Digitizing glass records and World War II amusement

The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision (Nederlands Instituut voor Beeld en Geluid) started to digitize it’s collection gesneden platen (lacquer or transcription discs). In this blog I’ll be talking about the history and characteristics of these special records and also a bit about the sometimes typical Dutch content.

The first radio broadcast in the Netherlands was in 1919. The first Dutch broadcast organisations were founded in the mid twenties. Radio in those days was a live happening, nothing was pre-recorded. According to Willem Vogt *, former director of the AVRO, people in his broadcast organisation started in 1927 to experiment with lacquer discs. They used glass records with a lacquer layer which had to be baked in an oven to be made playable. In 1935 Dutch broadcast organisations including KRO, AVRO and NCRV already used lacquer discs for radio purpose. Recording sheet from 1949 with details for broadcast The recording for a radio program was done on a disc cutting lathe, a machine that converted sound into the mechanical movement of a cutting stylus, that cuts the sound straight into the surface of a lacquer coated disc. An average 12 inch, 78 rpm disc could record a maximum of almost six minutes, so for a program of one hour you needed quite a few records. You also needed at least two disc cutting machines and two turntables for playback. To record you started at cutting machine A with disc 1, side 1. Near the end machine B comes in, to record side 2 on disc 2. In the meantime disc 1 is turned over and ready to record side 3. When played back, at two turntables, the following order is used:

disc 1- side 1 /disc 2- side 2 /disc 1- side 3/ disc 2- side 4/ disc 3- side 5/ disc 4- side 6/ disc 3- side 7/ disc 4- side 8/ disc 5- side 9 etcDisc with yello lines given details about parts not to be broadcasted

This planned order could change if a mistake had been made during the recording, that side became useless for broadcasting. Information on how to play and when to play a certain side is mostly found on the record label and on the accompanying recording sheet (opnamebon). Parts or sides of a record which were not used, for various reasons, were mostly marked with yellow crayon lines. So reconstructing the right order anno 2012 can be quite puzzling. Also it is sometimes hard to interpret the written information on the labels and recording sheets are not always available.


Pyral recod sleeveMost of the discs used in the thirties were glass records with a gelatine based lacquer layer. They are quite heavy, thick and breakable. After World War II the much lighter Pyral discs became more common. The French company Pyral developed an aluminium disc with a coating layer of nitrocellulose lacquer. The same sort of records were made by the American Presto Recording Company. Together with Presto records Sound and Vision has a variety of other sort of discs, like zinc or pvc records. Very rare is a recently discovered set of German Pliaphon Tonplatte ten inch records from 1935. They look like flexi discs from the eighties, but the are in fact made of gelatine.

World War II

Talking about Germany. Sound and Vision own a small amount of WOII recordings made by the German propaganda machine. You can listen to German military marches or Dutch soldiers near Moscow telling brave tales about fighting the “Bolshevists”. On the other hand there are a lot of recordings from Radio Oranje, the Dutch radio based in London during wartime. These are either recorded by the BBC or they have been clandestine recorded in occupied Holland. During WOII it was forbidden to listen to English radio stations and at a certain point all radio (or wireless) sets had to be handed over to the Germans. Radio listening went underground. Despite that, people did listen to Radio Oranje like mr Hellingman who even had a disc cutting machine. Pliaphon TonplatteHe recorded a lot of programs from his radio. Because these recordings are taken from the air(waves) the quality is not so good. But indeed you can hear anti-German amusement with jokes and songs about people like Hitler, Mussolini or Dutch collaborators. Like the song: ”We gaan naar Zandvoort aan de Zee, alleen voor de moffen en NSB” . Other special kind of programs are the ones made for the Dutch army. You can hear parents greeting their sons in the former Dutch East Indies or hear funny sketches from the comic characters ‘Taaie en Neut´ (from 1949). Very Dutch are the records with children choirs. Almost every choir was linked to a broadcast organization, like the Karekieten were a KRO based choir. And of course they also sing ‘Sinterklaas’ rhymes; how Dutch can you be around December!

* Willem Vogt (1888-1973) was a Dutch broadcast pioneer. Read more in his book ‘Een Leven Met Radio’ (1973) .