Information And Help To The New Collector - Part III

by Terry G.G. Salomonson

This installment should help all collectors, but I hope in particular the new collector, to get more organized with his/her collection of old time radio broadcasts. It is very easy, believe me, to be collecting happily for a year or two, and then discover that you're not too sure of exactly what it is that you have, or don't, or exactly which program was it that you wanted to get a sound upgrade of.

Once you've crossed that line of 1,000+ programs, and it does not take a very long time to get to 1,000 broadcasts, you will find that the collection may take more time in managing than you thought it would. Let's see, do I have LUX RADIO THEATER's 09/13/37 broadcast of "A Star Is Born," or is it the 12/28/42 copy? How many JACK BENNY broadcasts do I have right now? Ronald Colman starred in a lot of radio broadcasts. I remember him on THE JACK BENNY SHOW, but what was that syndicated program he hosted? And what is the name of the other syndicated program that he starred in for a couple of seasons?

As you can see, these are but a few of the questions and/or problems that can develop if you allow your collection to get out of control early into starting your hobby. Of course, you may not care at all about these possible problems and collect just to listen to these moments of broadcasting history. That is alright for some collectors. But I have heard many collectors say, "If I were starting out today, boy would I do it differently!"

I know of one collector that has started reorganizing his collection at least five different times. First it was to collect from whichever source he could find for programs. Then after a while to rerecord all his reel-to-reel tapes with similar programs - all drama together, or all DRAGNET programs on the same reel, instead of one program here and another one or two somewhere else throughout the entire collection of tapes. Then he decided that everything should be on only 1200' reels of tape. For those of you that may not know, a 1200' reel of tape running at 3 3/4 ips will play back for 60 minutes in one direction. That worked out real well until he ran into THE BIG SHOW broadcasts which of course are 90 minutes long. Then it was put everything on cassettes. He didn't think about what kind of a storage problem he would have with not hundreds, but thousands of cassettes! He also didn't quite know what to do with LUX RADIO THEATER, which is 60 minutes long. Was he going to cut into the middle of the program and turn over the cassette to continue on the second side? And another problem was that at that time very few collectors traded on cassettes. Most people were into reel-to-reel trading. So after six months, it was put everything back on reel-to-reel. This time he used 1800' tape so he could get 90 minutes playback time on each track.

Finding certain programs in his collection became a real challenge for him. I remember him opening up box after box looking for which reel contained a certain show. He eventually listed sheets of reels, but never did put together any kind of an index of programs, or an index of reels. He just would scan sheet after sheet of dates, broadcast titles, etc., looking for the reel or program he wanted. You can burn up many, many hours of time following these steps, and get a headache trying to keep up with a growing collection. And just what do you do when you think you finally have a firm grip on everything and the mailman shows up at your front door with another box of reels containing yet another sixty or seventy shows? The last I heard about our collector friend, he still wasn't quite satisfied with how his collection was, but that he was getting closer to what he thinks he wants.

The idea I'm getting to here is to try and do a little planning ahead of time and not run into these headaches in about six or seven months, or worse yet, after a couple of serious collecting years.

Probably the first area of consideration you should be concerned with is to choose which type of tape system you want to use, store on, and trade with. Reel-to-reel machines are faster and generally cheaper to trade with. But, fewer and fewer manufacturers are producing them now. Serious collectors, and especially large collectors who have a lot of very interesting programs you may not find anywhere else, use reel-to-reel recorders. By not using what they use, you may limit your access to these collectors and the programs in their collections. I know some who would never consider trading on cassettes. They are not set up to duplicate on cassettes, don't have the time, etc.

The problem today is that most new collectors are starting on cassette collections, while the older collectors are still holding on to the open reel format. There is still a world of difference between the two collectors. However, cassettes are more popular and the blank cassettes are easier to obtain than both the open reel machine and blank tape.

As a provider of OTR, I primarily collect and store programs on reel-to-reel. But I also provide programs on cassettes for collectors and take a few programs here and there from cassettes. For me, with the amount of programs that I have, reel-to-reel tapes save a lot of space. You wouldn't think so if you were to see the amount of reels that I have, but I can't imagine how I could possibly make room for the same amount of programs on cassettes. I have over 5,000 cassette masters made up now with more being added all the time for the large amount of cassette requests and orders that are received. Storage is becoming a slight problem because of my need for keeping both open reel and cassette format masters. This is not typical for the average collector who would choose one format or the other.

For this installment we will just touch a little here on the reel-to-reel vs. cassette decks and save the bulk of the discussion for a future article. Reel-to-reel decks are not for everyone, and are expensive. The smaller units that you could find in most stereo outlets four or five years ago, just are not around anymore. Most manufacturers like Akai, Pioneer, or Sony simply do not make these smaller and inexpensive units. There were, at one time, several different models to choose from in the $125.00 to $165.00 range. Besides cost, maintenance is getting harder to find, unless you do your own maintenance, as stereo dealers are moving more and more towards only selling cassette decks and offer very little in the way of services for reel-to-reel, or even cassette deck problems for that matter. It is cheaper to buy and throw away cassette decks than reel-to-reel decks. It is also getting to be cheaper to buy and throw away cassette decks than to repair them. Most home use cassette decks can be purchased for around $50.00 on up. If you want some additional features like a dual deck, auto reverse, etc., the price range will vary between about $129.00 to $250.00. A good studio quality cassette deck, with many features that you would never find in a home stereo unit will cost you between $750.00 to $1,500 plus. Of course you can also pick up a little walk around unit to take to the beach and listen to old time radio for about $25.00. All will play the programs we collect, but quality will vary.

Reel-to-reel decks can start at $500.00 and very quickly go into the thousands for a new unit. Used decks can be found at a lower cost, but if any maintenance is needed, you might not be able to get the parts needed for older units. And again, you might have a problem finding service centers to work on them. If you do find one, the chances are pretty good that they will charge $75.00 per hour for the labor and will start at a minimum two hour labor charge to start looking at and repairing your open reel deck, and that's not including the cost of parts. If you are in doubt as to where an open reel deck can be repaired in your area, contact a local radio or televison station in your area and ask if they provide their own repairs or have it done. If they contract out for the repairs ask who does it and call with questions on maintenance problems and repair costs. This may be the single largest decision maker in the open reel vs. cassette debate.

So I think that we'll limit our discussion here to state that cassette decks are probably the way most collectors starting out in this hobby would go. Cassette decks offer the ability to trade with just about everyone, anywhere. Cassettes also are playable on handheld units, in cars, or in your living room. Cassette tapes are available just about everywhere, and both the decks and the tapes are very reasonable in price.

Once you've made a selection on the type of machine and whether or not you are going with reel-to-reel or cassette, you need to start thinking about how to keep track of your tapes.

Now, because of the size of my collection, which continues to grow every week with the arrival of boxes of tapes in the mail from various sources, I have started a good management system of information about these broadcasts. I will admit, most of you will not have to go to these limits, but as collections get very large you have to keep up with them, or be buried under them. I have an IBM-PC computer system which helps to keep track of more and more of the collection as time passes. I have also been building a data base to cross reference between shows, actors, dates, sources, sound quality, which reel the program is found on, etc.

Now, you don't need a computer system, just a box or two holding 3 x 5 cards with some of the following pieces of information would help. The point is to keep control of the collection BEFORE it gets out of hand.

Here are 16 possible areas that you may want to consider using in keeping track of your programs. I use these and they are very helpful indeed. Maybe for your own collection none of these items will help you. Or maybe, just one or two will help.

With the above information on each broadcast, which takes only a few minutes to put on a card, you can really control your collection and know just exactly what is what at any moment within your collection. What you need, what you have, etc.

Let's take just a few moments and look at each of these sixteen items and more fully explain the reason and importance of these areas.

1. Whether the program is restricted from trading.

The last thing you would want to do is to receive a copy of a program from a collector that is restricted and then go trading it with every collector in the country. If there is a reason to restrict trading a show you should respect this right or don't ask for it. If you do start trading a restricted program with everyone, you can bet that you will not have access to this type of material in the future. Word does get around throughout the country between collectors and they simply will not offer rare and restricted material to you in the future, or deal with you at all. Sometimes you might be surprised to learn that a collector that you've traded with for years is sitting on rare restricted material and you never knew it. He might offer you a trade or two, and then again he might never say anything. You just never know where new programs will come from. Restrictions are placed on material for a number of different reasons. Most of the time a restriction is placed on material for a short period of time like six months to a year. Please respect trading limits. After all, it's in your own interest if you offer this type of material in the future.

2. Date of the broadcast.

Dates of programs are important. Many programs on the radio repeated some of their more popular broadcasts. SUSPENSE, as an example, repeated "Sorry, Wrong Number" seven times. So which copy of that broadcast do you have? The second, fifth, or the seventh? You won't know without keeping track of dates. Sometimes the networks literally rebroadcasted a recording of an earlier broadcast. Sometimes they would rebroadcast the same script using the same cast, and other times using the same script but with a different cast. ESCAPE rebroadcasted several scripts three and four times during its existence, but always with different cast members. Dates of programs are important.

3. Broadcast number (if known).

This is easy for a short run program like LUKE SLAUGHTER OF TOMBSTONE, or THE LIVES OF HARRY LIME. The number of programs was small, just a year's worth or less; 16 programs for LUKE SLAUGHTER and 52 for HARRY LIME. But when you start collecting a program like FIBBER MCGEE AND MOLLY, SUSPENSE, or THE LONE RANGER, you start getting into problems if you don't know how many were done each year. As new programs are discovered and released, this will help you know which programs you still need and are looking for. You may be thinking to yourself right now, well, if I know the broadcast date, why would I worry about the broadcast number? In most cases the broadcast date is all you would need to know if you were missing a program or not, especially if you know the first and last broadcasts for the season. But if you collect a program that was syndicated - NO DATES! THE LIVES OF HARRY LIME aired over MUTUAL in most areas, but not all and was somewhat syndicated and is only identified by program numbers #1 - 52. And what if the broadcast was preempted one week here or there? Also, broadcast days changed over periods of time and knowing what the broadcast numbers of programs are can help in making sure that you do have all the programs you are looking for.

4. Title of the script (if known).

Not all radio broadcasts had script titles. Most probably did not. So collectors have assigned "titles" over the years. I can only state that you will see several different titles from time to time for the same program. They are hard to weed out. One example I can give you about "titles" is the "titles" you will see involving the DRAGNET programs. The "titles" assigned to each one of these broadcasts were assigned by the production staff in order to keep track of scripts. Jack Webb never gave any of his programs titles. But production "working titles" are known. I think that titles are about the most important way of identifying the different programs that you have, even if you do not have a broadcast date. So keep track of this carefully.

5. Which broadcast network.

This isn't terribly important, but it is interesting to watch certain programs jump from one network to another, or the network changing from NBC-Red and NBC-Blue to NBC and ABC. And if you can find a program that has an announcement that "This is the Orange Network," you may find collectors beating a path to your door for a copy. (The Orange Network by the way, was on the West Coast.)

6. If it is available, do I have it?

If you collect programs, and you want to collect everything about a particular series, you not only will need to know what was done (logs are a great source of this information), but what you already have and then what you still need to find. Not all broadcasts from a series are available. But once you see a listing of titles, you can at least compare it to the ones you have and then trade for the ones you need.

7. Source of the program.

Keep track where you get programs. You may find that some sources are better than others. Better sound quality, better program selection, etc. Also, if you should ever accidentally erase a tape, or ruin it by some other means, you can at least go to the same source for another copy, and not from a different source that might provide a lower quality, or edited version of the same program.

8. Sound quality rating of the program.

This category is very subjective. Everyone has their own idea of what an EX (excellent), VG (very good), G (good), or a P (poor) copy is. We all hear differently and some defects will bother some and not others. I find that most programs are generally in the VG category. There are some minor defects like light surface noise, or an occasional click or skip. This may truly bother someone and maybe they only want perfect sounding programs. This will certainly limit the size of their collection, but if this is what they want, fine. So it is hard for one person's sound rating to be the same as another person's. I rate a certain way for only my own personal records and for what I would or would not use on the air. This is one category that you yourself will have to decide.

9. Whether I have or would air it on my radio program.

I hosted a radio program for five years in which I aired many of these old shows. So I had to keep track of which programs I used and which ones I would never use, because of content or, as in item 8, sound problems. Out of the thousands of programs that I have, it would be dumb to re-air the exact same program after a couple of months, because I just simply forgot that I had already used it.

10. Reel number that it is stored on.

Keeping track of a program should also tell you where it is. I can look up the program by name, date, or title, etc., and find exactly which reel of tape it is on. This saves a lot of time.

11. Location/track on the reel.

After finding the exact reel of tape that contains the program, this listing lets me know where on the reel it is. Just another small convenient time saving piece of information.

12. Running time of the program.

I list my programs in catalogs as 15, 30, 60, or 90 minute programs. In fact, the program may only be 12 minutes long, but 15 minutes is close enough to give you some kind of an idea as to the approximate running time of the show. However, I like to know the exact running time for my records and I list minutes and seconds in my files. This will also help you to find out if someone has a more complete version of a program that you have, but maybe not a full copy, content-wise, such as commercials removed, etc.

13. If I have it on cassette, the cassette number.

As I started putting together cassettes, I started adding information about cassettes, especially after I recorded several cassettes that I didn't think I had already made up. I had duplicated my work needlessly. Now if I make up a cassette of programs, this information is listed and I look for this information first, then record if necessary.

14. First ten words of the script.

This category I added recently because of made-up program titles. The same program can be circulating listed by three or four different titles, by just date, or by the name of the program and nothing about which broadcast. By listing the first ten words of the script (not the standard opening comments as they tend to be the same week after week), you can weed out very fast any duplicate that may show up under a different title. No two scripts that I know of start out with the exact same first ten words. Believe me, this really helps. As a side benefit you can help another collector identify his/her undated/untitled program.

15. Names of the actors/actresses of the broadcast.

Many stars are not credited on most programs. After a while, you will be able to pick out certain voices and add their names to your log. You can also use this category to list all radio programs that you have by actor name. "Let me see, which shows do I have throughout the collection that starred Jack Webb?" This category will list all programs in your collection in which Jack Webb appeared, whether they be SUSPENSE, ESCAPE, DRAGNET, JOHNNY MODERO, etc.

16. Any notes about the program that I may need.

This is a very wide open entry. Any small note to yourself, or other comment that is important to you about the program should be listed here. If there were repeated skips during the copy of the broadcast that you have due to a scratch on the disk, you may want to make a note of that and start looking for an upgraded copy. Other defects could be if the opening/closing were cut off, or if the show a bad volume drop during the program, etc. I list known wrong titles for programs. I have over 1,400 broadcasts of THE LONE RANGER. Many programs that I have seen over the years in other collectors' collections have made-up titles, wrong dates, wrong transcription numbers, etc., that collectors have passed on for years. After years of research putting together THE LONE RANGER log, I use these bad dates, titles, etc., to help a collector identify and correct his listings. It also helps me in not thinking that I have two different programs, because of two different titles, one of which is wrong. This entry is the largest single help to me in trying to find LONE RANGER programs that I don't have.

Now, with the above information and a computer you can go several steps further. I can ask for, and get printed out on a sheet of paper, let's say, all the broadcasts that I have in my collection that aired on 10/06/46, or list all of the programs that I have in which Parley Baer starred in, or which programs that aired between 1935 and 1940 on CBS that were comedy, print out a listing of only the programs that I am missing in my collection of THE GREAT GILDERSLEEVE, or FIBBER MCGEE AND MOLLY. Combinations of information that you can print out or find with the aid of your computer are endless. You could, for example, print out a catalog of only the science-fiction programs you have, or a listing of just your MUTUAL broadcasts. How about just radio shows that Jack Benny appeared on between the years 1941 - 1945 over the NBC network?

What I have mentioned so far will be helpful to all of us in the collecting of old time radio programs. But let me move forward and talk about the use of a computer as so many of us either already have one or are think of getting one. I started using Ashton-Tate's dBASE III Plus to record and process all of the information that I've already discussed. I have since transferred all of my database programs to FOXPRO 2. Both are very large and expensive data base programs. More on these software packages in a few minutes. I think for our purposes here though, I should talk about a smaller and easier to use program that probably most of you would feel very comfortable with. It also happens to be a very inexpensive program. It is about the cheapest and easiest data base program to use and is available for the IBM and IBM compatibles. The name of this program is PC-FILE III. The version that I would recommend is an older version and does not take much in the way of computer memory to operate it. It is version 4.0. The cost was approximately $45.00 to register, and was available for free downloads from BBS's, better known as electronic bulletin boards, all over the country. You can still find this version on some BBS's, or I can supply a copy of the program to you for $10.00 post paid. This software was produced by Jim Button, ButtonWare, P.O. Box 5786, Bellevue, WA 98006. I highly recommend this program. Their latest version is version 7.0. The drawback to this newest database is that a hard drive is required and a lot of memory is used to store and manipulate data. It is great for the larger collector, but version 4.0 would be the best for the small to average collector.

With this program and your computer you can put together your trading catalog, print content labels for each reel, and labels for cassettes, and maintain all the information about your collections that you want. You can then ship out orders or new catalogs using mailing labels that you can produce using this same simple package, and maintain a complete mailing list of all your friends, work associates, etc. All of this is done with the computer, the informational facts that you load into the computer, and the database program that you are using.

Without getting into a lot of details on programming, let's give you a few terminology definitions of what is used in a database. If you're not experienced in computer programs, you'll find that all of the following are just simply the same type of considerations you'd make in listing your old time radio programs in your catalogs, or on those 3 x 5 cards. So don't let the following names scare you:

To list all of the information that we've discussed, you need to sit down ahead of time and figure out just what type of information you want to list in your database. Just the same as you would if you were filling out one of those 3 x 5 cards. A little planning ahead of time really helps. Don't worry if later you want to add some new information to each one of your records, because it is easy to add a new category, or take one away. But write out on a piece of paper what information you want first. That way you won't be doing a lot of adding to, or taking away from your database and possibly causing yourself some minor troubles.

Most database programs will allow you to create a record screen so that you will see all the information that you have for each record at one time. Most programs will also help you move automatically from one field to another as you enter information. Nothing could be easier.

PC-FILE III will support 41 fields per record (so that is a lot of information on each program in your collection), 254 characters per record, 65 characters per field size, and the number of records per file is limited to what the disk will hold. Your computer needs to be equipped with at least 160K of disk storage, and a 96K RAM of memory, and will work with DOS 1.1, DOS 2.0, or above. 128K RAM memory and 320K or more disk storage is recommended though. If none of this makes any sense to you, your local computer expert, or computer store can fill you in on what I just told you. Chances are your computer is already equipped this way. Reading through the books that come with your computer will also help you out.

As mentioned earlier, here are some technical specifications about another database program, Ashton-Tate's dBASE III Plus. Even though this software was released several years ago, I will give the following information as dBASE III Plus is probably the best known database program around, certainly the most used.

dBASE III Plus will run on IBM-PC, IBM-PC XT, IBM-PC AT, or 100% compatible computers. If you have 384K or more of RAM installed, dBASE III Plus runs with IBM-DOS V2.0, 2.10, or 3.x, or with MS-DOS V2.11. If you have less than 384K worth of RAM you must use IBM-PC DOS V2.0 or 2.10, or MS-DOS V2.11. You cannot use IBM-PC DOS V3.x! (With only 256K of RAM you may have insufficient memory and have to close one or more open files in order to proceed. Again, you cannot use IBM-PC DOS V3.x. You will also have to modify your Config.sys file.) Getting a little scared here? Don't worry, supporting documentation will help you through this area, or again your local computer expert can lend a fingertip or two.

One last item. Any memory resident programs that are loaded before dBASE III Plus, might affect the performance of this program. Releasing these programs will certainly increase speed.

dBASE III Plus will support the following:

I hope that I haven't confused anyone. More and more collectors are using computers to aid in keeping track of their collections. So don't be scared off by new technology. Put it to your use. It really will make your life so much easier than retyping pages over and over every time that you bring out a new catalog or add a new program to your collection. As your collection grows and grows, you will be adding more broadcasts, and will forever be retyping pages. That was one area I never did like. Just as soon as I would get each page to look the way I wanted it to, someone would release programs that weren't available before. Besides, hundreds of typewritten pages can be stored on one computer diskette, which by itself saves a lot of shelf room for more reel-to-reel or cassette tapes of old time radio.

Next Part IV - THE LOG: An Essential Tool For The Collector.

If there is an area of information that you, the new or well established collector, would like to see in this series, please feel free to write me. Any questions, comments, or suggestions will be carefully considered. I can be reached through this internet web site or the following addresses:

P.O. Box 347
Howell, MI 48844-0347


Copyright (c) 1988 - 1998 by Terry G.G. Salomonson. All rights reserved.

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Jerry Haendiges Productions 1998