The Savory Collection 1935-1940

Bill Savory certainly ranks as one of the more fascinating unknown figures of the golden age of the recording industry. Born in 1916, he studied piano from a young age and developed an interest in sound engineering. While still in his teens, Savory tried to build his own recording device, but soon learned the necessary components were not readily available. While making a piano demonstration record of his own in one of midtown Manhattan’s small independent studios, Savory was able to fix some of the equipment that broke down during the session. He was offered a job on the spot and soon established service arrangements with several independent New York studios. One of these was Ezekial Rabinowitz’s Audio-Scriptions, known as the “clipping bureau of the air” because “Rabie” would record radio performances and then try to sell the recordings to the entertainers, even to winning quiz show contestants. Savory was no doubt responsible for many of these air checks, and he acquired enough of a reputation to be hired away by G. Robert Vincent, who had apprenticed at the Edison Labs in New Jersey, and opened his own recording studio in 1935, the “National Vocarium” in the penthouse at Radio City. Savory worked with Vincent on a system to electronically reproduce the Edison wax cylinders and the two of them made many spoken word recordings in Vincent’s studio as well as on location. Vincent recalled Savory climbing up a phone pole in the chilly New Jersey countryside while Vincent ran the equipment to record Goodman remotes by tapping the phone wires. The two had a somewhat contentious relationship, but Vincent considered Savory a genius.

In 1940, Columbia Broadcasting System hired Savory to help operate and maintain its new recording facility in Chicago. Savory joined the United States Navy and left Columbia in 1942 for active duty during World War II, including work at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., where he worked in the centimeter wave research division.

After a year in Washington, Savory returned to New York and Columbia Records, this time as a member of the team led by Columbia Records engineer William Bachman that succeeded in bringing the first 33 1/3 LP record albums to market in 1948. Savory made some of the first transfers from disk to tape to LP master. Among these were the on-site recordings of the historic Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall concert of 1938, and a Tchaikovsky violin concerto which won Savory a dollar when he bet the violinist, Isaac Stern, that he could make an undetectable splice during a long trill. “I bet him a dollar he’d never find where the splice was made, and he didn’t,” Savory recalled. “So he paid me a dollar.” Savory also worked as fill-in recordist and engineering trouble-shooter for location dates. Involved in the early stages of setting up Columbia’s legendary 30th Street Studio in a former church, Savory worked with Mr. Bachman to help bring the acoustics of the enormous room “into focus” as he put it, part of which included designing special baffles, in particular a set of unique eight-foot parabolic reflector panels on wheels used by singer Johnnie Ray among others.

He left Columbia in 1953 to become Chief Engineer of Angel Records/EMI, and represented EMI on the first engineering staff of the newly formed R.I.A.A. to establish a standard recording curve. After EMI purchased Capitol Records, Savory was transferred to the West Coast in 1957 where he became Senior Engineer in Ed Uecke’s Engineering Development Department, and built a stereo mixing room in the new Capitol Tower studios. In 1960, Savory left Capitol and was soon called back to active duty during the Berlin Call-Up. When he returned to the U.S., Savory joined with former NRL colleagues to form General Electronic Labs, and did consulting work on the Mattel “Talking Doll.” He was then hired by TRW and sent to Washington, D.C., where he settled in Falls Church, Virginia. In 1976 he retired from the Naval Reserve at the rank of Commander. Throughout his life, Bill Savory pursued what he called a “self-education regimen,” studying electrical engineering, physics, mathematics and related disciplines at different times at Harvard, University of Chicago, Catholic University and Columbia University. He was a Charter Member of the AES, the Sapphire Club, the IEEE, and the AIP. At the 87th AES Convention in October 1989, Savory received a fellowship “for technical expertise in the field of recording art with particular emphasis on historically important recorded material (archival and restoration).” In 1980, Savory founded Lyricon Records and consulted on communications security systems at Tracor Applied Sciences, Inc., where he was senior scientist and director of the R&D Prototype Laboratory. After retiring in 1989 he devoted much of his time to the digital conversion of the many air-check recordings he had made during the 1930s and ‘40s from hotel broadcasts, concerts, and sponsored radio programs. He recorded via phone lines the historic May 29, 1938, jazz marathon at Randall’s Island Stadium, an all-day swing concert for the benefit of Local 802’s Hospital Fund. Savory also made many air-checks and phone-line recordings of Benny Goodman, some of which he played for Mr. Goodman during a recording session in 1950. Goodman was so pleased with what he heard that he asked for more, and the result was Columbia’s 1952 release of the “air checks” album, “1937-38 Jazz Concert No. 2” later re-released on CD as “On the Air (1937-1938)” (Columbia Legacy, 1993).

Susan Schmidt Horning
© Mosaic Records