CAPTAIN BOB BLECKE, ED. PFC REID SMILEY PALMER | 1 MARCH 2021
Music can transport people to different times and places. At living history events, period music is a popular way to bring people back in time and create an atmosphere. The 1940’s was the heyday of radio. Much like Netflix and Hulu today, music and radio programs were the way of escaping the day to day, keeping up with news of the world, and participating in the common culture of the times. For people far from home, it was a way to take you back, even briefly. In some places, radio was rebellion – listening to banned music or broadcasts could bring prosecution; using it to communicate with the opposition could result in death.
Recreating the Sounds of the 1940s
So you’d like to add some period sounds to your display/encampment/show. Where should you start? Fortunately, you have many options available for getting that wartime sound.
Streaming music or 1940s radio programs
- Low effort, do not need to adjust or manage during events
- Modern advertisements
- Limited playlist, meaning you might hear the same song a 5+ times in a weekend
- Limited control over what songs/programs are played
Where to find:
- Pandora (Note: uses an AI to learn what you like and don’t want to hear again. Era music collection limited, so you will hear repeats, as well as modern ads if you don’t pay for Premium).
- Spotify (similar limitations to Pandora)
Download to a device (MP3 player, etc.)
This is my preferred method, as I own the media, curate the list, and there are no ads unless I include them.
- You curate your own list; make it as long as you can afford (no repeats)
- Cost to acquire
- Time to manage
Where to find:
- EarthStation1 – a wide variety of programming, music, radio shows, armed forces radio broadcasts, documentaries from all eras. You’ll need to do a bit of searching, but you can easily “buy in bulk” and get many tracks not commonly heard. Sound quality varies with the original recording, you may find some you’ll not want in your playlist. https://store.earthstation1.com/nsearch.html?#search/q=wwii%20music&sortby=rel&main_category=&page=1&size=15&storeid=yhst-139006637060364/1
- Old Time Radio Catalog – a wide variety of programming, music, radio shows, armed forces radio broadcasts, documentaries. Also a good value for bulking up your collection. https://www.otrcat.com/
- Any common mass market online music vendor will have specific popular artists (e.g., Amazon, iTunes) at full retail.
Period Record Player
- Nothing more authentic in camp
- Acquiring and restoring player (cost)
- Acquiring records (cost)
- Changing disks after each song or two, which can interrupt presentations
Where to Find
- Flea market
- Militaria shows
- Private collectors
Options for Broadcasting
iPod, MP3 player, Smartphone
Either streaming or download, these are easily concealable and when paired with a decent Bluetooth or wired accessory speaker can provide better-than period-sound. You can conceal this under a blanket, towel, or other fabric cover with little sound reduction. It is more plausible, of course, if your sound is coming from a radio
Conceal in a Period Radio
Here’s one of mine:
Have a legit period, working radio? Why not push your iPod output through an actual low power AM transmitter? Nothing more convincing than turning on that Philco, or GI Morale Radio, waiting for the 60hz hum to die out and the tubes to warm up, and hearing that vintage sound come out of the speakers (and potentially the speakers of any other radio in range). Why not create an event radio station?
You can get a plans here: https://antiqueradio.org/transmitter.htm
Or a complete kit here: [ DIY ] 655kHz/1310kHz AM Transmitter PCB Parts Set
Not all 40’s music is appropriate for wartime use. The war in Europe was over by May 1945, and in the Pacific by August. Anything recorded after that is 40’s but not wartime. Also consider your audience – there are some popular tunes of the day that would not be suitable for younger or more sensitive listeners of today. Choose, but choose wisely.
I hope this helps get you all started. Happy hunting, and enjoy those tunes!