cliffs of Dover, The Way You Look Tonight, Send In the Clowns, Shaking the Blues Away, How Great Thou Art, As Time Goes By, Baby Elephant Walk, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, Ebb Tide, The Man I Love, Send a Little Love My Way, and Puttin’ on the Ritz.
You won’t hear commercials (the station is funded via listener donations) though there are occasional public service announcements for ATOS sponsored events. There’s only one announcer- Steve Ashley- host of the specialty show, “Hot Pipes”. There’s also two “curated” specialty shows from two of ATOS’ chapters, Dickinson and Eastern Mass.
ATOS sponsors a kind of annual organ summer camp mid-this month “designed for young theater organ enthusiasts who are interested in learning, developing, or refining their skills with the theater organ.” That should make for an interesting “what I did over my summer vacation” essay!
ATOS sponsors a kind of annual organ summer camp mid-this month “designed for young theater organ enthusiasts who are interested in learning, developing, or refining their skills with the theater organ.” That should make for a unique “what I did over my summer vacation” essay!
I reached out via email to Steve Worthington who recently retired after 30 years as ATOS Theater Organ Radio Producer, to get the story behind the station:
Peter: When did ATOS Radio first start streaming?
Steve: “The original stream was ‘Theater Organ Replay’ which featured older vinyl records and started in 2000 on live365. ATOS radio started in 2008.”
Peter: What decades does your music library span? What qualifies as “theater music”?
Steve: “Our library runs from 1920’s thru today, so basically 100 years. Theater organ music really spans a mix of entertainment played on the unit orchestra as built by Robert Hope Jones and Wurlitzer and refined by a number of other builders such as Barton, Kimball, Morton, Möller, etc.”
Peter: Do you play any rare recordings?
Steve: “Yes, we have a number of 78 [RPM] and acetate records in the playlist. Some of the most famous are those of Jesse and Helen Crawford.”
Peter: Are the recordings strictly solo organ or do some pieces include other instruments or vocals?
Steve: “There are lots of tracks that include more than just organ, be it vocals or more – examples are Billy Thorburn’s The Organ, The Dance Band & Me or recordings featuring Buddy Cole with [his] orchestra or big band, or Bob Hunter records with orchestra. Another example I’d [cite is] Gerhard Gregor with military bands.”
Peter: Do you know what and where the rarest working organ in the USA is?
Steve: “No such thing – lots of operational organs – there are remnants of one of the earliest Wurlitzer organs from Seattle in a Church in Spokane.”
Peter: Does ATOS Radio broadcast any live concerts?
Steve: “We have looked into live broadcasts of concerts but this is now mainly done through YouTube as video is as important as audio. All the concert material is recorded.”
Peter: Why do you encourage people to see organs in action?
Steve: “Not so much see as hear. Pipe Organs are about a presence that needs to be felt not just heard!”
Peter: Is there anything about organs or organ music that most people don’t know?
Steve: “Theater organs and church organs are very different and the repertoire is also different. Theater organs are about entertainment and a wow factor that can only be understood by attending a live theater organ event.”
William Gelhaus sits on ATOS’ board and took over administration of the radio station in January of this year. I hit him up with a few more questions:
Peter: What’s the purpose of the ATOS Theater Organ Radio stream?
Bill: “To promote Theater Pipe Organs, to make people aware of them and the wide variety of music they can provide. It also provides background music for those that want a more-gentle sound.”
Peter: What are the top 3 countries where the bulk of your listeners are based?
Bill: “USA, England, Australia.”
Peter: Are there any particular recordings you’re very fond of?
Bill: “As to favorites, with 12,000 items in the library, it is really hard to pick one. I do tend to enjoy some of the more current interpretations of music from the 60s on. The fun thing is that the Theater Pipe Organ can play almost any type of music with a little work and imagination by the artist.
“One example is one of the younger artists records ‘backing’ tracks with full drums, synthesizer, and other ‘sounds’ and uses that to add to the experience. Others do duets with various instrument and vocalist, one even did several songs with full harp, not something you would expect to see or hear.”
Peter: Do you know how low some of the recordings go? For example, 20Hz? Audiophiles and people with subwoofers will be interested!
Bill: “It depends on when and how the original recordings were made, and on which instrument. The pipe organ has a frequency range of 8Hz or below with sub-harmonics from a 64 ft pipe like those on the Atlantic City organ (typically most have 16 ft pipes with some larger instrument having 32 ft or equivalent) to 20kHz and above with the shortest pipe and their overtones (also the tuned percussion like bells, chimes, and the like, have very high harmonics). The instrument can also have a dynamic range of over 120db depending on the size of the instrument and its blower(s) and the voicing. You don’t want to spend a lot of time in a chamber when it’s being played. Of course, the older the recording, the less of a range, but it is surprising as to their quality.
“On the original recordings I’ve made to digital you can definitely see the subwoofer pumping. What’s interesting is if you are listening without it, you might not miss it, and then turn it on and you may not realize it’s there, but when you turn it off it’s like the floor disappeared. With today’s microphones and digital recorder[s] you can capture the full sound of the instrument.”
Peter: Back in the day, live organ music in a movie theater was standard, right?
Bill: “They were designed to accompany silent movies. That’s the reason they have what’s known as traps, percussion, and a toy counter. Today they are used still to accompany silent movies, along with walk-in/out music and stand-alone concerts.”
Peter: Anything else to add, Bill?
Bill: “If it’s in the online library you can request the system to play it, as long as it does not violate any of the streaming rules that exist.
“Much of the current library has been ‘encoded’ over a 30-year period under various standards, requiring us to either re-in-code or ‘re-level’ the online library if the original source material is no longer available.
“We are also in the process of updating the software and website but it’s going to take a while.”
After the early 1930s, many theater organs were sold or scrapped. Less than 40 organs remain in their original venues today.
If you love the organ, or the theater, or just want to close your eyes and imagine how it felt to sit in a cinema 100 years ago, tune in ATOS Theater Organ Radio…and go ahead and turn up the bass a few notches!
Trivia (from Yamaha.com):“The biggest pipe organ in the world is the organ in the main auditorium of the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, United States. It is so big that the number of pipes is not accurately known. Published documentation suggests there are 33,114 pipes, and it is said that there are at least 32,000.”
Trivia (from Smithsonian Magazine): “The Smithsonian’s instrument is a rare, completely original Wurlitzer donated by the estate of Lowell Ayars, a New Jersey music teacher, in 1993. Ayars kept it in museum-quality condition during the 30-some years it was played in his home. When Ayars died in 1992, he willed it to his friend Brantley Duddy, and Duddy contacted the Smithsonian, which gratefully accepted it for the musical instrument collection of the National Museum of American History. For now, it sits in storage, its burnished white-and-gold console protected by a sheet of plastic. But there are plans to restore it to glory.”
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A couple of months ago I debuted the first Patreon Profile, where I spotlighted a Recommended Stations Elite Supporter. That supporter ran his own beautiful music Internet radio station, WJST, and used to be a truck driver.
In this Profile, I introduce you to charter supporter and Como Audio customer Catherine Rahal. When Como Audio still existed, Catherine would contact me directly when she had issues or questions about her music systems. She became one of my closest acquaintances over the years and I thought it would be interesting for all of us to get to know this author, mother, former financial advisor, and fellow Internet radio enthusiast a little better.
Peter: I’ll start with a rapid-fire round. Where were you born? How many siblings do you have? Do you have children?
Catherine: I was born in Berlin, a few years after the end of the war. We left for the US when I was about 3 ½ months old. I have a younger brother – he is currently working on a great product – the Velo Chair – for people who have use of their legs but cannot stand or walk for very long. I have two sons, a writer and a chef, who are now in their 40s.
Peter: You recently added “author” to your resume with If You Love Them Leave Them Lists. In a nutshell, what’s your book about?
Catherine: The book is a guide to help people put together in one place the information that will be needed by their power of attorney, their healthcare and financial proxies, and their executor. Particularly important is noting the location of documents and what you want done with your “stuff”.
Peter: You write in your book that you lost your husband in an Air Canada plane accident when you were just 33 years old. To add to the pain, you received a sizable award following a lawsuit against the airline but someone you trusted stole the money from you. Was that part of the motivation for your book?
Catherine: I think that financial loss was the catalyst for becoming a financial advisor, which I was for almost 30 years. I focused on making sure that I educated my clients as much as I could so that what happened to me would not happen to any of them.
When my husband died, we were just starting out and hadn’t accumulated much. A few years later his brother died, also way too young, and he left a notebook for his wife with all of the information she would need to carry on. That stuck with me.
Peter: It’s not easy planning for future health or financial issues or for death. These can be uncomfortable conversations to have with family or friends but they’re important.
Catherine: Most people don’t like confronting their mortality, and those conversations have been considered taboo in some families. My mother categorically forbade me to discuss anything death related with my father in his last years. With her, I forced the issue, though I admit it made me feel that I was being a bit harsh with her. My parents lived through the second war in Germany, and were forced to confront their own mortality on a daily basis for several years. Perhaps that explains their reluctance to revisit that subject.
Peter: You describe the various documents or lists in an easy-to-understand way. Does your advice apply equally to readers in the USA or just in Canada?
Catherine: I think the book is somewhat universal – most people living in developed countries have broadly similar assets, insurance policies, investments, residences, and our digital footprint crosses all sorts of borders – and is larger than most of us reckon with. Someone has to take care of things when you go, and these lists are the place to let them know what you would like done.
Yes, there are references to Canada, and we have also noted things particular to the US. One thing I learned though, is that even across the US, different states have different requirements. It can even vary from one county to the next, as I have seen in settling my parents’ estates.
Peter: What was it like to write your first book?
Catherine: I have been writing for a long time, but this was my first book for publication. I was blessed indeed to have a wonderful collaborator and designer in Wendy Moenig. Not only is she a top- notch graphic designer, but she was enormously helpful in how the book came together – And she designed the lists.
I have learned a lot about self publishing. I have learned how crucial it is to have distribution, and that you have to put yourself out there to sell books. I have learned a lot about self publishing. I have learned how crucial it is to have distribution, and that you have to put yourself out there to sell books.
Peter: How can someone buy a copy?
Catherine: The book is available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indigo (in Canada), and for now, a few local bookstores in Montreal, Quebec and Almonte, Ontario. We are hoping to expand the reach. It is available in print as a large paperback and as an ebook. The easiest way to find it is by going to my website – all of the sales options are there: www.catherinerahal.com
Peter: Changing gears- What kind of radio programs did you listen to when you were growing up in Canada?
Catherine: I actually grew up in the US and only moved to Canada in 1982. My parents were classical music listeners (Elvis and the Beatles were not allowed – until I got my own radio in my room) so we listened to the local classical stations, notably WQXR in New York. We also listened to the various radio series like Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel, Our Miss Brooks, My Little Susie, The Jack Benny Show, and so on.
We were also fans of WBAI (Pacifica Radio) in the 1960s and 1970s. My father had eclectic taste in music. While he loved Mozart, Beethoven and Bach as much as my mother did, he also listened to everything from the Red Army Chorus to Olatunji, with sprinklings of the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem and other folk artists thrown in. WBAI offered a lot of that. We also listened to the Goon Show
When I was in high school, a friend turned me on to raconteur Jean Shepherd, who broadcast weeknights at 11 on WOR in New York, and from the Limelight in the Village on Saturday nights. You can hear the old broadcasts these days at Insomnia Theater.
I also listened to The Radio Reader, which came out of Michigan State University and offered 30 minutes on weekday mornings of whatever book host Dick Estell decided to read. Kept me sane while driving kiddie carpool!
My introduction to Canadian radio was the CBC – The Royal Canadian Air Farce, The Max Ferguson Show, and Allan McFee’s Eclectic Circus – not to mention Disc Drive with Jurgen Gothe (who was, like me, Berlin born).
Peter: How did you become interested in Internet radio?
Catherine: I had discovered that I could listen to radio stations on my computer and did that for a while. When Como began its Kickstarter campaign, and when I realized they would be of a quality similar to or better than [the owner’s previous company], I was hooked. I bought a Duetto and a Solo so that I could have one at each end of my apartment. It is so nice to be able to have it all go smoothly with no lag between devices. I bought one for my mother, but she was beyond the point where she could manage it on her own, so I ended up taking back and now have one in each room. It is wonderful. My orchids particularly seem to love baroque music, so when I am away it plays 24/7. I was gone for two weeks – when I came back, they were all in bloom or about to bloom (I have 9 orchids now).
Peter: What are a few of your favorite Internet radio stations?
Catherine: Because each of my Como radios allow 6 presets, I have 18 of them available, as well as favourites. I tend to listen a lot to WQXR, Radio Klassik from Hamburg, CBC in Montreal (and the French Radio Canada as well). I also have Insomnia Theater pre-set, which, paradoxically, I put on when I sneak a mid afternoon nap – this may be because I listened to Jean Shepherd at night when I was in bed in my high school years, so there may be a vestigial Pavlovian component there. I further have several PBS stations set because if I miss a broadcast on one of them, I can easily flip to a different time zone and catch it there. I have a few oldies stations saved as favourites for when I am feeling nostalgic. Every once in a while I go exploring and have come across some other interesting stations. I also listen to a few podcasts – Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, The Moth, Fast Politics and others.
Peter: You became acquainted with Recommended Stations through Como Audio?
Catherine: I did, and I have been following along and checking out different recommendations.
…a friend turned me on to raconteur Jean Shepherd, who broadcast weeknights at 11 on WOR in New York, and from the Limelight in the Village on Saturday nights.
Peter: For someone unfamiliar with the Recommended Stations articles via Patreon, how would you describe what it’s about and what you personally get out of it?
Catherine: It is a wonderful way to get out of your usual routine and explore something new or different. Yes, I have my particular likes, but it is also great to [listen] to something completely different from the usual fare. There are so many stations that it is difficult to know where to start, so I use Recommended Stations to help me along that search.
Peter: Any parting thoughts?
Catherine: I watch TV and movies too, but for me there is nothing like radio. You can exercise your own imagination when you listen to radio drama, you can drift away on a tune, whether it is a romantic ballad, a glorious symphony or a golden oldie that you danced to in high school.
And one other note – I really enjoy your blog, and…..I am grateful to you personally for all of the help you have provided when I have had questions about my Como radios. I have learned a lot and you make it easy.
My thanks to Catherine Rahal for taking the time to answer my questions. As she mentioned, her book can be purchased from Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, and Amazon.
Trivia (from tonerbuzz.com):
“According to a study conducted by Google Books, there have been 129,864,880 books published since the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press in 1440.
There’s a catch, however. Google Books doesn’t factor in books published after 2010, nor does it include self-published book titles. Digital publishing has risen 246% since 2010, according to Bowker.”
If you’ve been a Recommended Stations Elite Supporter for at least 6 months and would like to be the subject of a future Patreon Profile, drop me a line at email@example.com
Last year around this time I reviewed several portable Bluetooth speakers to help you take your favorite music outdoors as summer approached. This time I’m going old school and focusing on wired outdoor speakers.
Wireless outdoor speakers are all the rage nowadays, so why go wired? I ruled out outdoor Bluetooth speakers because of the potential for unreliable reception and running down my smartphone’s battery. My Wi-Fi coverage outside is shaky at best, so that took Wi-Fi speakers out of the equation. Either would also need to get power which wasn’t an option in my particular installation. Last but not least, I wanted to keep my budget at around $100 which would be tough for good sounding wireless speakers.
Mind you, wired outdoor speakers can be very expensive. High end speaker company Revel makes a pair of outdoor speakers that sell for almost $1,000. B&W has a set for $800. Coastal Source makes a “landscape speaker” with a built-in subwoofer for a cool $3,500 each. You can even buy an outdoor subwoofer if you really want to rock your rock garden. In my case, I wasn’t trying to have my speakers show up on a Richter scale. Would I be able to find a set of good sounding outdoor speakers for $100, or was I setting myself up for certain failure?
The Outdoor by Henry Kloss. Image from The Outdoor user manual.
My first experience with an outdoor speaker was with Massachusetts-based speaker company Cambridge SoundWorks at their South Portland, Maine store where I was the Assistant Manager. We made (in our Massachusetts factory) an outdoor speaker model called simply “The Outdoor” by Henry Kloss. I don’t remember how much it sold for, but I do remember being told a story about a customer who wrote us a letter (back when people still wrote letters) about his speakers which he had mounted on his boat. One of the speakers became dislodged and fell into the open water as his boat was moving at a good clip. He recounted how he observed the speaker violently bouncing around in the ocean as he brought his boat to a stop. Still connected to its speaker wire, he pulled the speaker in as if reeling in a fish on the end of a fishing line. When he brought it back on board the speaker was still playing music! He wiped it off and returned it back to its original location, making sure it was secure.
Rock Solid Sound
B&W’s Rock Solid Monitor. Image from a vintage Rock Solid B&W sales brochure.
The very first set of wired outdoor speakers I ever owned was a pair of B&W (B&W not BMW) Rock Solid Monitors. Rock Solid was B&W’s entry level plastic speaker line made in Japan. I worked for B&W at the time and fell so much in love with the cute indoor/outdoor speakers that I bought two pair. They sounded fantastic, reaching down to 50Hz when wall mounted, and had integrated metal stands that provided uniquely generous articulation from walls and ceilings. They even included little metal mesh bug screens you could pop in the front bass ports to prevent creepy crawlies from making their home inside the speaker housings. I recall sitting at an outdoor bar on Grand Cayman Island while on vacation almost 2 decades ago and listening to music. I looked up – and you guessed it – it was a pair of Rock Solid Monitors cranking out the tunes. Such was the world-wide popularity of these monitors which you can still find used on eBay.
The Yamaha NS-AW350. Image from usa.yamaha.com
My next pair of wired outdoor speakers was a set of Yamaha NS-AW350W’s. These were a considerable step-down from my Rock Solid speakers, both acoustically and cosmetically, but my budget was much smaller and I needed speakers with a smaller footprint. Frankly, they didn’t sound all that great, especially in the bass department, and their wall mounts only had 2 positions which forced me to choose between one or the other. But they allowed me to get my music outside for a reasonable price and they fit the only space I could install them.
Something I’ve never owned is a pair of those so-called “rock speakers”. They tend to sound as bad as they look. I also wasn’t interested in having the sound directed at my fibula instead of my ears, or serenading my plants which are challenged enough as it is with me as their caretaker. Funny enough, I’ve never seen a real rock that plays music and has perforations in a circular pattern.
This summer I wanted to find the holy grail of outdoor wired speakers…good sounding speakers (including decent bass) with full motion mounts for around one hundred bucks. I briefly considered buying a used set of Rock Solid Monitors but they were beyond my budget, as were B&W’s LM1’s which replaced the Rock Solid Monitor. I read loads of outdoor speaker reviews, but most of the $100 or less models failed the sound quality test and/or included wall mounts that were a joke. Then I stumbled upon the OSD Audio AP650.
I’ve worked in consumer audio for over 20 years and to be honest, I’d never heard of OSD (Outdoor Speaker Depot) before. Located in Brea, California, OSD does their design work in the USA while their manufacturing is done in Asia. They operate a 45,000 sq. ft. distribution center so whatever you order from them is probably in stock. In addition to a variety of outdoor speaker models, OSD also offers home speakers, amplifiers, mounts, audio cables, and even speaker wire in bulk.
The thought of buying speakers from an audio company with the word “Depot” in its name wasn’t comforting, but there were several things that sold me on the AP650 besides their price. As I mentioned, bass was important to me, and OSD claims the AP650’s bass response is rated down to 35Hz. I didn’t have a way to verify that but even if they’re off by 20Hz, which would be unusual, that’s still good bass for a budget outdoor speaker. The sensitivity is listed at 90dB and efficiency was another key spec since I’m using a low power amplifier. The AP650’s come with 180 degree swivel and 60 degree tilt wall brackets. This was critical because my speakers would be mounted up high and I needed the ability to both angle the speakers downward and toe them in in order to direct the sound at my seating area. Most wall mounts let you to do one or the other depending on whether you mount the speakers vertically or horizontally. Few mounts in this price range allow you to adjust both without having to commit to the orientation of the speaker.
Rock, Scissors, Paper
One thing of concern was the fact that the AP650’s use 6.5” paper cone woofers. Paper cones can yield excellent sound quality and have been used since the advent of loudspeakers, but paper isn’t the best material for outdoor use for obvious reasons. However, OSD treats the AP650’s woofer cones to make them water resistant. With their 23 engineers, you’d think they could’ve managed to obtain similar acoustic performance using polypropylene woofers like almost every other outdoor speaker employs. The speaker housings are sealed (no bass ports), yet only carry an IP54 (Ingress Protection) rating, which isn’t great for an outdoor product. They’ll be under eaves and they won’t be getting hit with a hose or splashes from a pool which should help their longevity. Only time will tell how well they’ll hold up.
Disappointingly, my search results didn’t reveal a lot of reviews of the AP650. I found a couple of reviews on YouTube but they were for OSD’s Bluetooth version of these speakers. On Amazon, the AP650’s are rated 4.6 out of 5 stars with such positive comments as, “I would buy this setup again 100 times over”, “these speakers sound amazing”, and “bass is much tighter.” OSD’s website also had reviews but I suspect they only posted the positive ones. Comments ranged from “awesome sound” to ” very happy with them” to “exactly what I was looking for”. The New York Times compared several different outdoor models and rated the AP650’s their best buy, calling them “the best value we’ve found in an outdoor pair. Their clarity beats anything we’ve heard from other models priced under $200 a pair. And they have a full, powerful sound that can easily fill an outdoor space, up to about 1,500 square feet. The AP650 speakers have enough bass for R&B, hip-hop, and rock music…This pair is also better made than most under-$200 outdoor speakers, with a thicker enclosure and a sturdy, powder-coated mounting bracket.”
I should point out that the AP650’s are listed for $195 per pair on Amazon which was almost double my budget. I ended up purchasing mine on eBay directly from OSD for $110 for the pair including shipping. I don’t understand why Outdoor Speaker Depot significantly undercuts their own prices on their website and in their Amazon listing, but ours is not to reason why. Outdoor Speaker Depot also offers the AP850 which boast 8” woofers and bass rated down to 32Hz, but at $300.pair, that wasn’t going to happen.
DIY Speaker Install
You can tell I’m not married because this mess would rate a zero on the Wife Acceptance Factor. Photo by Peter Skiera.
As I awaited the arrival of my new speakers, I set out to get my wiring in place. I wasn’t able to run speaker wire direct to my source, so I dug out my Rocketfish RF-WRSK18 2.4GHz wireless audio transmitter which I had packed away in my garage and connected it to the speaker outputs of my Dayton Audio HTA100 hybrid vacuum tube integrated amplifier. I used the HTA100 because it was my only option, not because I wanted a tube sound outdoors. I wall mounted the companion Rocketfish receiver (which has its own volume control) 19’ away from the transmitter and ran 16-gauge speaker wire from it to the places where I was going to mount each speaker outside. This required drilling a 5” deep hole through an exterior wall to get the speaker wire outside (which I later sealed up with caulk).
Hang In There
A pair in the open air: The OSD AP650’s. Photo by Peter Skiera.
Once I received my speakers, I installed the included wall mounts into studs and then mounted the speakers making sure to position them so they flooded the seating area with music. This wasn’t easy because the speakers weigh 9 pounds each, so juggling one in one hand with a screwdriver in the other while standing on a ladder was somewhat precarious. At nearly a foot tall and 8” wide, these speakers aren’t compact, so be certain your space will accommodate them. If you want outdoor speakers that blend into the background, these aren’t for you.
It’s A Cover Up
A binding post cover on the backside of the AP650. Photo by Peter Skiera.
Interestingly, both speakers came supplied with matching removable rear plastic covers with an exit for the speaker wire to help protect the binding posts from the elements. They also lent the speakers a nice clean look even though no one will probably ever notice them. Of course, the covers make no contribution to the sound quality, but it’s these little touches that let you know OSD’s designers were paying attention. I’ve never encountered such a feature on any other outdoor speaker, at least not in this price range.
Photo from outdoorspeakerdepot.com
My speakers also came with a 70 volt adjustment just above the biding posts which is typically reserved for commercial applications where many speakers are daisy chained together to cover very large spaces. There’s an 8 ohm setting if you’re just using one stereo pair, as in my case, but you can buy the speakers without the 70 volt option if you prefer.
Hi-fi outside: The AP650 outdoor speakers. Photo by Peter Skiera.
After breaking the speakers in for a couple weeks, my overall impression is very favorable. My Rocketfish transmitter is probably a weak link in the audio chain, but for my purposes, the sound quality is more than acceptable, including the bass. My HTA100 has Bluetooth 5.0 so I’m able to stream from the Spotify app and hear it on my outdoor speakers, but mostly I take the audio from my cable’s commercial-free music channels. This also allows me to listen to baseball games, news, etc. while outside. My patio is about as modest as they come…no hot tub, no in ground pool, no outdoor kitchen, no motorized awning, and no outdoor TV, but I still enjoy relaxing outside. Being able to listen to music on quality stereo speakers takes it to a whole other level. Considering what I paid, I think I got a bargain, which doesn’t happen very often in consumer audio. Ready, set, summer.
Full disclosure: I didn’t get the OSD AP650’s for free or at a discount in return for my review nor do I receive a commission should you buy them.
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Once upon a time, there was a popular TV Western called Gunsmoke. The show ran for 20 years, from 1955 to 1975, making it the longest running dramatic TV series ever. Over 630 episodes aired during that time span, not including 5 made-for-TV movies. The show frequently received top ratings and the series won 15 Prime Time Emmy awards. It outlasted NBC’s Bonanza and survived CBS’ infamous “rural purge” of the early 1970’s when it cancelled its Western-themed shows. A few years later, in 1975, without any advance notice to the show’s cast, producers, or the viewing public, CBS unceremoniously pulled the plug on Gunsmoke.
Many of you probably remember the series or have at least heard of it. What some of you may not know is that Gunsmoke the television show was adapted from a radio series by the same name. It was 71 years ago this month when Gunsmoke the radio series first took to the airwaves on the CBS Radio Network. The Western drama aired on the radio every week for 9 years.
For the varmints who don’t know, Gunsmoke was set in Dodge City, Kansas, and centered around Marshal Matt Dillon’s efforts to enforce law and order in the wild west. Other key characters included Dillon’s Deputy, Wesley Proudfoot, Kitty Russell, owner of the local saloon (and Dillon’s love interest), Chester Goode, Dillon’s assistant, and Doctor Charles “Doc” Adams, the town physician.
Whoa, take ‘er easy there, Pilgrim.
During the entire 20 year run of the TV series, actor James Arness played the lead character, U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon. The 6’2” tall Arness looked and acted as if he was born for the part. He bore a slight resemblance to John Wayne and even sounded a bit like Duke. Legend has it Wayne was offered the starring role but turned it down.
In the radio series, however, William Conrad played Matt Dillon. You’ll remember Conrad as the 5’7″, 260 pound detective in the popular 1970’s TV detective series, Cannon. Nobody could’ve looked more the antithesis of an 1870’s Marshal than Conrad. I pity the horse that had to transport him. But this was radio, not television. Conrad had extensive experience in radio and it was his voice, as deep as Hells Canyon, that rightly earned him the part.
Rocky and Bullwinkle
Since I’m focusing on the Gunsmoke radio program and he was the star, allow me to devote a few sentences to Conrad. He was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1920, the son of movie theater owners. He became a fighter pilot in World War II and was a producer-director of the Armed Forces Radio Service. He directed numerous films and TV episodes and acted in many more over his 5-decade long career. He was the narrator for The Fugitive, The Adventures ofRocky and Bullwinkle cartoons, and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. He married 3 times and had 1 son. His last starring role in a TV series was Jake and the Fat Man, a crime drama that ran on CBS for 5 seasons. Conrad died in February 1994 of a heart attack.
From Mark to Matt
Before the Gunsmoke radio series began, two different pilot episodes were recorded, both in 1949. The Marshal’s name for the pilot episodes was Mark Dillon and Conrad didn’t play the lead role in either episode. Neither ever made it on the air and the hero’s name was later changed from Mark to Matt Dillon.
For Adults Only
Unlike other radio Westerns of the era such as The Cisco Kid and The Lone Ranger,Gunsmoke was strictly geared for adults. It tended to be somber and often featured explicit and violent content, yet is generally regarded as more realistic than its television counterpart. From the radio show’s introduction: “There’s just one way to handle the killers and the spoilers and that’s with a U.S. Marshal and the smell of gun smoke!” Or as William Conrad as Marshal Dillon put it in his baritone voice: “[I’m] the first man they look for and the last they want to meet.”
Being the radio geek that I am and having been employed in said industry for years, I’m continually amazed at the work that went into these old time radio productions. Listening to the Gunsmoke radio shows, I put aside the story lines and concentrated on the other elements…the quality of the scripts, the music, and of course, the all-important, multilayered sound effects. An enormous amount of effort went into each and every weekly episode and the quality still shines through 7 decades later.
Watch and Listen
If I’ve managed to inspire you to catch Gunsmoke the TV show, you’ll find the series airing weekday afternoons on the MeTV network (which, incidentally, also airs Cannon). Can’t get enough? The INSP cable network airs Gunsmoke episodes multiple times throughout the day and evening. Tarnation! On the other hand, if you’d prefer to acquaint (or re-acquaint) yourself with the original radio show, check out Internet Radio station WRCW Radio – Home of Gunsmoke, streaming out of Virginia. Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Dodge City, Kansas anymore.
Smoke ’em if you got ’em.
Most OTR (Old Time Radio) Internet stations play a variety of old time radio programs. Some OTR stations are genre specific like mystery/science fiction or comedies. There aren’t too many that dedicate themselves to one specific series like WRCW Radio – Home of Gunsmoke does. With WRCW Radio, it’s all Gunsmoke, all the time. I’m talking hundreds of episodes all broadcast on one radio station. You’ll even hear vintage adverts for Vicks cough drops and the original sponsor, L&M cigarettes. Interestingly, L&M was founded in 1873, the same time period the Gunsmoke episodes were set in. It’s bizarre to me to hear cigarettes advertised as having “flavor” and being “light and mild” with an “easy draw”, not to mention the white “miracle tip” filter. The L&M brand still exists today unlike some of their customers.
25 Years of Gunsmoke Radio
There are other Gunsmoke-only Internet radio stations like a similarly named radio station, Home of Gunsmoke. That station only streams at 64 kbps and it’s been my experience that this is typical of the majority of OTR Internet radio stations. WRCW Radio – Home of Gunsmoke streams at 128 kbps. It’s a minor point since the quality of the old time radio mono recordings aren’t exactly high fidelity, but I applaud WRCW Radio for going above and beyond. They’ve also been streaming Gunsmoke longer than most. The station celebrated its 25th Anniversary just last year. In 2005 it was nominated as Live365’s best station.
I spit-shined my Marshal’s badge, hopped on my trusty horse, and tracked down Marlene Micele, WRCW’s Founder. I asked the little lady what her inspiration was to start WCRW Radio – Home of Gunsmoke. “The inspiration to start the station came from my memories of hearing the show on the radio when I was only a few years old”, Micele wrote me. “I didn’t like the TV version of Gunsmoke”, she added.
As I mentioned, WRCW Radio plays all the Gunsmoke shows, well over 400, with one exception. “I air all the episodes that are available”, Micele told me. “There were many repeats during the show’s run, and I have removed them from the broadcast as to not be repetitious.”
Pull Up A Chair
One mystery that still endures…why William Conrad didn’t get the starring role in the Gunsmoke TV series after successfully playing the lead for 9 years on the radio. It’s been implied his girth was the reason behind the snub. Micele commented, “I quote from hearing Dennis Weaver [who was in the TV series] tell it: ‘The scene called for Conrad to jump up from the chair, and when he did, he got stuck because of his weight.’ It was clear Gunsmoke the TV series was either going to need bigger chairs or a thinner Marshal.
Just the facts, ma’am.
WRCW has some sister stations worth noting which also stream at 128 kbps. If Gunsmoke isn’t your cup of wild west whiskey, there’s WRCW Presents Dragnet, dedicated to Dragnet, another very popular TV show that began life as a radio series. WRCW Radio 2 Home of the Old Time Westerns airs Westerns in general, and WRCW Crime Story streams vintage radio crime dramas. Perhaps the “RCW” in WRCW stands for Radio, Crime, Westerns.
“Unlike other radio Westerns of the era such as ‘The Cisco Kid’ and ‘The Lone Ranger’, ‘Gunsmoke’ was strictly geared for adults.”
Without getting ornery, I have two quick cons about this Internet station. First, it’s not non-commercial, so be prepared to hear 2 minute commercial sets beyond the original vintage sponsorships. The commercials help reduce the station’s cost of the streaming platform and is often a necessary evil for Internet stations to exist.
The other quibble I have is that KCRW Radio’s metadata doesn’t identify the original air date of each Gunsmoke episode. The title of every episode is displayed but it would be interesting to know when they first aired. This information is readily available so I don’t understand why it’s not included. To be fair, the other Gunsmoke Internet stations I checked out also failed to indicate the broadcast dates.
Gunsmoke still looks and sounds pretty darn good at 71 years old. Without it, one has to wonder whether shows like Yellowstone, 1883, and 1923 would exist. Unless you’re yellow-bellied, rustle up some Gunsmoke on WRCW Radio or get out of Dodge!
Trivia:William Conrad wrote Gunsmoke radio episode #59, “Sundown”, which aired on June 6, 1953. He also directed two episodes of the TV series.
Trivia: James Anress, who portrayed Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke the TV series, had a famous brother…Peter Graves, who starred in his own hit television series, Mission: Impossible.
Trivia: The Gunsmoke TV character, Festus Haggin, played by Ken Curtis, released several records. Long before Gunsmoke, Curtis was a professional singer and had a brief stint as lead singer with the Tommy Dorsey band in 1941 after Frank Sinatra’s departure.
A sampling of metaphors by Festus Haggin from the Gunsmoke TV series:
He ain’t got the gumption to pound sand down a rat hole.
I thumped him ’till his ears rang like the liberty bell.
Crookeder than a dog’s hind leg.
Hold `yer taters.
I’ll get onto you like ugly on an ape.
He can’t see past the brim of his hat.
This here stew will put muscles in your whiskers.
It’s hot enough to fry a horseshoe.
Tighter than the feathers on a prairie chicken’s rump.
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