The MP3 above was produced on the 3rd July 2016 from the aluminium EKCO disc entitled "King on Xmas 1937" dated 25th December 1937 (see photo). This disc is a remarkable original recording of King George VIs first christmas radio broadcast to the Empire. There was no christmas broadcast the following year so this was his last christmas message before Britain declared war on Germany in 1939. It was also one of the final records my grandfather F.O.Brown made due to the wartime need for aluminium in aircraft.
As the King spoke at 3pm from Sandringham in Norfolk his words were broadcast live by radio and almost instantly recorded by my grandfather onto the metal disc using his garden antenna, hand-built radiogram and EKCO "radiocorder" (see link below) at his home in Greenbank in Edinburgh
He also recorded the preceding BBC announcement transmitted from Broadcasting House, London featuring the three afternoon chimes of Big Ben and an orchestral rendition of the national anthem. No other recording of that BBC announcement may exist. No other original recording of the speech may exist. No one alive today heard it until July 2016.
The disc is 78rpm allowing a few minutes of play each side. About 30s of the message was lost while my grandfather switched the sides. The final 30s was also lost as the second side ran out. Those missing parts can be heard on the British Sound Library website below (after about 30s and again after about 3mins 40s). The first missing 30s cover a reference to his father King George V and the final 30s cover the King's general wishes of wellbeing.
The British Sound Library recording is from a record produced by His Master's Voice. This was one of many 78rpm shellac records pressed from an original metal "master", itself taken from an original wax "mother" unlikely to still exist. The shellac record is less noisy but it misses the BBC broadcast announcement. My grandfather's EKCO disc is quite different. It is noisier but its modulations represent a direct imprint of King George VIs voice in a way that no pressed record can emulate.
The MP3 recording has not been edited other than to "join" the two sides of the disc. It is noisy and has an honest unpolished power. It is striking in its gravitas and solemnity. The anthem is slow and melancholic. The King's intake of breath and his verbal struggle feels a heavy burden. His allusions to "emnity", "duty" and "fear" are foreboding.
Fittingly the MP3 production was also a struggle. During trials the tone arm skated continually and the record would not play for more than a few seconds. Skating is caused by frictional force pulling the arm inwards. My first approach was to try to reduce it by lowering the tracking force (weight) then compensate for the residual with anti-skating bias. But in the absence of weight the sound was poor and the stylus tended to jump. Furthermore the skating would just re-occur after about 30s.
The diagram below attempts to describe the physics. The equations seem easier than the words. In summary the skating "force" on the tone arm varies as it swings inward during play. This is partly because the friction reduces as the velocity of the needle in the groove reduces. But the situation is more complicated since the direction of the force acting on the arm changes as it moves. The net effect is a variable skating "force" which cannot be corrected using a fixed anti-skating bias. In short, if it is corrected somewhere on the record then it will just re-occur elsewhere.
Trials involving dynamic adjustment of the anti-skating bias seemed to allow extended play. It therefore seemed possible that a numerical model might allow adjustments to be optimised to avoid skating while allowing greater tracking force and improved sound. Thankfully while considering that prospect I chanced upon a can of WD40 in the kitchen. The sight broke any willpower I had not to meddle with the 80 year old metal surface. I grabbed the can, sprayed it liberally over the disc, wiped off the excess fluid with a soft cloth, put the disc back on the platter, popped the stylus on and waited. The rest turned out be history. WD40 may well be one of most commonly known fix-its. But its use in lubricating King George VI's voice seems so novel it is unlikely even his speech therapist would have thought of it.
Greenbank Records, Plymouth, England