Mister Rogers Demonstrates How to Cut a Record

When I was a lit­tle boy, I thought the great­est thing in the world would be to be able to make records. — Fred Rogers

By 1972, when the above episode of Mis­ter Rogers’ Neigh­bor­hood aired, host Fred Rogers had already cut four records, includ­ing the hit-filled A Place of Our Own.

But a child­like curios­i­ty com­pelled him to explore on cam­era how a vir­gin disc could become that most won­drous thing—a record.

So he bor­rowed a “spe­cial machine”—a Rek-O-Kut M12S over­head with an Audax mono head, for those keep­ing score at home—so he could show his friends, on cam­era, “how one makes records.”

This tech­nol­o­gy was already in decline, oust­ed by the vast­ly more portable home cas­sette recorder, but the record cut­ter held far more visu­al inter­est, yield­ing hair-like rem­nants that also became objects of fas­ci­na­tion to Mis­ter Rogers.

What we wouldn’t give to stum­ble across one of those machines and a stash of blank discs in a thrift store…

Wait, scratch that, imag­ine run­ning across the actu­al plat­ter Rogers cut that day!

Though we’d be remiss if we failed to men­tion that a mem­ber of The Secret Soci­ety of Lathe Trolls, a forum devot­ed to “record-cut­ting deviants, rene­gades, pro­fes­sion­als & exper­i­menters,” claims to have had an aunt who worked on the show, and accord­ing to her, the “repro­duc­tion” was faked in post.

(“It sound­ed like they record­ed the repro on like an old Stenorette rim dri­ve reel to reel or some­thing and then piped that back in,” anoth­er com­menter prompt­ly responds.)

The Trolls’ episode dis­cus­sion offers a lot of vin­tage audio nerd nit­ty grit­ty, as well as an inter­est­ing his­to­ry of the one-off self-recod­ed disc craze.

The mid-cen­tu­ry gen­er­al pub­lic could go to a coin-oper­at­ed portable sound booth to record a track or two. Spo­ken word mes­sages were pop­u­lar, though singers and bands also took the oppor­tu­ni­ty to lay down some grooves.

Radio sta­tions and record­ing stu­dios also kept machines sim­i­lar to the one Rogers is seen using. Sun Records’ sec­re­tary, Mar­i­on Keisker, oper­at­ed the cut­ting lathe the day an unknown named Elvis Pres­ley showed up to cut a lac­quered disc for a fee of $3.25.

The rest is his­to­ry.

More recent­ly, The ShinsThe Kills, and Sea­sick Steve, below, record­ed live direct-to-acetate records on a mod­i­fied 1953 Scul­ly Lathe at Nashville’s Third Man Records.

(Leg­end has it that James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s World” was cut on that same lathe… Cut a hit of your own dur­ing a tour of Third Man’s direct-to-acetate record­ing facil­i­ties.)

via @wfmu

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Old School Records Were Made, From Start to Fin­ish: A 1937 Video Fea­tur­ing Duke Elling­ton

Watch a Nee­dle Ride Through LP Record Grooves Under an Elec­tron Micro­scope

How Vinyl Records Are Made: A Primer from 1956

An Inter­ac­tive Map of Every Record Shop in the World

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inkyzine, cur­rent issue the just-released #60.  Join her in NYC on Mon­day, Sep­tem­ber 9 for anoth­er sea­son of her book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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