AES Section Meeting Reports

Pacific Northwest - September 27, 2017

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The PNW Section kicked off its 2017-18 season of activities with a presentation by PNW Chair Dan Mortensen on the history of famed Columbia Records' 30th street studio in NYC. 14 members and 10 guests attended the meeting held at DigiPen Institute of Technology in Redmond, WA.

Gathering the story of the studio and honoring its people and music has been a pet project of Dan's for some 9 years. He told of meeting the late Frank Laico when Frank retired to the Seattle area and started coming to PNW Section meetings. Frank, an Honorary Member of the AES, spent most of his career at the studio, recording some of the most famous musicians and music during a "golden age" of the recording industry, in one of its most renowned places. Realizing an incredible story here, Dan and Bob Smith eventually produced several PNW Section meetings featuring Laico and his career. This further inspired Dan to research the studio, its workers, clients and music, despite having never been in the now gone studio. He described research at Yale University, where the papers and large photo collection of Fred Plaut. the primary engineer at 30th St. for most of its existence, are held. Dan also did extensive research at the Sony/CBS archives in NY on studio and union logs and the NYC Building Dept. He created a non-profit group called "Friends of 30th Street" and met with many former workers at the studio, including the late CBS photographer Don Hunstein, and engineers Don Puluse, and Steve Epstein. The crowd-sourced wisdom of music experts on the Steve Hoffman Music forums has provided many obscure details.

Dan uncovered thousands of never published photos and documents and provided new graphics to tell the story of this studio. He has been able to determine that some of the commonly stated things about the studio are incorrect.

He separated this story into several different eras, starting with the original construction of a Presbyterian church in 1875. Others eras included ownership by WLIB radio, and eras under CBS ownership with several studio configurations. Many details about studio operations over the decades can be seen from the photos, including studio setups, microphones and tape machines, and of course, many famous people.

Finally, the studio was deemed obsolete and a neighborhood noise nuisance and sold, demolished, and condos built by 1985. It may be gone, but its spirit lives on.

Dan presented this talk as a trial run before giving it at the AES 143 International Convention in NYC October, 2017.

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AES - Audio Engineering Society