Friday, May 19, 2017

Association for Recorded Sound Collections, 2017

Matthew Barton, president of ARSC
Last year ARSC (The Association for Recorded Sound Collections) celebrated their 50th anniversary and I absent-mindedly forgot to make a mention of recognition on this blog. This past weekend ARSC held their 51st annual conference so I hope to rectify that oversight with a brief review. Every year the event is held in a different city in the United States and this year's conference, May 11 to 13, was held in San Antonio, Texas. As this was an opportunity for me to see The Alamo which was located across the street from the hotel (literally), and try authentic Texas steak, I took advantage of the conference by sight-seeing as any tourist would do.

The conference plays host to more than 250 attendees, the majority are curators of special collections for recorded sound across the country. Syracuse University, Indiana University, the University of Texas and the Library of Congress are all represented, among many others. Here the casual attendee can hobnob with special collectors who conduct online auction houses, editors of national magazines and scholarly journals, and private collectors with extensive databases of warehousing. As expected when I attended the Radio Preservation Task Force last year, I was probably the only old-time radio researcher at this conference. Almost everyone was an archivist or wholesale collector. Just attending one of these events is a chance to make connections and exchange contact information with good folks who are trying to make an effort to transfer archival holdings to digital form. For the few people in this hobby who research old-time radio programs of the 1930s through the 1950s, I am shocked I am the only one in attendance. 


Many of the slideshow presentations report with status updates on the digitization efforts of major holdings in academic institutions. Very uplifting, for sure. Presentations included such subjects as "Expert Transfer Techniques: A Special Focus on Mechanical Discs," "Analysis of Audio Restoration Software Plugins and Programs" and "Modeling Metadata for Sound Archives." Geeky stuff for those who know what metadata is, but there were some fascinating subjects such as John Tefteller's presentation of long-lost Marx Brothers recordings, with samples and snippets of recently discovered "list" recordings, and Steve Smolian's recent discoveries of Victor Herbert's recording career. 

Of extreme interest, with video captured on my smartphone, was the slide show presentation by Tim Brooks who discussed the limitations and restrictions of how to deal with copyrights in the age of digital scholarship. Tim laid down the basic ABCs and rules for use of copyrighted audio materials in videos, presentations and exhibits, for digital dissemination of musical scholarship. I shared this video on a number of Facebook groups with the hope that it clarifies the misconceptions collectors have with copyrights.

Attending the conference was beneficial for a number of reasons, besides exchanging contacts (i.e. networking). Here I discovered archives I did not know existed, including what vintage radio broadcasts are housed at archives across the nation, how some libraries are using Amazon web services for streaming and storage, the question of speed is variable, conversation of scale, the recent processing of such collections as the Gloria Swanson papers/recordings and the Fulton Lewis Jr. collection, preservation assessments and intellectual value, how libraries create subclasses of performance, and (for me, at least) the acquisition of copies of a radio program titled Bill Scott, Forest Ranger (1946-1947) which I never knew existed.

(Left to Right) Tim Brooks, Sammy Jones and Bruce Epperson

I met William Robert Vanden Dries, who was kind enough to share with me his 2014 dissertation, "Collaborative Practices Employed by Collectors, Creators, Scholars and Collecting Institutions for the Benefit of Recorded Sound Collections." A superb 140-page scholarly analysis between the diversity and collaboration between collectors and archivists, a must-read for anyone who is into the hobby of old-time radio. As verified in his thesis and during one of the seminars, librarians do not look at collectors as vultures, but as custodians and are appreciative of their efforts. That said, at fan gatherings consisting primarily of collectors there seems a sense of animosity against library archives that (in the minds of collectors) are hoarding recordings and restricting access. Many collectors with large collections have at one time or another considered donating their vast holdings to a university or college library but then hesitated with the fear that such collections will gather dust for centuries. One of the slideshow presentations this weekend clarified, from a librarian's view, the necessity of a detailed inventory and cataloging system. The setback to vast holdings is the lack of proper labels or inventory needed to process the collection so they can be made available for researchers. As stated by Allison Bohm McClanahan of Indiana University, "If there is an inventory, they will be made available quickly. Your stuff will be processed efficiently."

Next year's event will be held in my back yard, Baltimore, Maryland, so I look forward to attending next year's event. For those curious to attend such a conference and cannot wait until May, there will be another Radio Preservation Task Force conference in Washington, D.C., in November. Details can be found here:

For more information about ARSC, including information about becoming a member, click here:

Friday, May 12, 2017

BLOOD 'N' THUNDER: The Final Issue

Winter/Spring 2016 issue
Over the years I probably subscribed to more than 100 fanzines and magazines, most of them now defunct as a result of an aging fanbase. I still receive subscriptions to five magazines and six club newsletters but it appears one of those magazines has closed the books. Blood 'n' Thunder, whose aim was to appeal to collectors of pulp magazines, old-time radio, cliffhanger serials, film noir and other retro pop culture just released the final issue, number 49/50, Fall 2016. Edited and managed by Ed Hulse, whose prose and skill at writing and presenting the facts is academic and pleasing to the eyes, provided fifteen years of pleasurable reading. Whether it be exploring the origins and roots of Tarzan in The All-Story magazine, or exploring a silent cliffhanger serial such as The Diamond from the Sky (1915), there was plenty in each issue to keep me reading for hours. Long flights on an airplane or a few hours to kill on the back porch... I always had an issue of Blood 'n' Thunder on hand.

2013-2014 Special Edition
In the final issue, Ed Hulse provides a fascinating story of how the magazine came to be, the good folks who invested money into the production, and the tens of thousand son hours Ed devoted to researching a subject for articles. A two-part article on Street & Smith entailed reading hundreds of issues which gobbled up his spare time for months. As Ed explained, numerous factors including a busy life prevented him from releasing the latest issue of his magazine at each of the pulp conventions, which he did routinely for years. So he decided to throw in the towel. As Gary Larson once remarked, better to quit while you are still on a roll than to run dry and thin.

I could not speak enough about Ed's magazine. While I manage to read all of the club newsletters and fanzines (average 16 pages) that come through my office every month, magazines (average 102 pages) Blood 'n' Thunder was the only magazine that I would read from cover to cover. For one magazine (which I will keep nameless because I do not want to disappoint the editor) I have two years of issues piled up and the motivation to read the articles is not strong enough for me to challenge through them. I will one day. 

Summer 2016 issue
On the plus side, many back issues are available on Amazon.com and from Ed's site, muraniapress.com, and I recommend you buy a few. The latter issues are "bookazines," which are referred to in the industry as books with multiple contributors to simulate a double and triple magazine issue. While they may cost $14.95 and $24.95, you are buying what is essentially a book. And Ed Hulse disclosed his intentions of releasing such "bookazines" in the future, each resolving under a single theme and with no steady release date like a magazine subscription. I look forward to his one proposal about the Crime Club series (a series of movies based on mystery novels).

I look forward to reading magazines and fanzines when they arrive in my mail box. That thrills has not diminished in decades. My question is this: even while clubs and organizations make the switch to offer digital copies of their newsletters and magazines, which also diminishes my need for additional bookshelves, just when will print magazines become a thing of the past? 

Friday, May 5, 2017

Actor Don Gordon, Dead at Age 90

This one almost flew below the radar. Actor Don Gordon left us on April 24, 2017, at the age of 90. A proper death notification for celebrities is usually provided by a family relative or the executor of an estate. The fact that someone has not yet come forth to provide an official statement about Gordon's untimely passing is not uncommon. At least a dozen celebrities pass away and with no one making the effort to issue a formal statement, news can take days or weeks until it catches wind. Only now word is getting out but at the time of this posting if you visit Google you will not find any obituaries in any trades. 

Don Gordon was a character actor who worked alongside Steve McQueen in a number of movies including Bullet (1968), Papillion (1973) and The Towering Inferno (1974). Gordon appeared in numerous television programs ranging from The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, 77 Sunset Strip, The Untouchables, The Fugitive, Peyton Place, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Wild Wild West, Cannon and Barnaby Jones, among others. It was his appearance on Wanted: Dead or Alive that supposedly generated their strong friendship in the industry. His guest spot on television's The Defenders won him an Emmy nomination.

I would like to point out a factoid that hopefully will prevent an error that I can easily see occurring on the Internet. This is the same Don Gordon who played a recurring role on TV and radio's SPACE PATROL but he was not the same Don Gordon who was an announcer for radio's TOM MIX and CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

They Call It "Free Comic Book Day"

His name was Joe Field, owner of Flying Colors Comics in Concord, California, a retail store selling comic books, tee shirts and action figures. The comic book industry was suffering from a financial drop in sales during the late 1990s and, inspired by a long line of customers standing outside Baskin Robbins waiting patiently to take advantage of the "free scoop tonight" promotion, wondered if the same thing could happen with his business. Writing a monthly column for an industry trade magazine, Field proposed Free Comic Book Day.
In any business the question comes down to "How will I make money if I give away the product?" It was Field who proposed that non-comic book buyers would visit the store if they knew they could get something for free and... hopefully get hooked on an on-going storyline and pay repeat visits to the store. 
On May 4, 2002, the first event was held across the county. The new Spider-Man movie was about to be released in theaters and Marvel wanted to take advantage of the publicity by offering a free Spider-Man comic book that weekend. That tradition has been the strength of Free Comic Book Day ever since.
From Iron Man to The Avengers to Captain America: Civil War, special issues have been printed and distributed to participating comic book stores across the country as tie-ins with the major motion pictures. Always held on the first weekend of May, you can look up the name and location of your nearest comic book store and pay them a visit Saturday morning. No strings attached, no purchase necessary. Some even have free pizza and celebrity comic book artists. With Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 scheduled for release this weekend, I can see no reason why there would not be free issues of Guardians being offered.
Behind the scenes, having asked retailers what the scoop was in the fine print, comic books given away on Free Comic Book Day are not free. Retailers have to pay between 12 and 50 cents per issue, depending on the issues. But retailers hope their investment pays off. One store near me has such a large turnout that Free Comic Book Day is guaranteed profit in the bank. Action figures, trade paperbacks, Christmas ornaments and costumes are taken off the shelf and purchased so quick that staff spends a good part of the afternoon restocking the shelves. As one retailer told me, "Dude, this store does better on Free Comic Book Day than Black Friday." 
Of amusement is fans who dress up in costume for Free Comic Book Day. Cosplay has becoming the norm for comic cons and one of these cosplayers once told me, "I can gauge how good my costume is by the number of times people want to take a photo of me. If I do not get any photos taken today, I need a better costume."
If you are not a steady reader of comic books, don't sweat. But take advantage of Free Comic Book Day on Saturday morning and browse the selection of titles. You might be surprised how comic book stores do not just sell comic books these days...