Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Note on Broadcasting History

Recently, we featured some Crusade for Freedom programs on our YouTube channel. What you don’t know is this effort fits in nicely with my last blog post. You see, the disc both programs came from is a type that would only be transferred due to a research request. When you’re emailed a WorldCat record from a former Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) security director about a Crusade for Freedom program, however, things change.

So why did it take an inquiry by an external party for us to digitize and republish those programs?

Those programs were on a sixteen-inch-diameter vinyl disc. First, vinyl discs of any size are relatively stable because they’re generally a single piece of plastic and, due to a niche market that prefers listening to records instead of CDs and mp3s, turntable equipment is easily obtained. (Myself, I prefer SACDs, but that’s an even smaller niche.) Second, although labels tell us a lot, they don’t tell us everything; thus, this disc had to wait while we worked on less stable recordings. We have some hundred similar sixteen-inch vinyl discs, including speeches by Robert Taft in the America First Committee records and collections sporting great names.

If you’re wondering how these sixteen-inch-diameter discs relate to the LPs audiophiles are likely familiar, they’re directly related.

In the days before magnetic tape (1930s to early 1950s), radio syndication was done using these discs. The producer would cut a lacquer disc of the program, and moldings made from that disc would allow the pressing of vinyl copies. These discs also play at 33.3 revolutions per minute (RPM), which, combined with the sixteen-inch diameter, synchronizes with reels of film.

In 1948, when Columbia developed the LP record, it reused the vinyl material and the 33.3 RPM features. With advances in disc cutting over the decades, it was able to decrease the diameter of the disc down to twelve inches owing to a smaller groove width.

So, no, the 33.3 RPM doesn’t come from 78 = 45+33. The audio world is full of myths. Some are harmless. Some are funny. That’s one of both.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Patriotic Posters on the Silver Screen

Like all the other comic book geeks who could not get tickets to Comic-Con in San Diego, I took consolation in being able to see Captain America: The First Avenger (Dir., Joe Johnston, 2011) in theaters its opening weekend. Although I am sure historians will have some understandable frustrations with certain aspects of the period piece, I hope, like me, they will be thrilled by the reproductions of US World War II-era propaganda posters scattered throughout the film and its closing credits. I may be biased though, as part of my duties at the Hoover Institution Archives includes regular perusal of our Poster Collection.

After seeing Captain America, I realized that the red, white, and blue supersoldier and the propaganda posters contemporary to his creation were collaborating media of the WWII-era. Like the posters, Captain America originally appeared in a paper-based medium, comic books, to encourage support of the war effort. The image on the cover of his first comic book appearance, featuring Cap punching Adolph Hitler in the jaw, could have been used for a propaganda poster. The filmmakers, conscious of these cultural ties and his origins, incorporated Captain America as a poster boy of patriotism into the film’s narrative. Thus featuring the posters throughout the movie and credits not only conveys the era the film is set in but reinforces for the audience the nature of the character and what he stands for.

I have only seen the film once (so far) but recognized a number of posters that we have in our collection (see the accompanying slide show). In fact, Rok!t Studios, the company behind the closing credit sequence, ordered scans of a number of our posters earlier this summer, so we're confident that some of those in the film came from our collection of over 100,000 posters. For information on any of the posters in the slide show, search using their poster ID in our database. For more information on Captain America, consult your local comic shop.

US 1692, Poster collection, Hoover Institution Archives

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Operation "Overboard"

Diplomats were not the only ones to fall victim to the pen of an anonymous parodist in the mid-1940s. Military officials were casualties too. A mimeograph identified as draft 5432 and 1/2, found among the William Henry Baumer papers, telegraphs its jest with the national-security classification US Stupid/British Most Stupid.

The document, dated May 32, 1944, lays out the plan for Operation "Overboard." It establishes, in military precision, a series of logical impossibilities designed to prevent any action whatsoever. For starters, it states that "in the interests of security this operation should not be divulged to any person inside Norfolk House and should not be taken outside Norfolk House." Norfolk House, of course, is where the Allied military brass had their offices.

"Overboard" had many objectives, among them to "re-establish the N.A.A.F.I. firmly on the continent of Europe." N.A.A.F.I., the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes, operated recreational facilities for the British Armed Forces. Another major object was "to assist the Russians and prevent the situation deteriorating so much that the Russians find themselves in Berlin unprotected by the Allies."

Paralysis cycles recursively through the plan. For example, the cardinal principle for the assault was "that any length of beach is too short to take the number of vehicles belonging to the number of divisions that will be necessary to assault such a length of beach," thus concluding, "Unless immediate steps are taken to construct sufficient beaches in this country which can be towed across the channel already assaulted no assault can take place."

The army, navy and air forces all take hits in the plan, which ultimately determines that the only suitable areas for assault are the Zuyder Zee, Lake Constance, or Holy Island. They meet the criteria of not including a port "to avoid any trouble over port capacities" and not having a hinterland to prevent "any trouble over subsequent deployment."

Annexure 6 to Appendix HHH of the document lists the planning data used, including a list of planners that could almost be sung to the tune "The Twelve Days of Christmas": "1 planner working, 2 planners chatting, 3 planners (2 Naval) arguing,” et cetera. It ends on a note that sounds amazingly modern, but undercuts the fundamental notion of war: "All data is subject to Naval, Military and Air Force advice and no references are made or harm meant to any living thing."