IPR turns 50: Thoughts about Technology at Interlochen
As IPR celebrates its 50th anniversary, it is worth remembering that the history of radio broadbasts at Interlochen extends beyond the 60s to the earliest days of Camp, when radio was still considered cutting-edge technology. Keeping up with the evolution of technology and its role in arts education is such a constant challenge, that many of us do not realize that Interlochen has been ahead of the game more often than not!
Six years before Camp even started, Dr. Maddy produced an acoustic recording with a dozen members of his Morton High School Orchestra at the Gennett Company in Richmond, Indiana. In those pre-electronic days, a small number of players were squeezed together to play into a megaphone-like tube that transferred the vibrations to a stylus that cut a track on a metal or wax cylinder or disk. The whole orchestra could not participate, and the recording was poor, but the novelty of it all was sufficient to sell enough recordings to raise the $2,800 needed for their trip to Nashville to perform for the Music Supervisors National Conference. In those days before radio networks even existed, Maddy’s school orchestra was put on the air by a pioneer radio station in Cincinnati, and the first three National High School Orchestras in Detroit, Dallas and Chicago did likewise just as the networks were being formed in the mid-twenties. More amazing yet, the 1928 Chicago broadcast, three months before Camp opened, was picked up by KDKA in Pittsburgh, transferred to the shortwave band and heard by a gentleman in Durrington, England, who wrote to report that the reception was “good, but gusty.” The 1929 orchestra made three recordings for the Victor label, and on Sunday, August 9, 1931, the National High School Orchestra became the first amateur group to make a commercial trans-Atlantic broadcast to Germany.
When Camp started in 1928 there was but a single telephone in the hotel, and Mr. Giddings relied on his gold watch to signal the start of classes. The August 10, 1930 issue of “Scherzo” proudly announced “Camp gets phone system” and expressed wonderment that Michigan Bell had installed fourteen or more phones connecting all of the camp division headquarters, the library, the bathing beaches, the Maddy and Giddings cottages, even though “... some of these points are a mile or more apart.” That same year initiated weekly network radio broadcasts that were to continue for 12 summers. We began recording some concerts in 1933, and Radio Drama classes were introduced in 1938. As magnetic tape proved to be a medium far superior to the cutting lathe, the Camp purchased its first Magnecorder in 1949 and the industry-standard Ampex model 400A recorders in 1950, which offered fine quality recordings of Interlochen’s concerts for distribution to an informal network of university and other non-commercial radio stations.
In the meantime, while early campers may have dismissed our co-founder T. P. Giddings as little more than a fussy disciplinarian, many senior alums will recall that he carried his his obsession for precision and order to the Stroboscope, an electronic tuning device the Conn Company introduced about 1936. For the rest of his life TP would strong-arm students and eminent faculty alike to compare the accuracy of their tuning to that of the machine that “couldn’t tell a lie.” It’s a true story that one high school camper was so impressed by his determination to introduce the instrument to anybody within reach, she raised the necessary funds to construct a new building for that sole purpose! The late 30s also brought the invention of the Hammond electronic organ, and the Camp presented John Hammond in recital to demonstrate the properties of the new instrument. The Hammond organ was featured here in the summer of 1944 in the first performance anywhere of Percy Grainger’s composition for band, orchestra and organ, "The Power of Rome and the Christian Heart."
The campers who traveled to perform at the New York World Fair in 1939 witnessed the novelty of early television broadcasts, and as television began its phenomenal growth after the war, Dr. Maddy was anxious to explore the new medium’s potential for teaching music, based on the experience with radio teaching that he began nearly a quarter-century earlier. The distribution of Interlochen recordings for radio broadcast peaked in 1954, and although television was gaining wide attention, quality programing required major commitment of time and energy and the quality of FM audio broadcasting was far superior. The smarter investment for Interlochen seemed to be FM radio: what is now Interlochen Public Radio debuted in 1963 and would soon become a leader in the industry, commanding a significantly greater share of the local audience than non-commercial, classical-music stations typically did. Congratulations to IPR at 50, as their programming of both music and news continues its dominance for a broad area of northern Michigan and beyond.
The campers of 1930 were awed by the extravagance of having more than one phone for the entire Camp; my generation of faculty rejoiced 50 years later when desk phones in our studios replaced the single phone we shared in the dorm basement. In 1982, President Jacobi announced that “Interlochen now has a computer!”: today we teach students who’ve never known a world without personal computers and cell phones. What do you suppose the next 30 years will bring?!