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History of Yiddish Radio
1 The Yiddish Radio Dial
2 Rediscovering the Remnants of Yiddish Radio
3 Restoring the Discs
4 Jews in Mainstream Media
NPR Documentary
History of Yiddish Radio, the documentary about the rediscovered radio universe. (16:45 min.)


Sapoznik and the people who helped him discover Yiddish radio  

"Yiddish Radio in Brooklyn," an essay by Henry Sapoznik  

Rediscovering the Remnants of Yiddish Radio

By 1985, when musician/historian Henry Sapoznik showed up at a rummage sale thrown by New York broadcasting legend Joe Franklin, the heyday of Yiddish radio had been all but forgotten. Sapoznik, then the sound archivist at the Yiddish research institute, YIVO, had come to the sale looking for old klezmer 78s. But what Sapoznik wound up tripping over was far rarer: a few dozen aluminum discs, larger and more unusual than any he had ever seen.

On the worn-away labels Sapoznik, a native Yiddish speaker, could make out some Yiddish writing: WEVD . . . WBNX . . . Yiddish Melodies in Swing . . . Stuhmer's Pumpernickel Program . . . Life Is Funny with Harry Hirschfield, Sponsored by Edelstein's Tuxedo Brand Cheese. He gave Franklin the $30 in his pocket, tracked down an old transcription disc turntable, and sat down to listen to his find. He put on the first disc. A clear, strong voice announced:

 "From atop the Loews State Theater Building, the B. Manischewitz Company, world's largest matzo bakers, happily presents Yiddish Melodies in Swing . . .

And the band launched into a raucous, swinging rendition of the Passover song "Dayenu."

"It was simply unbelievable, unlike anything I'd ever heard," Sapoznik recalls. "I felt like I was being transported back in time to this real, living moment in history. I was transfixed." He was also hooked. Sapoznik spent the next 17 years searching for more such surviving discs.

These discs were not your ordinary LPs or 78s. They were transcriptions: single-cut, acetate-coated aluminum discs the stations were required to have on hand in case the  Federal Radio Commission showed up with a complaint. The vast majority of these discs were melted down during World War II scrap metal drives or simply disappeared over the decades. The thousand-plus discs Sapoznik succeeded in rescuing were found mostly in attics, storerooms, and dumpsters.

But locating the discs was only half the challenge. Acetate-coated discs were never meant to be an archival medium. The materials were quickly disintegrating, and it was only a matter of time before they would pass the point of no return.

Next Page: Restoring the Discs »


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