We like to say that The 78 Project bridges 100 years of technology. And it’s true that in the course of shooting our movie the Presto has met and befriended many an iPhone. It’s the simple beauty of the technology and design behind the Presto that invokes the fascination that drives The 78 Project…
Just past a bustling artisan market, behind a graffiti-ed gate on North 7th Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, lies a 2,500 square foot vacuum tube wonderland named Leeds Radio. For the vintage amp and hi-fi fanatic, it’s a dream come true, and for those who simply appreciate weird science and beautiful design, it’s a fascinating place to spend an afternoon.
The keeper of this shop is Richard Matthews, a man who knows his tubes – each and every one of the more than 100,000 he has stashed on floor-to-ceiling shelves. He also knows our tubes, because we bought them from him, and bring them back periodically for him to test. Our Presto relies on Richard’s sage knowledge of vacuum tubes to run its best, we just like to shoot the breeze with him and to pick his brain about technology.
On an unseasonably hot Saturday a few weeks ago, Richard pulled open the gate and invited us in with our camera to talk about Prestos, Tesla coils, radios and every topic in between, and to give our tubes a good going-over before our next road trip begins…
Yesterday afternoon, The 78 Project was invited to record a 78 live on
WNYC Soundcheck. Justin Townes Earle was kind enough to sing his new
song “Memphis in the Rain” when our needle went down. And host John
Schaefer gamely put his voice on acetate as well! WNYC captured the
whole experience, and it’s streaming from their site for you to hear.
LISTEN: The 78 Project and Justin Townes Earle on WNYC Soundcheck
Our cameras were rolling, and we caught the moment of Justin Townes Earle making his 78 below.
With every acetate we cut, we’re understanding more and more how miraculous it is to be able to capture and replay sound. Portable and accessible recording devices changed the lives of Americans in the 1920s and 30s. And one of the most important reasons they did, was that machines like our PRESTOs changed the way that radio broadcasts were made.
Before TV (but long after broadsheets) most Americans got their news and entertainment from their radios. 1920s radio shows were a far cry from the phone-prank-laden shock jock-hosted sound effect parades you hear during drive time today. Back then every round of applause or word of warning had to be made in the studio in real time.
But radio broadcasters realized the possibilities of field recorders right away, and dove right in, using them to create all kinds of messages for delayed broadcast. These “air checks” would include intros and outros for popular radio programs, news reports, recurring features that required content from outside the station, political messages, public service messages and more. It was the birth of syndication. Just imagine the faint crackle of record spinning every time you hear Ryan Seacrest start the Top 40 countdown…we have PRESTO to thank.
LISTEN: Kentucky Governor A.B. Chandler for the reelection of Franklin Roosevelt in 1936
LISTEN: January 27, 1937 aircheck of WSM/Nashville’s coverage of the great Ohio River Flood
These clips are from the archives of WHAS, LKY Radio in Kentucky. Radio geeks can hear dozens more vintage air checks on their website.