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SOUNDIES
I just watched a screener of a wonderful special that aired on PBS in March, 2007. Soundies: A Musical History chronicles the first 'music videos,' if you will, filmed performances that were available for viewing (for a dime) on a 'Panoram' machine, a massive TV looking device found in nightclubs of the 1940s.

These historically important performances have all been preserved, thankfully, and this hour-long tribute gives us a sweet taste of Duke Ellington, Louis Jordan, Cab Calloway and many other immortals of the swing era.

The special jumps along at a nice pace, the clips are long enough that you can enjoy them and the commentaries by Hugh Hefner, Wynton Marsalis and Leonard Maltin (among others) are spot on. I really enjoyed this documentary, it will turn up during March pledge time like all the other best PBS specials, consult your locals. Don't miss this, Soundies: A Musical History is loads of fun; more than once my jaw dropped in amazement and joy. There will also be a DVD release, with an added bonus - host Michael Feinstein's favorite Soundies films in their entirety.

A few years after Soundies died out in the mid-1940s, the ball was picked up by Snader Telescriptions which made the same type of musical shorts (with some of the same staff) but this time for broadcast over the new medium of television. You can read about those films here on TVparty!

Kevin S. Butler has more on the Soundies and their unique place in TV history:

In 1952 WFIL (now WPVI) Channel 6, the Philadelphia, Pa. affiliate of the ABC network, acquired the TV rights to the Soundies and were planning to air them on a daily show.

The station execs at Channel 6 wanted a local radio DJ named Bob Horn to host the show but he hated the idea of emceeing a TV program that did little more than screen old musical films from another era. He felt that it would bore the hell out of his viewers and he tried to turn down the job. Station execs insisted.

Knowing that he needed some kind of extra segment to attract viewers, Horn suggested playing swing / jazz records and having kids from the neighborhood dance on the show. Since many jazz bands performed in Philly at the time, he also suggested booking popular groups as guests and having them perform their latest hits on the show. This way he could interview them afterwards.

Channel 6 agreed to this idea and American Bandstand was born. Eventually, the kids liked the live band performances with recorded music and dancing better than watching Soundies on the show. Screening of the Soundies was dropped as the show changed its format to accommodate rock and roll music.

Mr. Horn was ousted from the program in 1956 when Dick Clark took over as host both locally in Philly and in Los Angeles over ABC TV and in national syndication for the next 31 years.

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