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Bing Crosby created the Economy of the Simulacra

Bing Crosby with Ampex Tape Recorder

The story of Bing Crosby’s role in creating the technology and business of the broadcasting of recorded performances is fascinating. Steve Schoenherr has written about it here:

He used his power to innovate new methods of reproducing himself. In 1946 he wanted to shift from live performance to recorded transcriptions for his weekly radio show on NBC sponsored by Kraft. But NBC refused to allow recorded radio programs (except for advertisements). The live production of radio shows was a deeply-established tradition reinforced by the ASCAP union. The new ABC network, formed out of the sale of the old NBC Blue network in 1943 to Edward Noble, the “Lifesaver King,” was willing to break the tradition. It would pay Crosby $30,000 per week to produce a recorded show every Wednesday sponsored by Philco. He would also get $40,000 from 400 independent stations for the rights to broadcast the 60-minute show that was sent to them every Monday on three 16-inch aluminum discs that played 10 minutes per side at 33-1/3 rpm. Crosby wanted to change to recorded production for several reasons. The legend that has been most often told is that it would give him more time for his golf game. And he did record his first Philco program in August 1947 so he could enter the Jasper National Park Invitational Gold Torunament in September when the new radio season was to start. But golf was not the most important reason. Crosby was always an early riser and hard worker. He sought better quality through recording, not more spare time. He could eliminate mistakes and control the timing of performances. Because his own Bing Crosby Enterprises produced the show, he could purchase the latest and best sound equipment and arrange the microphones his way (mic placement had long been a hotly-debated issue in every recording studio since the beginning of the electrical era). No longer would he have to wear the hated toupee on his head previously required by CBS and NBC for his live audience shows (Bing preferred a hat). He could also record short promotions for his latest investment, the world’s first frozen orange juice to be sold under the brand name Minute Maid. 

Recording tape was extended to the general consumer through the cassette tape. That era seems to have come to an end as even the Books on Tape folks have abandoned the format. The technology that Bing Crosby pioneered is fading now, but the economic ecosystem he envisioned is still going strong.

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  1. […] and TV historian Steve Schoenherr decribes Crosby’s deal: The new ABC network, formed out of the sale of the old NBC Blue network in 1943 to Edward Noble, […]

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