The rumors started going around one morning at a staff party. Apparently, a recording of Bob Dixon at his Penn State University class reunion was found. With an alma mater and a date it would be a simple matter of looking him up at Penn State and moving on to other sources to verify his identity. This was surely the key to solving the mystery of Bob Dixon.
Bob Dixon recorded thousands of radio programs and personal home recordings, many of which were later acquired by J. David Goldin and donated as part of a larger collection of radio recordings to the Marr Sound Archives. His identity had been a mystery to us all. We heard his voice on recordings while he showed off his recording equipment to visitors and recorded various functions. However, he gave few other clues about himself. All we could determine was that he was likely in the Pittsburgh area given the large number of recordings from Pittsburgh stations such as KDKA, WJAS, and KQV. Also, he seemed to record many of the same programs repeatedly, in particular, music programs and news programs. Along the way he happened to record many important moments in history. Even J. David Goldin himself was unsure of his true identity. The recordings he explained in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, had been housed in sealed wooden crates that he purchased from a rare records dealer who in turn had purchased them from a Pittsburgh real estate agent who found the crates in the basement of a home in the Pittsburgh area. Along with those of us working on cataloging these discs, Mr. Goldin himself wished he knew more about this mysterious man. We all had similiar questions. What kind of man was he? More importantly, what possessed him to record thousands and thousands of radio programs and then leave them boxed up in a basement?
Hoping to finally get to the bottom of the mystery, I retrieved the class reunion recording and took a listen. In different parts of the recording Bob Dixon is heard introducing a good friend of his from his Penn State days and someone is heard mentioning the Class of 1922 reunion. However, a look at Penn State’s online yearbook for the class of 1922 revealed no person named Bob or Robert Dixon. How could this be? Did he not really graduate from Penn State? Or perhaps in a different year? It seemed to be a dead end. Then I remembered that my co-worker had remarked that one of the only things written on the record sleeve was “A.H.S.” “H.S.” was surely short for “high school,” and as a former Pittsburgh resident I immediately associated the “A” with “Allegheny.” If this was a reunion for the Allegheny High School Class of 1922, then it was likely that he graduated from Penn State four years later in 1926. Sure enough, a search of Penn State’s Class of 1926 yearbook turned up a picture of Robert Christian Dixon of Millvale, a suburb of Pittsburgh. After sharing the discovery with fellow team members, we set off on a flurry of searching. Each new piece of information yielded more excitement. Even an archivist from another university joined in on the searching. We discovered census records, a picture of Bob Dixon in his high school band, a listing of his amateur radio station, and a website by an old family friend containing several pictures and even recollections of Dixon’s recording equipment.
A brief biography of information we have compiled reveals that he was born Robert (Bob) Christian Dixon on September 1, 1903 to Harry H. Dixon and Nellie M. Dixon. His father was originally from Northern Ireland and worked in real estate, and later, as Director of the Poor for Allegheny County. The family resided in Millvale, Pennsylvania. Bob Dixon attened Allegheny High School where he managed the school band and later graduated from the College of Arts and Letters, Pennsylvania State University in 1926 where he was in Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. He is listed as working in a real estate office at the age of 26. He had a wife name Petie, who was originally from West Virginia. He also operated an amateur radio station with the call signals 8CIR at 141 Evergreen St. in Millvale, likely his or his parents former home. Dixon died in February, 1980 in Pittsburgh.
While finally being able to know something about the life of the amazing man who made these recordings has been exciting and somewhat satisfying, the one question that we will all be left wondering is why. That is a question that will probably never be answered. I for one enjoy a little mystery and I am quite satisfied to just enjoy these amazing recordings that he left behind and to keep on wondering.
Timothy Gieringer, Goldin Project staff