Sorting through my late parent’s memorabilia I came across the recording, pictured at the left, among the hundreds of what I call “war letters.” Actually these were love letters spanning the period from before they were married in 1941 until about 1945. But this story is more about the record than the letters.

The record label indicates that it was recorded on an instantaneous recording machine. This may seem not so unusual in this era where recording on a smart phone is common place. However, from the 20s to the 60s coated acetate [1] or lacquer discs were used to make recordings either for personal use or commercially by radio stations to record events for later broadcast.

Presto and Voice-O-Graph were two companies who were in the business of making the recording machines or lathes, as they were called, because they cut the grove in the disk to record the sound. The three extra holes in the record were necessary to keep the disc from slipping while the grove was being cut during the recording process.

An article describing the Voice-O-Graph company reports that “the Voice-O-Graph was invented in the 1940s, and for the better part of two decades it was a popular feature at fairgrounds, arcades, bus stations and tourist attractions. The booths originally were used more for audio telegrams than making music. Messages ranged from marriage proposals to correspondence between soldiers and their families during WWII.”[2] Dropping 35 cents or a token into a slot in one of these booths allowed you to make a 35 second recording. At the end of your session a 7 inch diameter 78 rpm record was delivered to you through a slot in the front much like a vending machine.

The hand written portion on the record label by my father says “Maybe – Balconodes – Nov. 19, 1940 Bob.” But what is the meaning of “Maybe” and what is/was the Balconodes? About the only thing I know for sure is that the date indicates the record was made some five months before my parents were married and almost two years before I was born.

Since the record had deteriorated so badly over the years making it unplayable I can only speculate that it was a recording of “Maybe.” This song, recorded by the Ink Spots, was ranked number two according to the American Music Charts for 1940. I can’t imagine that the recording was of my father singing the song any more than I could the four Ink Spots crammed in and around a phone booth sized recording studio to make the record for him. Perhaps he was just saying the lyrics as a message to my mother. After all my parents at the time were still in the courtship phase of their relationship.

A bit of research into the mystery of the Balconodes has revealed that it seemed to be a night club in Pittsburgh. In the 50s it was mentioned in the local newspapers that it was a venue for a popular Miami based female impersonation show called the “Jewel Box Review.” So there is a good possibility that it was also some sort of popular night spot in the 40s but is it possible that the club had a recording booth for patrons to make records? Perhaps. But it is also possible that the club had the ability to make acetate disc copies that were sold to the patrons.


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About Bob

I am a retired computer analyst/programmer. I am interested in a broad range of topics: politics, finances, environment, science, writing and the human condition.
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