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MICHAEL BIEL: The magnetophone was first introduced in the mid-1930s; they showed examples of it I believe at the Berlin Radio Fair in 1935. And by 1936 they had a model K2, which looks very much like professional tape recorders still look.
KEITH PORTER: This week on Common Ground, radio’s impact on international policy. Plus US Education Secretary Richard Riley discussed international education.
RICHARD RILEY: It’s so helpful for young people to broaden their perspective, to realize that other cultures have things to bring to the table. And that all people can contribute something worthwhile.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Kristin McHugh.
PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. The world is increasingly smaller because of the immediate connection between people via the Internet, satellites, and broadcasting. Today we begin a series of special reports on radio’s role in shaping international affairs. The building of the global village has been possible because of a series of inventions. The printing press, the telegraph, the telephone, radio, and television have all changed the ways people communicate. And advanced communication technology has changed the conduct of international relations. One of the most influential inventions of the twentieth century was the magnetic tape recorder. These machines changed radio and television forever. Common Ground‘s Ken Mills explores how the modern tape recorder was born from the spoils of World War II.
[sound of a 1940s-style popular music group singing]
KEN MILLS: Steven Raymer, Curator of the Pavek Museum of Broadcasting in Minneapolis, Minnesota, has just pushed “play” on a tape recorder on the museum floor. From that tape recorder you are hearing Ella Fitzgerald as she performed in 1948. The recording is being played back from the original tape, on the tape recorder which created it. The tape recorder has strange markings on it. The commands say, “Spiel,” “Halt,” and “Achtung.” This modern-sounding tape recorder is no ordinary machine. It was manufactured in Germany in 1938. It’s called a magnetophone, an invention that changed how people communicate. The story of the modern tape recorder brings together an unusual cast of characters—the popular crooner Bing Crosby, an American GI named Jack Mullin, Adolph Hitler, executives of General Electric, and American and German radio broadcasters. Prior to the end of World War II American radio broadcasters most often recorded radio programs on record disks called “transcriptions.” But most American broadcasting was performed live. This meant there was almost no editing or use of extra sound to tell the story. Here’s how a newscast sounded in early 1940.
1940 RADIO ANNOUNCER: 8:55, Eastern Daylight Time. And Columbia and its affiliated stations bring you Elmer Davis and the news.
ELMER DAVIS RADIO BROADCAST: The Battle of Flanders, probably the bloodiest in history for its duration, still goes on. But the British say that large numbers of Allied troops including Belgians, have already managed to get across the Channel to England.
MILLS: The war in Europe meant that American broadcasters needed to be more resourceful. The sounds of war were important to convey the urgency of the situation, such as in London in late 1940. There was no one better at this kind of radio reporting than Edward R. Murrow.
EDWARD R. MURROW RADIO BROADCAST: Now for your benefit, Mr. William Scruggs, Superintendent of this ALP Bureau, has arranged for a practice air raid bombing call to arrive at the station, although no bombs have been dropped nearby so far as I know. We’ll see how long it takes his men and women to get going. There goes the telephone now!
[sound of people running, an air raid warning over a loudspeaker, with the air raid warden calling dispatching stretcher parties to specific addresses]
MILLS: Murrow was a master at using the microphone to let listeners hear the sound around him. All of this was done live, on the scene. In 1944, like thousands of other US GIs before D-Day, Jack Mullin was in England. Because of his background in electronics he was assigned to the Signal Corps. His work often required him to stay up all night. At midnight the BBC signed off. Mullin fished around the radio dial and discovered that German radio stations were on all night broadcasting music. The music was very well played by large orchestras. The sound had none of the surface noise of canned American transcription recordings. The German broadcasts sounded live. But Mullin wondered how even a madman like Hitler could have orchestras playing twenty-five hours a day, seven days a week. One day after the war ended, Mullin was in Germany with a member of the British Signal Corps, inspecting German broadcast facilities. From an interview in 1998 Mullin tells what happened that day in May 1945.
MULLIN: And within a half-hour or so I was in this little town called Badennauheim. The Radio Frankfurt operation had moved out to this town because of the bombings in Frankfurt and so this is where their studios were. And so it was under control of army officers, but the staff were German and they were operating the whole thing. And I went in and saw the officer and I asked him if he had these tape machines that they used on the air, and he said, “Oh yes.” And I said, “Could I hear one of them.” And he said, “Okay.” So he took me in and sat me down in a room and he clapped his hands a couple of times or something, and a German attendant came and clicked his heels and went off and put on a roll of tape on this machine in the back room. And all I heard was the loudspeaker in front of me and I couldn’t believe it. I’d never heard anything like that in my life before. This was the great revolution as far as I was concerned.
MILLS: Mullin had heard a state-of-the-art magnetophone. The magnetophone was a product of the German company AEG, which was owned in part by the American corporation General Electric. According to Dr. Michael Biel, Professor of Radio and Television at Moorhead State University in Kentucky, General Electric had inspected the magnetophone before war.
MICHAEL BIEL: And it’s a model K2, which I happen to own. The machine that I have, we believe, was sent by AEG, which was the company that manufactured it, to General Electric in Schenectady, around 1937, to do an investigation and to do a report on it. And GE’s report was not very flattering. To tell you the truth, the tape recorder was still fairly crude back then.
MILLS: But Dr. Biel says the tape recorder was in wide use in Germany long before Jack Mullin discovered it.
MICHAEL BIEL: Well, the magnetophone was first introduced in the mid-1930s; they showed examples of it I believe at the Berlin Radio Fair in 1935. And by 1936 they had a model K2, which looks very much like professional tape recorders still look. They had the basic layout of machines worked out very, very early. By the time of the early ’40s the machine had been improved greatly, to the point where German radio was using it for a lot of important purposes.
MILLS: Like many GIs, Jack Mullin wanted to claim a war souvenir. And Mullin knew the value of what he had found.
MULLIN: As soon as the war was over and we were about to come home, we had a lot of these things laying around and I thought, “Well, as souvenirs of war I can’t think of anything nicer for me than a pair of these machines.” Just the mechanisms now mind you. That was all. I didn’t care about electronics ’cause I could make that up when I got home. And that’s what I did. But of course I needed tape, too. And there were a number of rolls of this stuff laying around that had been sent in, and I picked up every one of those that I could. And on two occasions I went down to Nuremberg once and I went to—I can’t remember, Frankfurt or Stuttgart or something—and stopped in there and I asked them if they could slip me two or three of these rolls. And by the time I was finished I had fifty rolls of this tape. So I sent home fifty rolls and I sent the two machines home, and when I got home to San Francisco I got out of the taxi that took me home from the train station and rang the doorbell and my mother came. The first thing she said was, “My god you’re bald.” The second thing I said is, “How many packages came here?” And she said something like “eighteen,” which is what it was.
MILLS: Mullin was not the only GI who was interested in the magnetophone. Dr. Biel says there were others who saw the value of the invention.
BIEL: Mullin was not the only one who brought back machines. A Colonel Ranger brought back two machines and developed a company by himself, a company to make the tape recorders, the Ranger Tone. And in addition to that there was a man by the name of Jay Herbert Orr, who sent home some machines and also was able to get the formulas from Fritz Flaumer of BASF, the formulas to manufacture tape. So there were a lot of people that had sort of rediscovered the tape recorder. However, just because Jack Mullin didn’t know that the tape recorder existed, didn’t mean that other people didn’t know that the tape recorder existed. It wasn’t a complete secret.
MILLS: But there were powerful inducements to be first with the tape recorder. At the end of the war patents held by the defeated countries were voided, and once again Jack Mullin was at the right place at the right time.
BIEL: He, when he came back to the United States, he reassembled the machines and started using them and improved on them, and was able to interest some investors, including Bing Crosby, into putting money into developing the machines. And was able to interest the Ampex Company, which had been in business during the war, but needed now a peacetime-related project to make, he was able to interest the Ampex company into developing the tape recorder
[recording of Bing Crosby singing]
MILLS: Bing Crosby was a well-known radio star in the 1940s. Crosby was a perfectionist who disliked performing live. This meant that Crosby’s shows were often recorded on transcription disks. Mullin’s magnetophones were just what Crosby needed because the tape recorder offered the ability to edit out mistakes.
BIEL: The basic real difference in the early magnetophone, the early tape recorder, was the ease of editing. It was possible to edit recordings on disk. This was something which had been done by Armed Forces Radio throughout the war, but it was a difficult process. It was very time consuming and it required re-recording. It required a generational sound-quality loss; every time you had to make a copy of a copy there is a loss, and that kind of editing required making copies. Here you could cut the original tape and have the same sound quality as the original master tape, except now you have an edited version of it.
MILLS: At Crosby’s urging the US company Ampex developed an American version of the magnetophone. Jack Mullin describes the first Ampex tape recorder and talks about its implications.
MULLIN: This is the first model of the Ampex 200, which even today I don’t think anybody will deny what I’ve always said about it as the most beautiful tape recorder ever made. It’s like a piece of furniture, with black lacquered cabinet and even the electronics is good looking. The top is stainless steel, and it performs—you won’t hear it here, but runs and performs as well as the magnetophone, as that’s called. So this is the machine that put Crosby on tape. And so with the introduction of this model 200 Ampex tape recorder, which occurred in April of 1948, the whole recording industry went through a vast transformation. And the results are something like this: where it opened the field to a vast floodgate of new equipment all based on magnetic recording.
[recording of a woman singing “Georgia On My Mind”]
MILLS: Besides working with Bing Crosby Enterprises, Mullin spent twenty-eight years at the 3M Company. Mullin worked on the creation of videotape, again based on the original structure of the magnetophone. Jack Mullin died in 1999, at the age of eighty-five. Magnetophones and the first Ampex 200 tape recorder can be seen and heard today at the Pavek Museum of Broadcasting in Minneapolis. And the machines sound as wonderful today as they did in the 1940s.
[recording of a woman singing “Georgia On My Mind”]
MILLS: For Common Ground, I’m Ken Mills.
MCHUGH: Magnetic tape recording was one important step toward building today’s international broadcasting industry. Next week, as our special reports on international radio continue, Ken Mills will explore the use of broadcasting to sway opinions and policies during World War II.
PORTER: Coming up, a discussion on international education with US Education Secretary Richard Riley.
RICHARD RILEY: It’s to our advantage really, for people around the world to become better educated and for us to be involved in helping with that process.
MCHUGH: Nearly ten percent of American college students travel abroad each year to advance their studies. But the Clinton administration says the current level of cultural exchange isn’t enough. President Clinton recently signed an Executive Memorandum urging the federal government to help colleges promote foreign study, and at the same time make it easier for foreign students to study in the US. Secretary of Education Richard Riley says efforts to increase what he calls “international education” will not only enrich the United States, but the rest of the world. I recently spoke with Secretary Riley in his Washington, DC, office about the government’s focus on international education.
RILEY: This is what I call the education era. For this country education is clearly the most important factor for our future. And we’re finding that’s true of every other country that we deal with. It’s very important and very positive for countries to work together, people to work together. Students and teachers finding out about each other’s cultures. Understanding, engaging in better relations, really, with countries, when you have people understanding each other and working together, learning together. And all of these multitude of factors I put under the heading of international education because it’s so important at this particular moment in our history.
MCHUGH: Riley says education also helps foster an important American cause—democracy.
RILEY: In this country democracy is important. The spread of democracy is important. You don’t see democracies work where people don’t have educational opportunity and people are, in fact, uneducated. It’s very important then, from our own standpoint in this country, where we’re very interested in the spread of democracy. And that is happening around the world, and one reason it’s happening is because of education. So it’s to our advantage really, for people around the world to become better educated and for us to be involved in helping with that process.
MCHUGH: Riley adds the English language is the key to international education.
RILEY: Part of the things that I have found out as I have worked with many education ministers that come to see me from time to time, a lot more frequently than they used to, is how much they are interested, generally all around the world, in having their students learn English. And that’s good for this country. And it’s good for us in terms of business. It’s good for us in terms of international relations, in terms of world peace, to really work to help people learn this common language of English. And I think it’s something that all Americans could be very proud of, that English has taken on kind of this label as a world language.
MCHUGH: What would you say is the status of international education in the United States?
RILEY: In terms of student exchange, for example, we have some 500,000 students come here from other countries to study in our colleges and universities, a lot of them in graduate school. We send then, to other countries, a little over 100,000. It’s a very low number in relation to where it should be. I challenged more colleges and universities to get into this area, to try to attract foreign students. It brings in very interesting, bright young people with different cultures; that is very helpful for our young people in a major college. And also to have more colleges and universities send their students, make it attractive to send their students to foreign countries to learn. So, we have a long way to go, in terms of foreign language we have a very long way to go. It’s very common for young people in foreign countries to speak their native language plus two or three languages. I have proposed in this country that all students in America begin to study English plus one language. I think that would be good for children all across America and we are way behind in terms of foreign language. Part of that is because we’re spoiled because English is being learned in other areas. But it’s very important for our young people to learn foreign language and we have a long way to go.
MCHUGH: How do we get teachers excited about international education.
RILEY: We see now on the elementary and secondary level, these very interesting exchanges of information from classroom to classroom. When Vice President Gore and I were visiting a small elementary school in Maryland, they had a lot of computers, a lot of Internet work, two fifth graders were working on their computer. And the Vice President and I looked over their shoulder and asked them what they were doing. They said they were working with two students in Ethiopia. And the Vice President asked this young fifth grader, “Well, what are you learning?” We thought he was going to tell us about Ethiopia and the crops they grow and so forth. And this kid looked up and said, “We’re learning that we can be friends.” Not student exchange all across the world, but here sitting in his classroom at the computer. So I think you can use technology in a lot of ways for us to enhance our international education opportunities.
MCHUGH: How would you describe the US education system as compared to others around the world? There is a perception that Japan’s education system is far better than ours. Would you agree with that?
RILEY: Well, that’s another advantage, or good thing about international education. That is, some of the comparisons like the TIMS study, the Third International Math and Science study, where we can compare what our children are learning in fourth, eighth, and twelfth grade in math and science, with those of Japan, or Korea. or Singapore, or whatever. I recently, in my trip to Asia, had the chance to go to Singapore and in the TIMS study showed that Singapore really led all the other countries in math and science. And we wanted to see what they had there. And it’s different. It was very interesting to see in Singapore. The textbooks, for example, in math and science were not as thick. They had less topics in a grade, but they would go in depth in each of those topics. Compared to some of our textbooks and curricula, that are, as they say, an inch deep and a mile wide. Lots of topics but not getting in depth in things.
We found that their students were probably in math a grade ahead of where our students were. They were taking the same things in the seventh grade our kids were taking in the eighth grade. And no reason for that. If our kids really are prepared to move into algebra earlier and so forth, then we should be doing that. And yet they turn to us and say that they have had such an emphasis on academics that they really want us to help them learn how to do other things in school, to deal with the whole child—the arts, character education, after-school programs. Things that a young person can become more creative and more innovative, along with learning the heavy academics. So it’s a kind of thing that we can help them and they can help us. And we learned a great deal from our visit to Singapore and that can be helpful. Japan has also very good math and science work. It’s interesting, though, our kids in the fourth grade score second only to Korea in science, way above average in math, fourth grade. We slip down to about average in the eighth grade, and then way down in the twelfth grade. And we can kind of see why that is. Our kids in high school don’t take calculus and trig in the numbers that students in other countries do. And those tough countries make a big difference in the twelfth grade.
MCHUGH: Is it cause for concern that we may lose our status as “the” nation that leads the world in technology and educational prospects if we continue down the road that we’re continuing down now?
RILEY: Absolutely not. If you look at our colleges and universities, people from all over the world are trying to get into them. The great majority of the students in our colleges and universities, of course, come from the public schools. And that’s where the very brilliant, creative, innovative people come from. And we do very well across the board. I think we need to constantly be worrying about improving standards, raising standards, having young people at an early age really get into more developmental things that can help them in their learning. But across the board this country still does a magnificent job, in my judgment, in producing bright people who can really make things happen.
MCHUGH: One final question. If you were going to be addressing a kindergarten class today about the importance of learning the world, what would you tell them.
RILEY: Well, I would tell them, that it’s very important for them to know each other, to know their teacher, to be connected and close to their parents and their family. And that also, the people who live across town are important, people they might, that might not be in their class, but people who are part of their community. And that also the people in other states are important, and the people in other countries. And if you’re truly educated in this world you really cannot make your education so narrow that you deal with only your narrow perspective on things. It’s so helpful for young people to broaden their perspective, to realize that other cultures have things to bring to the table. And that all people can contribute something worthwhile. And that it’s very important for them to have the understanding of that, and to appreciate all people for who they are and what they are.
MCHUGH: That is US Education Secretary Richard Riley. For Common Ground, I’m Kristin McHugh.
Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
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