Recordings of bygone era thrill collector....
Henry Hinkel describes it as a "fun hobby."
He asks what other hobby would allow him to laugh at jokes of top comedians such as Jack Benny, Burns and Allen and Jimmy Durante; thrill to classic shows like Suspense and Gunsmoke; and listen and dance to the big band sounds of Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Les Brown?
Hinkel is a collector of old time radio and big band recordings - a collection that fills a large room in his Florida Avenue home and has spilled over into the cellar. A collection that would leave many radio stations drooling.
"You name the big band and I have it somewhere," says Hinkel, who has his vast collection of records and tapes on index cards and hopes to put it all on a computer. When he says big bands, Hinkel includes unfamiliar names like Andy Kirk, Johnny Hodges, Claude Hopkins and even Boots and his Buddies.
At last count he had some 795 bands - big and small, American and foreign - many of them dating to the big band days before and after World War II.
"I guess like most people I got interested in music while in high school and have been collecting the bands and singers ever since." the collection of old-time radio shows started later, about 20 years ago.
Despite the jam-packed appearance of his record room, Hinkel can sit in the middle, behind turntables and tape decks, and pinpoint the location of some 4,000 tapes of old radio shows; hundreds of imported Cds off lesser known artists; rack after rack of Lps of old but still-popular bands and singers; and shelves of cassettes, 45s and 78s.
"I like all kinds of music. I startd to collect it about 40 years ago and it just grew and grew. It kind of snowballed."
Hinkel doesn't go out in the field searching for records but "keeps an eye out." If he sees or hears something interesting, he buys it.
Hinkel, a retired state capital police officer, confesses he plays no instrument and in no way is a musician. "I hear people talking about this refrain or that refrain. I don't know what they're talking about. I just like to listen to music."
For a while, Hinkel was guesting on a weekly radio show with D.J. Bobby O'Brien on radio station WCSS. It gave him a chance to air some of the lesser-known artists together with clips from old radio shows. Hinkel made it a practice to dig deep into his collection to come up with a unique musical treat each week.
Admitting he would enjoy doing a similar radio show again, Hinkel said "I can do a two-hour show, Monday through Friday, for one year and not play the same song by the same artist twice. That's a full year of every record being different."
Glenn Miller is his personal favorite, but Hinkel is content listening to some of the lesser-known bands. One rainy afternoon he sat back, relaxed and listened to the sounds of Shep Fields, Ted Fiorito, Horace Heidt and the Casa Loma band. For good measure he reads album liners and trade magazines to learn about the various artists.
"I'd like to see the big bands come back but they never will. It's an era that's gone."
He explains the big bands now touring the country are ghost bands. The names are the same -- Miller, Dorsey and Les Brown -- but the leaders and musicians are new. He emphasizes they are top musicians making good music, but just not the real thing.
He has a collector's dream in his vast collection of Armed Forces Radio shows -- shows that were popular with Gis world wide. The titles include Command Performance, Jubilee, Mail Call, GI Journal and One Night Stand. Commercials were cut out of the shows that feature bands and vocalists performing at hotels and nightclubs around the country.
"The music was played live, good or bad, corny or great, just as the band leader decided to play it, bad notes and all," he said.
Hinkel doesn't go too much for newer records, citing the absence of big bands. There are several up-and-coming bands on the West Coast, according to Hinkel, who noted there are a number of territory bands - that is, groups that limit their appearances to one specific section of the country.
His collection includes a generous number of small groups. Hinkel says a record company initially considered them good enough to cut records but the groups just vanished. In some cases it probably was a lack of income that meant no pay for musicians, so the group broke up.
One of Hinkel's annual highlights is attendance at the annual Old Time Radio collectors convention held each October at Newark, N.J. Collectors from all over the world attend to buy and sell records and tapes, and just talk. Old time personalities turn out every year, according to Hinkel, who mentioned people like Gail Storm, Carmel Quinn of Arthur Godfrey fame, sports announcer Wynn Elliott and the voice of the Great Gildersleeve.
"Half the fun is finding the old stuff," according to Hinkel, who relies on his up-to-date index cards and hand-written logs to keep track of his every-growing collection.
He doesn't know what records or tapes he owns are the most valuable or the overall worth of his collection. He's content to just sit back and listen.
"The music was great, the comedy was great and the mysteries were great. How can anyone compare today's TV against old-time radio? They can't.... we know that.... that's why we are old-time radio collectors. Anytime we choose we can laugh, we can cry, we can be thrilled or chilled, or just hear some old melody being played. It's a fun hobby."
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