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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."


Scott Galley
 

What a lovely man Mr. Hehn must have been. I am sure that people in nursing homes and the like appreciated his efforts greatly. Along with the joy he must have brought to many, I have read that the music of your childhood has a tremendous effect in helping people come out of the ravages of Alzheimer's disease, even if only for a short while.


Although I live in Canada and postage can be an issue, I am willing to scan and clean up scripts and the such. I have the full Adobe package which I use in my day job as a graphic designer, so I can do a nice job, depending on the quality of the original material. Just let me know.

Scott


Joe Webb
 

Thanks so much for your kind thoughts and your offer.
I checked the shipping rates and they are unfortunately very very high.
Email me privately with your address or general location and perhaps something will come up with someone traveling to or from the US who might be be near your area and we can ship the materials to them.

This is a news story about Joe from 2011
https://patch.com/pennsylvania/uppersaucon/captain-radio-plays-the-hits-from-bygone-era



--


Joe Webb
 


The Hehn reels have been happily dominating my OTR time of late. Some of the collector names on the boxes or contents sheets are interesting, all names that were well known at that time in the hobby. It is funny to see notes written on the boxes, such as "restricted until May 1976." There are also notes related to the account of number of hours traded, who owes who what, and what's coming later. Trading was negotiated by total program time, usually trading a fixed number of hours for the same number of hours in return. I was reminded in one note that one of the key negotiating points was the brand and grade of recording tape to be used. OTR was expensive! If they were using 1200' tape, half-track, at 7.5ips speed, that meant in inflation-adjusted terms, the tape alone was costing them in the range of $3.50 PER HALF HOUR PROGRAM. It also meant that the programs had to be copied in real time, that is, copying a half hour program took a half hour to copy. How amazing it is nowadays to download recordings so quickly.

In terms of all of the recordings that have been reviewed so far, there are many programs that are in bad sound today that were in bad sound then. At least they can be processed with today's tools to be less bad and more listenable. It's also curious to hear disc recordings that have what would be considered as unacceptable today because they were not processed. Early disc transfers had significant levels of disc rumble that they really didn't have good ways of filtering out until equalizers became more popular and more affordable. If you ignore the rumble, there is a crispness to the sound of some of these recordings that is very satisfying. One thinks of how exciting it must have been to be in on the discovery of so many of these recordings when they were new and there was a deep sense of rescuing the era, not just compiling a collection recordings.

The contents sheets indicate that collectors were groping around for accurate show dates, especially the case when they encountered many AFRS recordings. They were also having difficulty with assigning consistent show titles for those series that did not announce any titles as part of the program. And... there's always bad handwriting -- so many of the reel contents sheets were handwritten, and it is easy to see how the differences in forming numbers led to mis-dating of recordings and misspelling of names and titles as the recipients tried to decipher what was on the contents sheets. We are lucky to have logs to refer to today, but there were none at that time. Those would come in the mid and late 1970s, but there were not many and most were not complete.

It has been an incredible journey back into OTRdom's founding years... with many more surprises to come.

Reel transfer volunteers are still needed. There are separate volunteers who do not have reels but have audio processing capabilities who are anxious to work with folks who can make the transfers. Please private message me if you can transfer reels and we'll try to match up the reels you get with some of your favorite series.


Gordon Johansen
 

What an interesting dip into the history of early OTR (well before my time). Thanks for posting the update and giving your feelings about it all.

Gord

Joe Webb via groups.io wrote on 10/31/20 5:21 AM:


The Hehn reels have been happily dominating my OTR time of late. Some of the collector names on the boxes or contents sheets are interesting, all names that were well known at that time in the hobby. It is funny to see notes written on the boxes, such as "restricted until May 1976." There are also notes related to the account of number of hours traded, who owes who what, and what's coming later. Trading was negotiated by total program time, usually trading a fixed number of hours for the same number of hours in return. I was reminded in one note that one of the key negotiating points was the brand and grade of recording tape to be used. OTR was expensive! If they were using 1200' tape, half-track, at 7.5ips speed, that meant in inflation-adjusted terms, the tape alone was costing them in the range of $3.50 PER HALF HOUR PROGRAM. It also meant that the programs had to be copied in real time, that is, copying a half hour program took a half hour to copy. How amazing it is nowadays to download recordings so quickly.

In terms of all of the recordings that have been reviewed so far, there are many programs that are in bad sound today that were in bad sound then. At least they can be processed with today's tools to be less bad and more listenable. It's also curious to hear disc recordings that have what would be considered as unacceptable today because they were not processed. Early disc transfers had significant levels of disc rumble that they really didn't have good ways of filtering out until equalizers became more popular and more affordable. If you ignore the rumble, there is a crispness to the sound of some of these recordings that is very satisfying. One thinks of how exciting it must have been to be in on the discovery of so many of these recordings when they were new and there was a deep sense of rescuing the era, not just compiling a collection recordings.

The contents sheets indicate that collectors were groping around for accurate show dates, especially the case when they encountered many AFRS recordings. They were also having difficulty with assigning consistent show titles for those series that did not announce any titles as part of the program. And... there's always bad handwriting -- so many of the reel contents sheets were handwritten, and it is easy to see how the differences in forming numbers led to mis-dating of recordings and misspelling of names and titles as the recipients tried to decipher what was on the contents sheets. We are lucky to have logs to refer to today, but there were none at that time. Those would come in the mid and late 1970s, but there were not many and most were not complete.

It has been an incredible journey back into OTRdom's founding years... with many more surprises to come.

Reel transfer volunteers are still needed. There are separate volunteers who do not have reels but have audio processing capabilities who are anxious to work with folks who can make the transfers. Please private message me if you can transfer reels and we'll try to match up the reels you get with some of your favorite series.