NBC Radio – Mary Merryfield and birds – June 15, 1955 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
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Birds this weekend; specifically, The Meadowlark – primarily, the mid-west – most importantly, from 1955.
In the 1950s, when tape recorders flooded the consumer market, it created a whole host of areas of interest. In my years of acquiring collections, from radio stations and via other collectors, to hobbyists and to garage sales, the spectrum of what became preserved on tape was vast and ran the gamut from the usual (birthdays, house parties, Bar Mitzvahs, testimonials, memorials) to the arcane (trains, weather, atmosphere, ham radio, wild and domesticated animals). It seemed, everyone who plunked down a certain amount of money and bought one of those back-breaking “portable” tape machines was well on their way to become a chronicler of day-to-day life on Planet Earth. One of the biggest endeavors was that of the bird-call recordist. Whole issues of High-Fidelity magazines were devoted to getting “‘the most out of your tape recorder” and invariably, there was a section devoted to recording bird calls. It was an art form and it required the patience of a Trappist Monk. Setting up a portable studio in the wilds, with highly directional microphones poised to capture anything with a beak.
And the phenomenon of recording bird calls was very big in the early-late 1950s, all the way to the 1960s and the advent of home stereo. Ironically, many of these recordings captured birds and some species which have become extinct and are no longer with us – in a strange way, capturing for posterity something not destined to stay with us for the long haul.
But the other thing, as is evidenced by this segment of a radio series for NBC; it captured a certain bucolic nostalgia in words and sounds that are almost instantly evocative, even listening some 65 years later. An eerie and compelling link to a past you may never have been part of, or even around for the first time.
But let’s don’t forget, the show is dedicated to the lowly Meadowlark and its place in the vast expanse of open prairie in the Mid-West of 1955.
Give it five minutes.