Initially, it should be noted that this radio series has almost completely vanished from public awareness; you can Google “Top of the Pops Radio Series” all you want, and virtually nothing will come up – almost all references are to the BBC’s television show of the same name. The BBC’s multiple websites similarly ignore this important series almost completely — the only reference we could initially find, was a very brief mention in host Brian Matthew’s biography. There is a Danish website dedicated to the radio series, but all attempts to contact the principals behind it have been fruitless. Trust us, the series existed, and we really do have the documents and master tapes described below.
In 2011 we completed a catalog of the approximately 300 – 1/4″ reel-to-reel magnetic tapes for this series, which include both original BBC Transcription Service masters, and programs edited from them for the American market. Included are a large number of promos for individual American radio stations, recorded in London by Brian Matthew and infrequently, Don Moss. The full catalog runs to approximately 124 pages; the “Overview” below reflects what we believe to be the facts.
“This document catalogs an archive of unique audio tapes, produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Transcription Service (collectively, “BBC”) and Hartwest Productions, Inc. (“Hartwest”), an American radio producer and syndicator, for an export radio series called “Top of the Pops” (“TOP”).” An initial distribution agreement was amended to provide that TOP would be produced by the BBC “in association with, and distributed by” Hartwest; a number of historical documents in Hartwest’s files confirm that Hartwest was a co-producer of TOP. Although some of the early shows were recorded before a live concert audience, most of them were recorded in a BBC studio “live” in London; the artists were interviewed, generally by Brian Matthew, but occasionally by Don Moss; the BBC tapes were then flown to New York, where a Hartwest team edited them into 44.5 minute programs for the American market, rearranging the segments and adding station announcements which had been recorded in London.
“The BBC made transcription disc copies of most of the songs in the tapes – apparently without Hartwest’s knowledge or consent – which were frequently inserted into radio series for the U.K. market. Some of the disc versions have been released on CD; they do not include a number of songs which are in the tapes, which indicates that the disc versions are either incomplete, or have in some cases been unusable for modern reproduction. The tape versions, after their initial broadcasts in a few territories outside of the U.K. and Europe, have never been exploited.
“A direct comparison of the quality of the Hartwest tapes, to the transcription disc copies, requires a “flat” transfer of each, in the .aiff format. Until 2012, no such comparison had ever been made; however, in that year Hartwest was able to secure a technical comparison of a song from a BBC transcription disc, to the same song from the Hartwest tape, by a sound recording and restoration expert. In summary:
1. The EQ of the recordings [were compared to show] the difference in
EQ between the tape & discs versions using the tape as the
2. The above differences are depicted in a chart, showing variations of
approximately +3 to -6 of the disc relative to the tape benchmark.
3. “The tape version exhibited a slightly better high frequency
response. The disc has a minor roll off of high frequencies from
1K to about 12K.”
4. “To allow for audible comparison of the two sources the eq of the
disc was matched to the tape source. The disc copy had audible
clicks and pops, but suffers from no groove distortion and could be
cleaned up to master standard with no loss of quality. The tape
copy has none of the clicks and pops but does exhibit minor drop
outs, which could be minimized with professional transfer but would
be more time consuming to restore
5. “The disc has a slightly better signal to noise ratio whilst the tape
exhibits a small amount of compression….”
6. “The quality of the tapes and discs are almost comparable, but the
tapes would require more restoration than the discs to bring them
up to broadcast standard.”
“Hartwest was the production entity for the BBC’s programs of The Beatles 1965 New York/Toronto Tour; the archive includes approximately a half-hour of live recordings of the individual Beatles, Brian Epstein, and of a group appearing on tour with them. The poster from
their Shea Stadium concert is below; the interviews were backage at that concert. We are advised by a published Beatles expert that he had never heard these recordings. In addition, the TOP series includes approximately a half-hour of other interviews of The Beatles, and eleven live-performance songs by them, three of which were not included in the BBC-s 2-CD set of its Beatles recordings. We believe that there is enough Beatles material, for a new unique album release.
“This catalog lists approximately 180 artists, 1,200 songs, and 400 artist interviews. The page following this one, titled “TOP Artist List,” lists the artists who are represented in the Hartwest tape archive.
“The musicologists who compiled the catalog report that:
– Hartwest has the largest known high-quality archive of live 1964-1966 British pop recordings; the BBC has destroyed its tapes, and retains only “transcription disc” copies of many, but not all, of the songs in Hartwest’s archive.
– Although some of the songs have been released commercially as part of the “BBC SESSIONS” albums, using the transcription disc copies, most of the performances have never been commercially released; we do not know if the disc copies contain the interviews, or whether they have ever been released to the public other than the possible insertion of some of them in BBC radio programs such as Saturday Club.
– Both the sound quality and the performance quality of the Hartwest archive, is extremely high; the groups or singers generally had to perform four or five numbers, of which only one would be in the current charts; the others came from their existing club/concert repertoire, so that they had a great deal of performance history before performing live for the series.
– Some of the early sessions were, according to a manager of one of the best-known artists, taped before a live concert audience, complete with screaming teenage fans.
“We have determined that the American versions are good copyright under New York Copyright Law, which does not require any particular form of notice or registration to establish copyright; and that while audio recordings made before 1972, as these most assuredly were, cannot be registered for copyright with the Copyright Office, transcripts of such audio recordings can be registered, with the Copyright Office accepting CD copies in lieu of written transcripts, for registration purposes. Hartwest has registered nine of the American programs for “transcript registration” in the joint names of Hartwest and of the BBC, with the Copyright Office. The copyright registration applications specifically are not applicable to the music and performances; they are limited to the formats, the interviews, and the edited versions. The registrations can be confirmed at www.copyright.gov.”
The spectacular breadth of these historical programs, can be gleaned from the BBC-printed Hartwest sales brochure, obviously from the mid-point in the series, since there are so many more artists than those listed in the brochure. The brochure clearly indicates specifically that the series was produced by the BBC “In association with” Hartwest” and that in addition, Hartwest was the exclusive distributor of the series in the United States, its territories and possessions. A scan of the brochure, page by page, is in the “TOP Brochure” page immediately following this one.
TAPES VS. VINYL
Many people feel that a vinyl record, and hence the copies made by the BBC from the transcription disc masters, somehow sound “warmer” to the human ear. Our experts, and the technical analysis above, indicate that the discs simply hold less audio information than the tapes — the higher and lower ranges are missing from the discs, so that the mid-range does indeed sound “warmer” to the human ear. Some experts are adamant that the tapes sound far better than the discs; others feel that the discs sound about the same. It is beyond question that the mechanical-technology discs, have less audio information than the tapes they were made from; the full audio range of the recordings can only be obtained from the tapes. As nearly as we can determine, except for the U.S. broadcasts, made from tapes, not LPs, ALL of the broadcasts of either the series, or the individual songs that were inserted into various BBC programs, are of the lower-range discs. It seems a tragedy that the BBC does not want fans to hear the original songs as they were recorded. To see a full list of the artists whose performances are in the Hartwest tape archive, open the page tab which follows the brochure page, labeled “TOP Artist List.” To listen to some representative interviews and song excerpts, open the page tab following this one, labeled “TOP Audio Samples.” Remember, the audio samples are really “raw” — they come from a cassette tape made directly from the master tapes more than a decade ago, with no enhancement or digital restoration whatsoever. Nonetheless, they really sound spectacular!
We are optimistic that this will all be worked out one of these days, either by the BBC coming to its economic senses, or through litigation.