Evolution and Extinction: Webster-Chicago 45 RPM Adapters

"The Webster"Throughout 2012 and 2013, one of Marr’s ongoing projects consisted of combing through our 45 RPM record collection and preparing them for long-term Roobot Storage. The procedure called for sleeve replacement, deletion of triplicate copies, some basic data entry, the exceedingly rewarding process of making and printing labels for storage boxes, as well as mass removal of 45 RPM adapters.

As an employee of a sound archive, I, of course, love to perform these menial chores and often feel empty inside when I am not completing such rewarding tasks. Our staff and student assistants would agree! However, if there was one thing that could send me into a full-on emotional tailspin, it would be the anxiety that comes with removing Webster-Chicago Corporation brand 45 adapters and their insidious presence from our 45 RPM holdings.

If I wasn’t shredding my fingers to pop these bad boys out, I might be warping the 45 or even snapping it in half. Once in a blue moon, I wake up to a cold sweat at 4 am, obsessing over “Websters” in my nightmares.  No joke.  More often than not, I would break down and run to my supervisor, Charlie Stout, who would remove them for me, seemingly without any detriment to his person or psyche. Go figure…

The Webster-Chicago Corporation, later known as Webcor, manufactured high quality amplification and phonograph equipment, tape recorders, intercom and public address systems as well as wire recorders commonly used for dictation, field recordings, and military applications.

Model-80 Wire Recorder

The Model-80 Wire Recorder was manufactured by the Webster-Chicago Corporation in 1948 and marketed for home use. Documentation for Webster-Chicago products can be found on their website

The company first unleashed its 45 RPM adapter on the buying public in 1950, right in the middle of the Columbia/RCA speed wars of the 1940s and 50s. Columbia introduced the 12” 33 RPM LP to consumers whereas RCA opted for their own patent: the 7” 45 RPM Record. Each format its own respective turntable that was, of course, incompatible with the other; hence, the advent of the 45 RPM adapter trend.

The Webster-Chicago adapters seem like holdovers from the machine era. They consisted of a tin disc with four teeth that allowed it to snap into the center hole of the 45 where it would stay put, possibly for decades. Soon thereafter, the market for 45 adapters was flooded by an increasingly disposable array of plastic adapters sold by individual record companies; the most iconic of which being the Recoton adapters, peddled, once again, by the RCA Corporation.

The major problem with the Webster is its tendency to warp records over time, greatly lowering their resale value. They were too costly to produce and often too heavy to be compatible with certain RCA turntables. Their plastic counterparts were less expensive to manufacture, often brightly colored, and were less than likely to wreak havoc on a 45’s playability.

While the Websters seem to have been built to outlast the apocalypse, it is ironic that they were once considered a permanent solution to a temporary and constantly evolving problem. The new wave of plastic adapters squashed the Webster adapter shortly after its initial patent and once most turntables were standardized to play all disc formats, the Webster-Chicago adapter no longer served its intended purpose.  Funny enough, the 1½ inch hole in the center of your favorite 45 RPM record no longer serves its original purpose either. The aesthetic and historical value, however, remain mostly intact.


For a more in-depth history of the 45 RPM Adapter, consult Chuck Miller’s Times Union Blog article from 2012, entitled 45 Adapters: Stick it in the Center Hole.

Iron Curtain Avant Garde: Recordings from the Warsaw Autumn Music Festival

Album Cover

Album cover for Lutoslawski’s “3 Poems by Henry Mirchaux” and Szabelski’s “Preludes for Chamber Orchestra.”

In 1956, Poland was well under Communist rule with much of Eastern Europe beyond the Iron Curtain. However, the artistic mainstream of Poland was vastly different from the Social Realist style that dominated murals, music and other public art of neighboring USSR and East Germany. Though funded by the government, artists and musicians openly embraced Avant Garde compositions, which manifested itself in everything from cinema posters to the annual Warsaw Autumn Music festival.

The communist state strongly supported composers, and encouraged them to compose music that was distinctly national, which composers like Lutoslawski and his peers accepted as a challenge. His works were strongly influenced by Polish folklore, but he took stylistic liberties to craft strikingly original works that were viewed abroad as successes in Modern Classical Music.

From 1949 to 1956, Poland was cut off from the Western music world, so Polish composers were unable to keep up with Western contemporaries’ new trends in composing. But once the Stalinist Rule was overturned in 1956, scores of scores were finally available to them to reconnect with the rest of the Musical World. This climate created the perfect environment for the Warsaw Autumn, where composers debuted new works for the entire world and groups from around the world were invited to play concerts at the National Philharmonic Hall in Warsaw.

The festival helped launch the successful careers of several Polish composers like Krzysztof Penderecki, who, in 1959 at the age of 25, debuted “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima” which used extended instrumental techniques—such as playing behind the bridge on string instruments—and used tone clusters to add musical texture. This work gained him international acclaim and firmly cemented Warsaw as an international center of Avant Garde composition.

In the 1960s, the festival gained more serious international attention, drawing significant audiences of fashionable Poles and international music critics. According to Eric Salzman, The Pittsburgh Orchestra earned a swell of applause for their performance of a work by Gunther Schuller, however the works they performed by Copland, Piston and Hindemith failed to capture the attentions of the audience.

In 1963 the Warsaw Autumn held 17 events with a total of 96 works performed to 18,900 listeners throughout the duration of the festival. Among the works performed, Witold Lutoslawski debuted “3 poems by Henry Michaux,” a work for chorus and orchestra and Boleslaw Szabelski debuted “Preludio” for chamber orchestra. The works were recorded upon their debut and paired as a 10 inch record distributed internationally by the Warsaw-based Muza label. The compositions are both strong examples of the prominent Polish Avant Garde style–full of haunting sonic textures mixing voices and scattered orchestra instruments like piano and flute, unconventional meter and technique.

This record went on to win the 1964 Koussevistky International Recording Award in New York as well as the First Prize of the Tribune de Compositeurs from UNESCO in Paris the same year.

In the Marr Sound Archives, we have many works from Polish Avant Garde composers active in making the Warsaw Autumn an unqualified success that continues to this day. This recording of two remarkable performances from the 1963 Warsaw Autumn is available for in-library use.

She’s Like Elvis, But Hotter

Staff Pick: There’s A Party Going On, Wanda Jackson (Capitol, 1961)

KIC Image 0001

Although she’s still referred to as the “Queen of Rock n’ Roll,” Wanda Jackson is not a household name. She’s an integral part of rockabilly and rock n’ roll history, however, and her gravely rasp and bold style is highly worth some overdue attention.

Born Wanda Lavonne Jackson in Maud, Oklahoma on October 20, 1937, Wanda’s father was the first to encourage her to play guitar, piano, and sing (he had also pursued a career as a country singer before the Depression). When she was a teenager, she performed regularly as a country artist on a local Oklahoma City radio show, where she was discovered by country superstar Hank Thompson. Wanda toured with Hank and his Brazos Valley Boys in 1954, and signed with Decca that same year.

During a 1955 package tour, Wanda was paired with the likes of Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, and Elvis Presley. Wanda and Elvis dated briefly, but remained friends for long after; she largely credits Elvis for encouraging her to pursue a career in rockabilly music. In addition to being one of the first (and few) women to sing rockabilly, Wanda was also one of the first women to add glamour to the scene with her pencil dresses, heels, glitter, and fringe.

KIC Image 0002

In 1956, Wanda signed with Capitol Records, a relationship she would maintain into the early 70s. With Capitol, she cut her most successful singles, including “Fujiyama Mama,” “Mean Mean Man” and “Who Shot Sam,” which are still considered rockabilly classics today.

Her most popular single, “Let’s Have a Party,” released in 1960, was originally recorded by Elvis for the 1957 film Loving You. There’s a Party Going On, released on the heels of “Let’s Have a Party” in 1961, captures Wanda’s vibrant energy and raucous spirit. Must listens include Wanda’s rendition of “Kansas City,” and a silly number called “Tongue Tied,” a chronicle of Wanda’s lovestruck awkwardness. Her band on the album, dubbed The Party Timers, includes legendary country guitarist Roy Clark. To top it off, Marr’s copy of this album includes Wanda’s original signature on the cover with the note: Love you!

Although she gained fame for her rockabilly hits, Wanda eventually returned to her country roots, and even recorded gospel music in the 1970s after becoming a born-again Christian. Now 75, she continues to tour and record. In 2011 she put out the album, The Party Ain’t Over, which was produced by Jack White. Her latest album, Unfinished Business, released in 2012 and was produced by American singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle. The Marr Sound Archives holds over a dozen of her records, including cuts from both the rockabilly and country genres.

[audio:http://info.umkc.edu/specialcollections/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/01-Tongue_Tied-Clip.mp3|titles=Tongue Tied by Wanda Jackson]

Barbara Varanka, Graduate Assistant, Marr Sound Archives

The Passing of a “Genteel Englishwoman”

We mourn the recent passing of Marian McPartland, jazz legend and host of the popular radio show on NPR, “Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz.”  Born in Windsor, England, March 20, 1918, McPartland moved to Chicago in 1946 with her American husband, Jimmy.  She became a fixture of the American jazz scene, first as a pianist in the 1950s, and then in 1978 as the host of her radio show.  McPartland was one of only three women featured in the iconographic 1958 photo A Great Day in Harlem, a b&w group portrait of 57 notable jazz musicians photographed in front of a brownstone in Harlem, New York City by freelance photographer Art Kane, for Esquire Magazine (McPartland is on the front row, standing next to KC native and jazz pianist great, Mary Lou Williams.)


(Photo c. by Art Kane, reproduction courtesy of Twisted Sifter WWW site)

The Marr Sound Archives on the ground floor of Miller Nichols Library houses many recordings of McPartland.  Check out our library catalog!

One favorite LP located in Marr is the 1977 recording on the Improv label: Marian and Jimmy McPartland and the All Star Jazz Assassins.  Our copy features McPartland’s signature with additional narrative: “Spelled my name wrong as well as putting this lousy cover on the front!”  You judge the cover for yourself!

McPartland1 McPartland2

Always experimental, when McPartland turned 80, she said “I’ve become a bit more — reckless, maybe. I’m getting to the point where I can smash down a chord and not know what it’s going to be, and make it work. And though I’ll never swing like Mary Lou Williams, I’m better at it than I used to be”–Terry Teachout, The New York Times, March 15, 1998.

McPartland passed away at the age of 95 on Aug. 20, 2013 at her home in Port Washington, N.Y.

~ Wendy Sistrunk, Head, Special Formats Metadata & Cataloging Dept., UMKC

A “Black Towel” Event

SteberLargeLocated in the basement of the Ansonia Hotel, the Continental Baths were the nexus of New York’s hedonistic gay scene in the early 1970s.  Its upper west side location reflected the quality and cleanliness of the bathhouse found inside.  Opened by Steve Ostrow in 1968, the Continental had all the expected accoutrements, but also featured a boutique, a hair salon, even a room for nondenominational religious services!  The Baths were enormous popular, and became even more so with the introduction of live entertainment.  It was here that a very young Bette Midler connected with the gay community, backed on piano by one Barry Manilow.   Other performers who graced the small stage included Sarah Vaughan, Cab Calloway, Peter Allen, and funk group Labelle.  But perhaps the most unexpected artist who sang at the Continental was the opera diva Eleanor Steber.  Ostrow, himself a professional opera singer earlier in his life, somehow convinced Steber, a resident of the Ansonia, to appear onstage and promised her a live recording of the event.  The sold-out audience was comprised of opera-goers in traditional black-tie garb who mingled with libidinous gay men who donned only black towels.  All of them were treated to an unforgettable evening of Mozart, Massenet, Puccini, and Charpentier.  New York City  Mayor John Lindsey even sent a telegram to Ostrow:  “I wish to extend my congratulations to the Continental Baths and Health Club on the occasion of your black tie, black towel concert.  Your sponsorship of…Eleanor Steber is a wonderful opportunity for the community to enjoy her great talent outside the Metropolitan’s halls…”  Released in 1974 on the RCA Red Seal label, “Eleanor Steber Live at the Continental Baths” is a definitely a record of a unique moment in time.

Venereal Disease and Country Music

2013-08-05_VD_Goldin_RoyAcuffFor the seventh time, folk singer and songwriter Tom Glazer picks up his guitar, sees the red recording light go on, and sings at the microphone in all sincerity:

Don’t take a chance go see a doctor
Don’t take a chance go get examined
Don’t take a chance go see a doctor now.

Glazer was taking part in an experiment by the Public Health Service, began in the late 1940s, called “VD Radio Project” (the “VD” was a nicer way of saying venereal disease).  He wrote and performed this little song to introduce seven short announcements about venereal disease and the importance of getting seen by a doctor.

VD Radio Project’s goal was to educate the public and dispel taboos about syphilis, gonorrhea, and other venereal diseases. Other than the seven short recordings done by Glazer, the rest of the series consisted of fifteen minute episodes. Some were straight radio dramas, and some were real life stories and voices from those affected by venereal diseases. But the episodes of “VD Radio Project” that had the most impact used a powerful weapon–popular musicians like Tom Glazer, Woody Guthrie, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Merle Travis, Roy Acuff, and Hank Williams.

These episodes were typical radio dramas in one sense but were also partly told in verse and sung in ballad. The guest stars functioned as sort of narrators and sort of troubadours. These mixtures of music and drama Erik Barnouw, creator of the series, called “hillbilly operas.” The songs were sometimes reactions to situations, but also were used to move the plot forward. Alan Lomax, a pioneer in collecting and preserving American folk music, was key in creating this style of radio musical drama.

One episode written by Lomax, Looking for Lester, integrated Roy Acuff and His Smokey Mountain Boys into a drama based on a true story. The episode is about Lester, who falls in love with Ann, but sleeps with another girl and contracts syphilis. Or as Roy Acuff put it: “Old Lester was fit to be tied, went to the bar and got fried,” and then, “went on a spree that was a dilly, with a filly named Millie!”

Lester returns to Ann, and the young couple marry.

Sound your “G” chord boys and I’ll tell Lester’s story.

A chord is strummed on a steel string guitar and Roy Acuff and the Smokey Mountain Boys play this tune:

Is there anything nicer in the whole round world my honey
Is there anything nicer in the whole round world My babe.
Is there anything nicer in the whole round world
When a girl loves a boy and a boy loves a girl.
Honey o baby mine.

Lester and Anne got married in May my honey
Lester and Anne got married in May my babe
Lester and Anne got married in May
Life was happy and life was gay
Honey o baby mine.

But, alas, everything is not so happy. Ann gets pregnant and during a checkup with her doctor she finds out that she has syphilis. Lester leaves in anger and shame. Roy Acuff gives the drama a touch of reality by informing the audience that this is about someone he really knows who might be listening. He begs his friend to come back to his wife and their child, and tells him that syphilis can be cured.

J. David Goldin calls this radio play, “Good radio!” And I agree. Especially since it and the other “hillbilly operas” treaded new ground artistically for radio. They combined the popularity of musical celebrities, original song writing and singing, radio drama, real life experiences, elements of radio opera, and medical advice all to an altruistic end.

These musical episodes of “VD Radio Project” are getting attention today for the stars that were in them. The episode with Hank Williams has understandably been given much attention. A researcher in New Hampshire, Fred Bals, is currently writing a book about the series and plans to do research at Marr. We say, “good luck!” to Fred, and hopefully, lots more books will come out of the J. David Goldin Collection!

Troy Cummings, guest contributor

Wartime woes with Whitehouse

Vic & SadeNowadays, the experience of living in a country at war often appears to affect only those Americans whose friends and family members deploy to combat zones. In the 1940s, however, the experience of war pervaded nearly every aspect of everyday life in America. For people living during those dark times, listening to Vic & Sade — one of America’s most beloved radio dramas — was no exception. The show, which centered on the life of a married suburban couple, Victor and Sade Gook, and their adopted son, Rush, had been extremely popular among radio listeners for almost a decade prior to America’s entrance into the Second World War. The demands of the war, however, quickly tested the program’s durability. According to Wikipedia:

“During World War II, the actor who played Rush, Bill Idelson, was called into military service, and he left the show. The spring months of 1943 were a tumultuous period, but eventually a second son figure, Russell Miller (David Whitehouse), was brought in, and the program continued as it always had. The show faltered somewhat with Whitehouse, who sounded as if he was reading his lines aloud in school. Idelson later returned as Rush.”

The Arthur B. Church collection contains numerous episodes of Vic & Sade from the program’s later years on the air. While cataloging, we’ve come across only one episode from the Whitehouse run. Nevertheless, it was enough to convince us of the fairness of Wikipedia’s assessment. Listen to a sample here. [audio:http://info.umkc.edu/specialcollections/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/2012-03-22_VicSade_Church_kmbc-258.mp3|titles=Vic and Sade]

It might be a stretch to propose that the failure of this substitution led to the discontinuation of the show only shortly after Bill Idelson’s return in 1945. Nevertheless, listening to the sample that you’ve just heard lead us to believe that it contributed to what was likely a premature end.

Christina Tomlinson, KMBC Project staff/History (MA) student

Tex Owens: A case of mistaken identity?

As he is often referred to as the “Original Tex OwensTexas Ranger,” it is commonly assumed that Tex Owens was an original member of the Texas Rangers, a western music group from the Kansas City-based radio station KMBC who became nationally recognized stars in the 1930s and 1940s.

Understandably, it is easy to make that assumption when programs featuring the Texas Rangers such as “Life on Red Horse Ranch” featured Tex and his serenading of the “dogies” in nearly every episode. However, the Texas Rangers radio program, hosted by Hiram Higsby, never referred to Tex as a member but rather as a special guest. So what was it? Was Tex Owens the “Original Texas Ranger” or was he an associated act? Well, it depends on whom you ask.

Thankfully, due to a recent discovery in the LaBudde Special Collections here at UMKC, we can learn more about this question. Tex Owens, at least according to the Texas Rangers, was not a member of the group, but rather a popular musical affiliate. In January 1939, Governor James Allred of Texas planned to honor the members of the group–Tex Owens included–by declaring them Honorary Texas Rangers during a radio broadcast. This inclusion of Tex in the honor was not well-received by the Rangers and their jug and bass player Clarence Hartman sent an internal memo on behalf of the group to Stuart Eggleston, a member of Arthur B. Church’s senior staff, expressing their frustrations. Hartman opened the letter by stating that the Texas Rangers were disappointed that the honor was being shared by “someone whom [they considered] entirely outside [of their] group.” He also added that they, and the listeners, felt that Tex hadn’t “added anything” to the broadcasts, and that it was unfair to the other Rangers to promote him as a member of the group.

The next paragraph is particularly interesting, as Hartman claimed that on a number of occasions Tex made damaging statements about the Rangers to people outside of the group. On one occasion, Hartman stated that following a poor radio performance by Tex he overheard Tex telling two other employees that none of the Rangers would help him improve, an allegation which Hartman flatly denied. Lastly, Hartman clarified Tex’s member status by adding that the “old timers” at the station asserted that Tex “never, at any time, has been a member of the Texas Ranger group.” Tex himself made that claim to membership, according to Hartman, and any doubts of these facts should be conferred with Gomer Cool, the Rangers’ violinist who had been a long-time employee of KMBC.

How was this letter received, you ask? Luckily, we know that too. We can assume that in the business of radio, Arthur B. Church made his decisions based on what would attract the most sponsors and listeners, and as the honoring of the Rangers was surely broadcasted over a vast audience, the matter had to be handled delicately. Church’s remark, penciled at the bottom of Hartman’s memo, demonstrated an unwillingness to ruffle feathers, as well as an assurance that all decisions were going to be made for the benefit of the station regardless of the feelings of individual members:

Stu — It is my feeling that the group has nothing to lose by having Tex included, and it means as much to him as to any person in the group; and even more important[ly] — is valuable to KMBC. — ABC, 1/10/39

Christina Tomlinson, KMBC Project staff/History (MA) student

National Women’s History Month

2012-03-08_WomensHistoryMonth_Goldin_we-can-do-itNational Women’s History Month was initially only celebrated for a week during the month of March. In 1987, United States Congress passed a resolution expanding the observance from a week to a month due to the appeals made by the National Women’s History Project (NWHP). In celebration of National Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, I would like to highlight a few of the various radio programs available in the J. David Goldin Collection that feature women.

The collection contains interviews with the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt, Adele Astaire, Marian Anderson, Hildegarde, Ilka Chase, Gertrude Lawrence, (Savings Bond campaign. Prominent women series. Program nos. 7-12), and Jessie Street (A look at Australia. Program no. 42, Women in the United States) just to name a few.

In addition to interviews, the collection also contains dramas, such as the story of well-known suffragist, Susan B. Anthony who was arrested for trying to vote on Nov. 18, 1872 (Lest we forget. Second series, program no. 17), stories about women’s rights (The U.N. story. No. 55, A little bit of justice; U.N. story. #16, Adam’s rib), and stories about how women have contributed and been an integral part of society (Lest we forget. 5th series, program no. 8, A better world for youth; A story for you. Program no. 6, Princess Kartini schools for girls). Besides interviews and dramas you can also find debates with female political figures, music programs featuring a variety of female singers, and much more waiting to be discovered.

Patricia Altamirano, Library Specialist, Special Formats

The 75th anniversary of Raymond Scott’s music

Raymond Scott2012 marks the 75th anniversary of the public introduction of Raymond Scott’s music! Find out more about events surrounding this occasion at the Raymond Scott Archives blog. And don’t forget to check out what your very own LaBudde Special Collections has to offer in the Raymond Scott Collection donated by Raymond’s widow, Mitzi in 1993.