The Joe Hehn Collection

Ryan Ellett

Joe Webb has summarized our recent work acquiring the Joe Hehn collection:
"The passing of pioneer OTR collector Joe Hehn must be noted. He died at age 88 on Saturday, October 17, 2020. Few of today’s collectors have heard his name, but in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he played an important role in the establishment of our hobby, originated recordings into circulation, and traded with some of the most prominent collectors of that era. Without the efforts of those early collectors, we would not have the hobby we enjoy so much today.
Until his recent illness, he was still devoted to promoting the programs and music of the golden age. His obituary noted, "He made at least 135 trips per year to area nursing homes presenting musical shows on old time radio. During these years, Joe had made almost 5000 appearances in over 200 nursing homes from Philadelphia to Scranton." This was nothing new for him... in the 1970s and 1980s, he was frequently presenting and entertaining various organizations in his area, such as Rotary Club and numerous church and similar groups.
A fortuitous circumstance brought knowledge of Joe’s collection to our attention. The collection has been in storage for years. Through the assistance of OTRR, a disc collectors group, and individual collectors, much of Joe's collection will be preserved, and made available to all. Many collectors have contributed financial support to transport the collection, and are now contributing their time and skills to digitize and process it into the high quality digital formats that are preferred today.
Much of the collection is not new, but it is an opportunity to work with original tapes of disc recordings that have not been available for decades and apply modern sound processing to them. This will replace many of the hobby’s oldest and widest circulating recordings with better and more enjoyable sound. There are new items, including missing Big Story episodes, a Duffy’s Tavern, a Man Called X, some obscure 1930s serials, too. There are bound to be others as we review more of the boxes of almost 3000 reels (most 7.5ips in half track format) and over 250 transcriptions.
There’s another important aspect to the collection: printed materials. Other collectors are assisting in scanning the numerous scripts that were in his collection, along with many rare issues of OTR fan publications of the 1960s and 1970s! The period when Mr. Hehn was most active was when collectors were convinced they were each in a personal race against time (and the dumpster!) to save transcriptions and reels of their beloved programs wherever they could be found, even the smallest of radio stations. The newsletters they had were the only ways they could find out about each other and trade their recordings. New discoveries were always noted in these early newsletters and were met with great excitement throughout that very small hobby.
Collectors active in OTRR, Cobalt Club, a disc group, and others worked quietly behind the scenes to plan the logistics and transportation of the items in the collection. Thank you to all of these collectors and fans for their efforts in these weeks and their commitment to the project in the future. There will be much news about these recordings in the weeks and months ahead.
The OTRR purchasing group played an important role in financing the transportation and the storage of these materials. If you are not a member of the group, which is just $5 per month, now is a good time to join to support efforts such as these. Jim Wood is our treasurer (OTR@...) and would be glad to sign you up to our purchasing group."

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