This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
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ASK THE EXPERT...
Our expert in this issue is the well-known OTR researcher and historian, Elizabeth McLeod.
(From Radio Recall, February 2004)
QUESTION: The recorded albums of I Can Hear It Now were produced by Edward R. Murrow and Fred W. Friendly to showcase the sounds of history from the 1920s to the 1950s. I recently came into possession of three of these volumes, but was cautioned by an associate that several of these excerpts were faked. Can that be true?
-- Charles Nelson (Wausau, WI)
ANSWER: Almost everything on I Can Hear It Now, Vol. 3 is recreated. This is the album covering 1919-32, and obviously genuine recordings of broadcasts from this period were -- and still are -- quite scarce. The only genuine broadcast recordings on I Can Hear It Now, Vol. 3 are the clips from FDR's first inaugural and a short sequence of Will Rogers, which is taken from the 4/2/32 broadcast of "The Ziegfeld Follies of the Air."
There are recordings of Bing Crosby and Rudy Vallee which may or may not be from broadcasts -- I personally doubt that they are, but haven't verified the source of these clips.
Everything else on Volume 3 is recreated. Some of the recreations are done by the actual people who made the original broadcasts -- for example, Correll and Gosden are heard as Amos 'n' Andy, but the recording is a 1950 simulation, not a genuine 1929 broadcast. But most of the recreations are actors, selected by Edward R. Murrow and Fred W. Friendly for their ability to evoke the essence of the personalities being impersonated.
It's also important to point out, as has been pointed out many times before, that some of the material simulated on the album recreates broadcasts that never happened at all -- the simulation of the Lindbergh coverage with George Hicks and Lowell Thomas being the most obvious example. Dr. Michael Biel hopped on ABC a few years ago when they passed this off as an "authentic recording" in a documentary.
The original album cover for Vol. 3 acknowledges that recreations are used, but no such acknowledgement appears on Vol. 1, the album which includes the recreated Bob Trout surrender broadcast, and the counterfeit "Pearl Harbor Bulletin" with John Daly. The latter recording is the most deceptive item in the whole collection -- because it recreates a broadcast which was never made in the form presented, and deliberately covers up the fact that CBS did not "interrupt this program" at all when the Pearl Harbor news broke.
It's unfortunate that the Murrow-Friendly imprimatur gives these albums a historical credibility they really don't deserve. Documentary producers need to be very careful about using them -- but, of course, Murrow and Friendly never intended them to be used as fodder for every cheap-jack historical clip show that would be produced over the next fifty years. Had they expected this to happen, they might have been more careful.