Muzak Evolution in the ‘40s

Associated Program Services Record

Associated Program Services Transcription

In the early ‘40s Muzak’s business model began to evolve.  One of owner Bill Benton’s visions was for the company to diversify.   With licensing changes and leverage applied by radio lobbyists, by 1940 Muzak was no longer allowed to broadcast via telephone lines directly to homes.  But many radio stations were envious of the large transcription music library Muzak had amassed.  Muzak seized on the opportunity by marketing their rich library and providing a music service to hundreds of radio stations across the country.  The product was called Associated Program Service, distributing new 16” record compilations to radio stations on a weekly basis.

Because of the demand for this service, and the requests by radio stations for various styles of music, Muzak executive producer Ben Selvin broadened his sessions to include not only jazz, bluegrass, gospel and big band, but now opera, musicals, Latin, Hawaiian and hundreds of novelty orchestras.  He also wrote, arranged and recorded hundreds of “production aids,” which were a series of short musical promos, bumpers, station breaks, time intros and instrumental transitional segues, used by stations throughout their locally produced shows.  Radio was a Muzak money maker in the ‘40s and Mr. Selvin made sure he produced the quality, variety and aids to keep it that way.

However, Bill Benton knew his biggest opportunity was music for business, which had grown steadily since 1934.  His research and marketing approach was starting to produce major results in the early ‘40s.  The Muzak franchise network, the first of its kind in the US, was starting to expand, with new territories popping up all over the country.  Music service via telephone lines along with the design and installation of quality sound systems into businesses was the foundation of Muzak’s business and growth model.  Then WWII took everything to another level for Muzak.

But, let’s get back for a second to the “production aids” Muzak produced for radio.   Here’s one example of the creativity and ingenuity that Ben Selvin and his team applied to their craft over 70 years ago.  Ya gotta love this stuff!

Contributed by Bruce McKagan, Muzak Archives Director

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Tagged as: 1940s music, 40s music, Bill Benton, Muzak Archives, radio, radio history

7 Comments

  1. Let me add something to what I have already written. The mid-forties were the golden age of Broadway musicals. Led by Jay Blackton, perhaps the most respected orchestra leader in the Broadway theaters, Muzac assembled groups of marvelous singers to record the scores of some of the then current musicals. I recall the songs from “Carousel”, “Bloomer Girl” and “Song of Norway”

    Now I have a question. To the best of my knowledge, the largest assemblage of musicians ever recorded by Muzak was called “Arthur Fiedler and His Orchestra” I assume that was the great Boston Pops orchestra although Boston or Pops weren’t mentioned in the announcements. My question is, did Muzak go to the Pops or did they come to Muzak? If they came to Muzak, where were they recorded. I don’t think the 100 or so musicians could fit in Muzak studios.

    After all these years, I do remember one gem from that session. That was Brahms’s “Academic Festival Overture”. I recall a magnificent sound quality. While I’m on the subject of classical and semi-classical music, the great baritone Robert Merrill, at the beginning of his career at the Met recorded with Muzak at the beginning of his career. I remember an excellent job with “The Donkey Serenade” He was accompanied by Henri Nosco which still sounds like a phony name as it did then.

  2. Hi Joe –

    I researched our Archives and found some information on Arthur Fiedler for you.

    Arthur Fiedler recorded for us on 2/27/45 with a 48 piece orchestra. This recording was done at the Lotus Club located at 110 W. 57th St, New York, NY.

    He recorded for us again on 3/28/45 also with at 48 piece orchestra but this time it was done at Muzak Corporation Recording Studios.

    Those are the only two instances where a studio location is mentioned and no orchestra larger than 48 pieces was used.

    Hope this answers your question!

  3. Permit me now to comment on a great partiotic song from 1940 that I believe to be in the Muzak archives. That song, “I Am an American” was written by Carmen Dragon, the conductor of the Hollywood Bowl orchestra and father of Darryl Dragon who with his wife Toni Tenille was “The Captain and Tenille”

    In 1940, Irving Szathmary had a wonderful recording session at Muzak. Among his great arrangements that he recorded were the nursery rhyme “Jack and Jill”, Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo”, “The Call of the Canyon” and “I Am an American” The last two had singing by “The Seven Singing Serenaders”, a name that was used by a singing group that recorded with Freddy Rich, a few years before.

    Szathmary, deceased for a long time, was the brother of the comedian Bil Dana who I think is still with us. Later, he wrote the theme and conducted the orchestra for the wonderful TV series “Get Smart”. He was involved with several transcription companies. For a while, he was the A&R man for Lang-Worth. I am not sure, but I think he was the anonymous conductior for “The Silver Strings Serenadors” He liked to fool around with classical compositions especially some by Bach. At one point he called his arrangements, “swingphonic”.

    After 9-11, with all the patriotic singing, I had hoped that someone would find “I Am an American” and revive it. I even Emailed Toni Tenille about her father-in law’s work, but received no response. I would love to have somebody involved in the Muzak archives to retrieve and play “I Am an American” by Szathmary” and tell me what you think. Thanks

    Joe Adams

  4. I found a collection of approximately 500 transcription discs in a steel case with a card catalogue in my parents basement. The red discs are exactly like the one in the above picture. Are they of any value or significance?

  5. This is exciting information. I’d love to talk with you more. I will contact you over the next day.

  6. That sounds great.

  7. To: Lois V

    I am very interested in the Associated transcriptions.

    Cloyd Peterson
    813-340-7589

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