kottke.org posts about Bing Crosby

How Bing Crosby invented Silicon Valley, basically

posted by Jason Kottke   May 13, 2013

The headline (How Bing Crosby and the Nazis Helped to Create Silicon Valley) glistens with Mashable-grade hyperbole, but watch as Paul Ford deftly and convincingly connects crooner Bing Crosby with a Nazi invention that helped power the invention of Silicon Valley.

Fast-forward into the mid-nineteen-forties. The Second World War had just ended. Americans were picking over the technological remains of German industry. One of the things they discovered was magnetic tape; the Nazis had been using tape recording to broadcast propaganda across time zones. It was a remarkable invention. Previous sound-recording technologies had used wax cylinders or discs, or delicate wires. But magnetic tape was remarkably fungible: it could be recorded over, cut and spliced together. Plus it sounded better.

Radio shows, however, were supposed to be live. Radio inherited its forms from vaudeville, from variety shows, and it was assumed that the artifice of pre-recording would diminish the audience's connection, at great risk to the sponsors. Crosby-a master of artifice-didn't buy that, according to "Bing Crosby: Crooner of the Century," by Richard Grudens. In 1946 he used his industry power-by then he was on top, one of the world's richest, most famous and intensely beloved celebrities-to step away from live broadcast by choosing a sponsor and network that would let him use large, wax discs. "Philco Radio Hour" d'ebuted in 1946 on ABC, at thirty-thousand dollars a week. Bob Hope was his first guest.