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1923 - A Sneaky Concert with Cellist Pablo Casals

WHA Microphone

For some musicians, the growing popularity of radio had become a cause for concern. Some, including the manager of famous cellist Pablo Casals, regarded radio as a threat to his client’s livelihood. Casals’ manager had forbade the artist from broadcast performances.

In 1923, Casals was in Madison for a live classical music broadcast. WHA had cleared the broadcast with Casals’ student manager, had the equipment in place, and had promoted the concert on air. When Casals walked on stage, he spotted the WHA microphone, which had been concealed in a decorative palm, and said that he was not allowed to broadcast. The on-site student engineer communicated this to the transmitter operator, and they quickly agreed to call it not a “broadcast”, but simply a “test for experimental purposes.”

This fine point of semantics was communicated to Casals, and he agreed to proceed. The engineers then switched on the microphone and transmitter during the concert, and WHA’s audience heard much of Casals’ performance. Evidently, Casals suspected something was up–each time he reappeared on stage, he moved farther back from the microphone so that by the end of the broadcast, listeners could hear little else besides the piano accompaniment.

UW Madison Archives Images: S12785

Description: A view of a WHA microphone in front of the organ mural inside Radio Hall, Studio A.

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