Remembering Joe Hehn (1931-2020) -- details about enjoying his collection today


Joe Webb
 

Today is the anniversary Joe Hehn's passing on this date last year. OTRR has participated in the transfer of his collection and its posting on archive.org for everyone to enjoy.

This is a picture of Joe Hehn that appeared in a 1969 newspaper story about him...
Sharing Shows from my collection - Page 14 Joe_he10
... the binder he is writing in is in my possession right now among other things that remain to be scanned from this past year.

The collection is at
https://archive.org/details/joe-hehn
and all of the audio files are available in FLAC or mp3. Our group of 25 collectors who have transferred discs and reels and research and organization and funds have made an effort to post only those recordings that are "new" or fell out of circulation, are equal or better or more complete than currently circulating recordings. Many of the tapes had dried out and we all had our "home cures" for getting one last good recording out of them. Our disc dubbers are among the best our hobby has to offer. All of it has had the benefit of today's incredible computer audio processing tools. What those early collectors considered as excellent often had severe disc rumble, tape hiss, was not on proper speed... but they cherished the recordings because they saved each of them from certain oblivion.

There's more to come over this next year in terms of audio. Most of Joe's recordings were already in circulation among collectors for a long time, but we were able to make some very nice sound upgrades, and in some cases, significant sound upgrades to what has been around. The disc recordings are still being worked on -- they're all recorded, and still many in line for sound processing. Some discs were very fragile and just didn't make the trip in the mails -- we knew that would happen to some of them -- but nothing of great significance was lost.

There were some things that Joe had that were not in circulation much, such as some episodes of MGM Radio Theater, the soap opera Road of Life, the kids' serial Land of the Lost and some incidental recordings of more popular programs. There were "new" recordings of the soap opera Ethel & Albert. The show was written by Peg Lynch, who was incredibly prolific in writing the series that also went to TV. Her granddaughter was extremely pleased to have copies of the programs that had not been heard since they were first broadcast in the early 1940s.

All of the correspondence, photos, scripts were scanned.

The correspondence and the notes were often heartbreaking for me. Most had damage from moisture which blurred much of the signatures and such.

He was planning a history of the juvenile serials, which if published, would have been a monumental early work for the hobby but also radio history. It was not to be. He wrote letters, made phone calls, pounded the streets of New York City after hours of train rides and car drives from northeast Pennsylvania, got people to vouch for his honesty and passion, had a commitment from Scholastic publishers, and then... nothing...

Joe kept all of his carbon copies of letters he sent to prominent radio people, ad agencies, stations, and such. So much of the correspondence was follow-up for their non-response. I kept picturing him coming home from work and opening up the envelopes to just see yet another turndown from something. It got to me a bit and there were times I could not look at the box of letters for weeks, but I did narrow things down to the most important ones. There were a couple of bright spots. He got an incredibly nice letter from the woman who wrote the serial he enjoyed so much, Chandu the Magician, with lots of details about the production. He also had a multi-month correspondence with writer/director/producer Jack Johnstone. The day when Suspense and Yours Truly Johnny Dollar went off the air, September 30, 1962, known among some collectors as "the day radio died," Jack wrote both scripts, and did his usual Johnny Dollar episode as director and producer. Then Jack walked away and retired after 30+ years doing some prominent radio work. It dawned on me that Jack wrote to Joe because he retired and was away from it, and it wasn't the free time, he had developed some distance and perspective that had him love the era as much as Joe did. Most everyone Joe was writing to was still in the business in some way. They didn't have the time to savor what they did. It was still a job for them, just like it was when they did it decades before. The letter he got from Himan Brown that said
Frankly, what anyone would want with a history of the shows you are trying to gather together is beyond me.
Brown wished him luck at the end of the letter. What an awful way to get Hi Brown's autograph.

As I met many of the people whom he wrote to in the mid-60s, or at least knew about them, at radio conventions of the 1970s and 1980s, it was only then that they had an appreciation of it all -- and it was as their friends were passing away that they wanted to talk to people and fans about it. Joe was too early, but he had a passion for it that they could not sync with. It hurt me to see it all. It seems like the whole effort to his correspondence came to an end in 1967 or 1968.

Despite the disappointment, Joe continued to appear on radio talk shows, local television, and his biggest legacy is the thousands of presentations he made to local clubs and religious organizations, and especially senior living facilities of all levels. As his age advanced, those twice-weekly visits to residents kept him going. The COVID lockdown meant there could be no more visits. The imposed lack of social interaction was overwhelming. The isolation ended up affecting his day-to-day routines and his health started to spiral downward.

Luckily, fortuitous circumstances led to the securing of his reels and papers that had not been viewed other than moving them for about 20 or 30 years. They would have been thrown out. The generous cooperation of many people came about at the right time. There are details to the story that even they are not aware of that will stay private, for now.

One of the things I like to collect from the era of Joe's collecting are the catalogs that collectors made of their. All of them thought that they were in a race against time because everything was being thrown out at the stations and ad agencies. So their catalogs were prepared with great care and with detailed descriptions of almost every single recording. They are great resources for the history of our hobby. A collector friend of mine in Australia, Keith Scott, is a voice actor and impressionist who was brought to the states to work on the Bullwinkle movie in 2000ish. He met Skip Craig, the Head of Production for Jay Ward and all those Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons that had some of radio's greatest voices (especially William Conrad!) -- he was a famous old radio collector at the time. [John Dunning dedicated Tune in Yesterday to Skip].

So all these years later, Skip Craig's catalog is in Joe's papers -- Keith was thrilled to get it as he had never seen it before ((shhhh! don't tell anyone that Craig had his collection on punch cards and ran his catalog on Jay Ward's mainframe and line printer -- it's just between us))

In the end, Joe's collection turned out to be rather small in comparison to the collections that we can have today, and even smaller once the items that have since been available in better sound than he had were cast aside. But that small collection has been so rewarding to work on for what was there, untouched or re-discoverable, these pioneer collectors still affect our hobby today. Series like Road of Life, MGM Theater, Big Story, Whistler, have all had new "lost" recordings brought to our hobby in this process, and there are still more to come with lots of upgrades of numerous series, and lots of broadcasting curiosities.

Joe, and his family and caretaker made it clear that they wanted his collection to be available to everyone. We came to an understanding that it would be best done that way through the Internet Archive (archive.org) and that there would be a "Joe Hehn Collection" there. I arranged it all through email with them. Joe passed away a week later. It became the "Joe Hehn Memorial Collection" and it is there, and being added to, and will "outlive" all of us as electrons. This is all far beyond what Joe could have imagined.

I only spoke to Joe Hehn twice in my life. Once as a college kid starting in collecting, probably around 1977. And then a few days before he died over FaceTime. It wasn't the best of conversations because of his health but he was happy that he was remembered by one of his fellow collectors after all those many years.

There are many collections of 1960s and 1970s collections that have been lost, but many are still to be saved. The "digital revolution" in our hobby in the 1990s and early 2000s was the encoding of reels and cassettes that were far removed from their early recordings and had built up generations of tape noise and hiss and speed variances that are best solved by getting as close to the original source recordings and transfers as possible. If you have never volunteered for getting involved in an OTR restoration effort such as this, it is worth considering. I have been involved in this hobby in one way or another since high school, in the early 1970s. This hobby has never been as enjoyable and rewarding as it has been for me in these past few years. The effort needs more volunteers for all kinds of tasks, with no real experience necessary.

Take some time today to enjoy the Hehn collection, and to thank all those pioneer collectors from the mid-1960s and forward to today, whose sweat and time and skill created all of the recordings of that brief age of radio.

https://archive.org/details/joe-hehn

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