How Bing Crosby and the Nazis Helped to Create Silicon Valley

Bing Crosby

From The New Yorker:

The nineteen-forties Bing Crosby hit “White Christmas” is a key part of the national emotional regression that occurs every Christmas. Between Christmases, Crosby is most often remembered as a sometimes-brutal father, thanks to a memoir by his son Gary. Less remarked upon is Crosby’s role as a popularizer of jazz, first with Paul Whiteman’s orchestra, and later as a collaborator with, disciple to, and champion of Louis Armstrong. Hardly remarked upon at all is that Crosby, by accident, is a grandfather to the computer hard drive and an angel investor in one of the firms that created Silicon Valley.

Fast-forward into the mid-nineteen-forties. The Second World War had just ended. Americans were picking over the technological remains of German industry. One of the things they discovered was magnetic tape; the Nazis had been using tape recording to broadcast propaganda across time zones. It was a remarkable invention. Previous sound-recording technologies had used wax cylinders or discs, or delicate wires. But magnetic tape was remarkably fungible: it could be recorded over, cut and spliced together. Plus it sounded better.

Radio shows, however, were supposed to be live. Radio inherited its forms from vaudeville, from variety shows, and it was assumed that the artifice of pre-recording would diminish the audience’s connection, at great risk to the sponsors. Crosby-a master of artifice-didn’t buy that, according to “Bing Crosby: Crooner of the Century,” by Richard Grudens. In 1946 he used his industry power-by then he was on top, one of the world’s richest, most famous and intensely beloved celebrities-to step away from live broadcast by choosing a sponsor and network that would let him use large, wax discs. “Philco Radio Hour” d’ebuted in 1946 on ABC, at thirty-thousand dollars a week. Bob Hope was his first guest.

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