This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
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The Detroit News Orchestra

20 May 2011

Once upon a time there was a fantastic new technology that pulled sounds from the air and let people hear distant voices and music right in their living room. It was a wonder called radio, and everyone had to get one. Today's scramble for the latest gadget does not compare to the amazing boom created by the first commercial radio broadcasts of the 1920's.

The first radio station to air a news program was 8MK, produced by the Detroit News in August 1920. In 1922 the call sign was changed to WWJ and the station expanded its programs to include a small orchestra called the Detroit News Orchestra, the first radio orchestra in the United States, if not also the world. Most were musicians who also played in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and their leader was Otto E. Krueger, the flutist seated in the center.

This large 8"x10" press photo from the archives of the Detroit News has a stamped date of  FEB 23, 1926 on the back with an incomplete list of the musicians' names. No doubt a studio portrait shot by a staff photographer of the Detroit News.

But the photo was actually taken in 1922.

In Google's vast archive of digitized books is a 1922 volume of The Fourth Estate , a trade journal for the newspaper industry. In the June 10, 1922 edition they printed an announcement of the formation of the Detroit News Orchestra and it includes the same photo.

The new medium of the wireless radio was more than just the opportunity for communication of ideas. There was a vast potential for profit, and everyone wanted a stake in it. In 1922 there were already 67 Stations  owned by  universities, publishers, electric companies, and other business corporations.

Many of the stations had powerful transmitters that allowed their AM signal to be heard across the continent. But the receivers were only little crystal sets or the new improved vacuum tube models. Sound was only monophonic and getting a clear frequency reception could be a daunting task.  For more than you will ever need to know about radio history go here: Early Radio History

But programing was challenging because most of the public didn't yet own a radio, or even have electricity in their home. The first stations had to create both content and a market, and musical performances seemed a good attraction, but what kind of music to play? Detroit was becoming a major center for American art and industry, and the Detroit Symphony had just been established in 1914, so talented professional musicians like Otto Krueger were given the challenge of creating a new kind of Concert of the Air.

The next photo was probably taken about the same time and shows the WWJ sound studio with its single microphone on the right. The newspaper was quite proud of its efforts in radio and in 1922 produced a book  WWJ - The Detroit News, a history of the radiophone describing its many innovations in broadcasting. It includes a description of the Detroit News Orchestra on page 21 with brief biographies of the musicians.
  • Otto E. Krueger -  conductor and flautist
  • Maurice Warner -  concertmeister
  • Herman Goldstein -  first violin
  • LeRoy Hancock -  first violin
  • Armand Hebert -  second violin
  • V. P. Coffey -  viola and piano, composer
  • Frederick Broeder -  cello
  • Eugene W. Braunsdorf -  bass
  • Thomas J. Byrne -  oboe
  • R. M. Arey -  clarinet
  • Vincenzo Pezzi -  bassoon
  • Albert Stagliano -  French horn
  • Edward Clarke -  French horn
  • Floyd O'Hara -  trumpet
  • Max Smith -  trombone
  • Arthur Cooper -  xylophone and percussion instruments
Otto Krueger was born in 1891 and continued leading the orchestra as well as playing in the Detroit Symphony for several years. Albert Stagliano was first horn in the Detroit Symphony and would later become principal horn of the most famous radio orchestra - the NBC Symphony.


The next photo comes from 1925 and shows a smaller ensemble of ten musicians. The back lists the musicians as:
standing l-r: Carl Chase, Fred Lauer, Otto Krueger, Eugene Bronstarff (sic);
seated l-r: Maurice Warner, Roy Hancock, Lawrence Manzer, Valbert P. Coffey, Marius Fossenkemper, Frederick Broeder. 
They seem to have given up on the white tie and tails, or maybe this is just rehearsal dress.

Radio Broadcast, a monthly magazine in the same DIY style as Popular Mechanics,  published a picture of the Detroit News Orchestra in 1924. It had articles titled:  Man Made Static - What Is That Scratching Sound?  and Why You Should Have A Wavemeter.  
Braunsdorf also doubled on sousaphone, perhaps because low brass on the AM band made for a stronger bass.

I was unable to find out when the Detroit News Orchestra stopped playing on WWJ, though a station with these call letters continues in Detroit today.

By 1926, many radio stations were struggling with the high cost of producing programs and also maintaining the transmitting equipment. This brought about the consolidation of stations under the major corporations like NBC and CBS.  And then there was the Great Depression, which undoubtedly had a major impact in ending many radio concerts. But more probable is that the public demand for light classical music changed and popular music became the big fashion. Look at my earlier post on another Detroit News photo showing a WWJ radio band from 1929 -  The Gypsy Barons

My contribution to Sepia Saturday
Click the link for more blogs about vintage photos.


Kristin said...

Both of my parents grew up in Detroit and I wonder if their families listened to the Detroit News station.

Brett Payne said...

Although television was around when I was growing up, we didn't have one, and so I have many happy memories of listening to the radio in the evenings with my Dad. Sometimes music, such as "Thanks for the Memory," but also comedy, in particular The Goon Show, and what are now referred to rather blandly as documentaries.

Howard said...

Brilliant post Mike. These guys really were pioneers.


an unexpected twist on one's first idea. Alan should be pleased with this.

Bob Scotney said...

Mike, as soon as I saw the organ in Alan's photo I knew we could expect a good post from. It's great to see so much information to back up your pictures. We never had a TV at home in the UK; it was always the radio and the big band era.

Jinksy said...

A dapper looking lot !

Little Nell said...

This is a really interesting story, and so well researched.
Detroit was obviously the place for pioneers. We visited Greenfield Village when we were in the States about ten years ago, and I recollect that the work of Thomas Edison was showcased there. Now, amongst his many talents I believe he is also credited with at least part invention of the phonograph. Music to everyone’s ears!
As for your query on my Sepia Saturday post, I will try and find out and post the answer there when I know.

MuseSwings said...

Very interesting history of radio in my home town. The stations I remember best from the time I was a teen are WXYZ - called wixy - and CKLW from Canada. It was Dick Purtan that I listened to for all the years I was there. On snowy days he would give school and bar closings and he would "show" fireworks on the 4th of July. Great guy - just recently retired.

Karen S. said...

This is so great! I've actually heard of these folks...cuz I grew up in Michigan! Thanks! Such awesome photos too!

Postcardy said...

The early radios and broadcasts must have seemed really amazing. I think it is surprising that so many radio stations are still broadcasting when there are so many alternative sources of news and entertainment

Tattered and Lost said...

I miss the days of listening to all the distant stations during the night, each having a feeling of place. Now you pick up stations all playing the same shows. Radio has become boring.

I also miss the mystery theater shows they used to broadcast, even still in the 1960s.

I just plain miss radio.

Thanks for the education.

tony said...

What A Fascinating Post!Concert Of The Air ! Thank You.Regards from Tony.

Julia Dixon said...

It's great I found this! I've been researching my family tree and It's wonderful to find more info on my great, great grandfather Maurice Warner.


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