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Old Time Radio Shows "Transcribed" Explained

What does it mean on old time radio shows when you hear the show is "Transcribed"?

During the Golden Age of Radio, "transcribed" programs were recorded and sent to stations or networks on a disc running at 16 rps. The discs are larger than 33 1/3s.

"Transcribed" means it was recorded on a disc. "Recorded" was a term that was known, of course, but not used very much in Radio's Golden Age. During the era, it was also considered very important to distinguish which shows went out live and which were recorded (transcribed), so if a show was transcribed it was announced as such.  "Transcribed" was a colloquialism of the era. One reason they came up with it was because there was still enough skittishness about recording that "pre-recorded" sounded a little obscene inside the industry.

CBS and NBC were live through the '30s and '40s. Yet line transcriptions were made for either the sponsor or its ad agency.

The "transcription taboo" was purely a network thing. Syndication stations had no other method but transcriptions to get their shows to stations.

Sometimes you hear on live shows like Fibber McGee and Molly but they'll announce "Parts of this are transcribed..."  Some radio stations today still may have dusty McCurdy turntable that play transcription disks.

WWII greatly increased the number of "transcribed" programs.  Truncated shows were made available for re-broadcast on AFRS to troops worldwide. Much of old time radio has survived in this format; unintentionally creating the archive of OTR.

Transcriptions (and that particular term) are also mentioned in the Basil Rathbone movie, "Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror." He used an oscilloscope to graph the difference between a live broadcast and a recording. May have not been very faithful to Conan Doyle, but still very educational. 


  1. Very informative. One correction required -
    "running at 16 rps. The discs are larger than 33 1/3s" should read 16 rpm.

    1. If I may, I must correct the original and the correction.
      They didn't run at 16RPM. They ran at 33 1/3.
      "16" is the inches they were in diameter (as opposed to 12" LPs).

    2. 16 RPM was a speed, but to my knowledge wasn't ever used for much more than talking books for the blind discs.

  2. Transcription companies used top Hollywood and NY talent - actors, musicians and technicians - that worked for network radio, film, and vaudeville. I've got several local drama shows in collection and they're competent, but really not on the level of what you'd find in the media centers of the East and West Coast. The idea behind them was to give programming options to local stations that would compete with network shows, but give the stations that opportunity to sell their own air time.

  3. Did that mean every radio station got a transcribed record to play at the appropriate time? The logistics of keeping track of all those records sounds staggering to me, but then again I can't balance my check book.

  4. "there was still enough skittishness about recording that "pre-recorded" sounded a little obscene inside the industry." Can anyone expand on this? What was the "skittishness about recording"? Why did "pre-recorded" sound obscene?

  5. Sam, the only explanation I can find comes from another Golden Age of Radio site: "During the golden age of radio and in the age of heavy censorship, extensive records were required by the government." So I guess the obscenity would be assumed by the possibility of transcribing/recording something that didn't go out over the air but could be transmitted or sold privately. If post-War (or especially during), the government might also be suspicious of private communication they couldn't control.

  6. Transcribed materials from Radio Broadcasting companies might either be altered or privately distributed which is used to disseminate news to the people during that time.


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