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Cudmore: Christmas with the Recordio

Cudmore: Christmas with the Recordio

Recording on discs was a lot of fun
Cudmore: Christmas with the Recordio
Photographer: Via icollector.com

When I was young in the late 1940s and 1950s, my family went to a candlelight service each Christmas Eve at the former First Methodist Church on Division Street in Amsterdam, a large and stately building torn down for urban renewal in 1973. 

It impressed me that the choir managed to march in, simultaneously holding hymnbooks and lighted candles while singing.  No one ever tripped, which could have started a fire.

My sister, my only sibling, was often in the choir and my family sang a lot at home.  My father and mother, Clarence and Julia Cook Cudmore, had sung in community shows in Amsterdam when they were younger and my older sister Arlene became a music teacher in Herkimer. 

At Christmas (and other times) we used a machine called the Recordio to make 78 rpm records for our own amusement and to send to my Aunt Winifred and Uncle Albert Gulloni who, with Albert’s daughter Sylvia, had moved to Inverness, Florida after World War II.

First sold in 1939 in variously priced models, the Wilcox-Gay Recordio enabled consumers to make their own 78 rpm records using a microphone, or recording audio from an embedded AM radio.

My uncle had operated a radio and television repair shop in Scotia and moved south to advance his career in retail.  My hunch is my parents got a deal on the Recordio from Uncle Al.  It might have been a gift.

There is a fair amount of information online about the Wilcox-Gay Recordio, manufactured in Charlotte, Michigan.  Youtube has examples of recordings made on this system, which one online audiophile described as “decent.”  It’s reported online that Johnny Cash and Les Paul used these player-recorders at some point in their careers. 

Wilcox-Gay sold Recordio Discs or blank records in two sizes.  You also could play commercially produced 78 rpm records on the machine’s turntable.  Unlike later cassette tapes, you couldn’t record over a Recordio Disc once you created it.

That was a problem in our case in that as a very young child I was a show off, fond of off-color words.  My father would say, “Bob, say Merry Christmas to Aunt Winnie and Uncle Al.”  I would sometimes respond by saying, “Poop!” 

In my defense I knew this would get a laugh from my aunts and sister, if not from my mother and father.  We no doubt mailed the mildly off-color Recordio Disc to Florida anyway, where my potty mouth likely got a few more chuckles.

One family picture shows my father holding a vase of flowers, standing and singing into the Recordio microphone on a floor stand in our living room on Pulaski Street. 

The Recordio itself is on a coffee table to his right but the recording arm does not look like it is on the turntable.  Maybe he is practicing.

The picture was taken in 1947 or so as I am a toddler on the floor playing with my aunt, my father’s youngest sibling, Vera Cudmore.  My sister, the real singer in the family, may have taken the picture.

My mother and my father’s oldest sister, Gladys Morrell, are sitting on a couch smiling, enjoying whatever father is doing.

The photo was taken before we had a television set and a large handsome console radio, separate from the Recordio, has a place of honor along the living room wall.

The Recordio made the move when our family relocated up the hill to Amsterdam’s Peter Lane in 1957, a few years before Wilcox-Gay went out of business.  At some point, unfortunately, our machine was discarded along with our Recordio discs.

Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or [email protected].

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