BRUNSWICK BREVITIES

By John Newton.

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By the summer of 1929 radio had become firmly established as the primary entertainment vehicle in the USA and it had already begun making a significant impact upon the record industry in the form of lower sales. The reasoning then was “why buy phonograph records when similar entertainment could be had for free via radio - including the very same performers.
Record sales peaked in the early 1920s and declined through much of the decade, though there was a slight bump in the 1927-8 period. With that in mind, and with radio reaching more and more households, executives of the Brunswick Balke Collender Co., hit upon the idea of using radio to advertise its products - phonographs and records and radio receivers.
Broadcasts by phonograph record artists was not a new idea. Victor artists had periodically begun to broadcast several years earlier as had artists from other record companies. Brunswick however, decided to handle their broadcasts differently. In mid-1929 the company decided to use its own resources of contract talent and facilities to produce their own series of broadcasts, to advertise Brunswick talent and, especially to produce Brunswick records and Brunswick radio-broadcast combinations. Instead of “live” programs, Brunswick pre-recorded its programs for future or varied time slots. In many cases these recordings for radio purposes could be made while the talent was at hand in the studios for regular recording sessions.
Brunswick called its own series of broadcast programs Brunswick Brevities and produced about 26 of the shows, each containing almost 30 minutes of entertainment and advertising. Ultimately this format would be copied by others, particularly Columbia a year or so later in the fall of 1930. The Columbia offerings were called Tele-Focal Radio Series and used dubbings from commercial recordings with added announcers and advertising. Brunswick, however, did not use dubbings. The broadcast series therefore often contained performances that were very different from the commercially-released versions of the selections.
Additionally - and significantly - the Brunswick artists occasionally did their own announcing and sometimes performed selections that they did not record for commercial release.
The premier Brunswick Brevities went on the air, August 19, 1929 and were broadcast weekly until February 1930. Al Jolson, then Brunswick’s top artist, was featured on the first program. Jolson’s recordings for the program had been made during his July 25, 1929 recording session which produced Liza (Brunswick 4402). It was therefore no coincidence this same number was one he recorded for the broadcast. It is believed the Colonial Club Orchestra recorded the non-vocal parts of the program as they were in the studio nine days earlier. That session included a medley of songs made famous by Jolson as well as an instrumental version of There’s a Rainbow `Round My Shoulder, another Jolson hit.
Brunswick advertising in its own publications shortly after the series began listed the 28 stations that carried the weekly programs. Trade advertisements later stated that 32 stations, blanketing the country, were airing the programs every week. These advertisements for Brunswick Brevities - Radio’s Greatest Entertainment” proclaimed such “Stars of the First Magnitude” as Al Jolson, Belle Baker, Red Nichols, Abe Lyman, Nick Lucas, Ben Bernie and Zelma O’Neal.
I have acquired or heard more than 50 individual “parts” (12” records) for these Brunswick Brevities programs which give us a tantalizing glimpse of what the series contained. Performances by Jolson, Libby
Holman, Red Nichols and Irving Mills Hotsy Totsy Gang, featuring Hoagy Carmichael, are outstanding and amazing.
Numerous other program parts for this series remain missing and the writer would be anxious to hear from other collectors and dealers who have records from this series. All recordings for the Brunswick programs were made between July, 1929 and January, 1930 although the company continued to record and press other programs for several years. Some of these other programs have come to light, most of which are in the 1929 - 1931 period. Most pressings have plain labels with sparse information printed or typed on them. In many cases, Nat’l Radio Adv. Co., appears on the labels (this appears on some Brevities programs as well). Such pressings include a 15 minute program for the Jantzen swimwear company featuring radio versions of then-current Warner Bros -First National film productions; programs of Maytag broadcasts featuring Ted Fiorito’s Orch (Chicago, 1929); Bremer-Tulley programs featuring recordings of the Vitaphone Orch.; Household Finance Co. programs and other miscellany. Some programs merely feature dated comedy routines; others featured popular or classical musical selections. The content varied greatly, from quite good to dreadful, as did the Brevities.
Ross Laird of Australia has recently completed a 4-volume set of books, covering the entire scope of Brunswick’s recording activities from the beginning of the company through 1931. This work will cover all of Brunswick’s recording activities including private, personal, unreleased recordings, recordings for radio broadcast in every field. Much of the information will be published for the first time.

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