Story of another studio closing....
Recording Studio to Pull the Plug After 69 Years
Sound: Electro-Vox, an innovator in radio days, will leave behind an echo of Hollywood history.
Coronations of kings and outbreaks of war. Civic triumphs and cultural changes. For nearly 70 years the engineers on Melrose Avenue were ear-witnesses to it all.
They recorded the West's first wireless broadcasts. They produced the pioneering radio commercials that helped shape Southern California's laid-back car culture. They helped create some of the record industry's bestsellers.
But on Friday they'll switch off the last vacuum-tube amplifier and unplug the last 50-year-old audiotape console. And then they'll turn off the lights at Electro-Vox--the oldest independent recording studio in Los Angeles.
Some say that the studio--which opened in 1931 and whose existence spanned an era that started with wax-coated platters and ended with digital chips--is the longest continuously operating recording company anywhere.
Electro-Vox certainly looks the part.
Its foot-thick studio walls are soundproofed with 1940s-style acoustic tiles--the foot-wide ones covered with row after row of tiny noise-deadening holes. Streamline Moderne-style molding decorates the double-pane studio windows overlooking control rooms lined with antique mixing boards and record machines.
As did his father before him, studio owner Alan Gottschalk works his amplifiers' bakelite knobs and toggle switches like a piano virtuoso, making certain the highest tones are as clear as the deepest.
"I just like to hear good quality sound," says Gottschalk, cocking his head to concentrate on a 1962 radio commercial that he is playing back through a huge, wood-encased speaker.
Gottschalk, of Encino, is 69--the same age as Electro-Vox. He has decided to retire because, he says, most of his clients are either retired or dead.
He grew up in the storefront studio at 5546 Melrose Ave., watching quietly as stars such as Jack Benny hurried in to listen to transcriptions of radio shows that an hour earlier had been broadcast from Hollywood to the East Coast. Because of time zones, performers had to repeat the shows four hours later for the West Coast audience.
"I was always surprised that they weren't laughing at the jokes when they were here listening," Gottschalk said. "But they weren't there to be entertained. They were there to listen for any changes they needed to make in the script."
Gottschalk's father, Bert, was a Warner-Vitagraph movie sound man who recorded early talkies' soundtracks on discs that were synchronized with film reels. Intrigued by the discs' capability of immediate playback, he decided in 1931 to start a recording service for another emerging field: radio.
Bert Gottschalk designed and built his own record-cutting lathes. The National Broadcasting Co. asked him to set up shop across the street from the Melrose Avenue NBC studios (now the home of KCAL-TV) so he could make transcriptions of the East Coast shows through a special phone line. After a short time, he was hired to record CBS radio network shows, too.
The elder Gottschalk coined the term "airchek" to describe his recordings. Soon, entertainers such as Fred Allen, Al Jolson and Burns and Allen were putting in orders to have what are now known as "air checks" made for their personal use.
Bert Gottschalk was soon commissioned to make recordings of programs on KFI, KHJ and other local radio stations that routinely aired such events as lectures, building groundbreakings and the early Academy Awards ceremonies.
Fascinated by the history unfolding before his ears, Gottschalk often found himself recording for himself--capturing Depression-era news events such as the Hindenburg dirigible disaster, the "fireside chats" of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and speeches by England's Winston Churchill and Germany's Adolf Hitler.
As a boy, Alan Gottschalk often ran the disc-cutting lathes. Electro-Vox recordings at first were etched directly into aluminum platters. Later, a more durable lacquer coating was used to form the grooves. For a time during World War II, thick glass discs were substituted when aluminum supplies were diverted for use in fighter planes.
In 1950, father and son introduced audiotape in their studio. At about the same time, they expanded into radio commercial production.
Trend-setting radio ads for early used car and TV set salesman "Mad Man" Muntz and auto painter Earl Scheib were recorded on Melrose Avenue. So was the 30-year, updated-daily radio campaign for the Los Angeles Times. Messengers would hurry the finished discs to local radio stations so they could be played on the air immediately.
Music composers, meantime, began making demo records at Electro-Vox that they could use to pitch major record labels. Henry Mancini recorded the first version of "Moon River" there; Paul Francis Webster and Sammy Fain did "Love Is a Many Splendored Thing" and Jay Livingston and Ray Evans recorded "Mona Lisa," "Silver Bells" and "Buttons and Bows" at Electro-Vox.
Alan Gottschalk took over the studio from his father in the mid-'60s. But he kept using the 1950 wood-cabinet Ampex decks and the desk-size record-cutting machines built in 1936 by Bert Gottschalk.
His clients appreciated that.
"You didn't have the latest in technology at Electro-Vox, but you didn't have the latest in attitudes, either," recalled Warren Morse, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's marketing director.
"We knew there were other studios where you could sit on a nice couch, where there was Evian water in the fridge and fresh pastries. Alan's shop had none of that. But we were loyal to him because he was so loyal to us."
Jim Hardy, an archivist for entertainer Bob Hope, hired Electro-Vox to make digital copies of the old radio show transcriptions that Hope turned over last month to the Library of Congress. Hardy was surprised to find that Electro-Vox had recorded many of the originals.
"The studio is like a time warp. Every time I walk out I expect the world to be black and white, to see a Nash traveling down Melrose. It's a shame they're closing," Hardy said.
Warner Brothers archivist Leith Adams said Electro-Vox's huge collection of original radio air checks contains such run-of-the-mill things as the weekly L.A. Breakfast Club meeting that for years was broadcast over KFWB. "It's a social history of Los Angeles, a real history of the city," Adams said.
Gottschalk is keeping the discs. Some, like the wartime glass recordings, are extremely fragile. And the earlier aluminum-etched records have to be carefully played with a cactus thorn rather than a conventional steel needle because of the softness of the metal.
Collectors are snapping up Gottschalk's vintage microphones, consoles and tape decks as he prepares to retire. But that's fine with him.
Electro-Vox survived as long as it did because it didn't continually chase after the latest multitrack, multimillion-dollar audio equipment.
"We were not at the cutting edge of technology at the end," Gottschalk admits. "But we turned out a quality product."
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Topic - Another one bites the dust. - RBP 22:15:04 06/29/00 (3)
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