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Pieces of the Past — His Master’s Voice

April 17, 2024

It was 8th grade. Mr. Fawcett’s music class. Back in 1964-65, the choral music room had multiple levels. The farther toward the back you went, the higher you got.

One day on the stage, George pulled out a really old cylinder-type phonograph. He played a very scratchy recording of a singer almost screaming as loud as he could. It was the first known commercially produced vocal. At the time, I didn’t realize the significance of what I was hearing.

Back when the recording was made, they placed as many as 100 “cutters” in a room and started them. Obviously, the “cutters” in the back of the room would make the softest recordings. The process of recording required each machine’s needle to cut soundtracks in each cylinder. There were no microphones, no amplifiers. Until the recording I was hearing was made, all songs were of instrumentals.. entire orchestras. It was the only way to get enough sound to all the recording machines.

The first known recording was of Thomas Edison reciting Mary Had A Little Lamb. It was this simple recital that led to an entire industry. By the late 1800’s The gramophone was worldwide and the 3-inch cylinder was being replaced with a flat album-like record. It was at this point that a struggling artist in London, Francis Berraud was inspired to paint a picture of his brother’s dog. It was a mixture of a Fox Terrier and a Bull Terrier. The dog used to sit in front of the “horn” on the Victrola looking for the source of the sound. Berraud titled the painting “His Master’s Voice” and presented it to the Bell-Edison Company. Edison himself said; “Dogs don’t listen to records!”

In Britain, The Victrola company shortened its name to Victor. You know who bought the company and got the painting with it! I include this story as a piece of the Past simply because Sylvania and Warren Components eventually made parts that ended up in many RCA devices. Nipper remains on the roof of the building in Albany that once housed RCA corporate headquarters.

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