Listen! What do you hear? Walking around the streets of a city, if you aren’t listening to music or talking on the phone, you can hear the city speak – snippets of conversations, traffic, planes, sirens – familiar sounds of work and play, or the “voice” of the city.
Tony Schwartz, born August 19, 1923, was many things – a brilliant creator of television and radio advertisements, a radio host and producer, a media consultant, an author and a sound designer. Among his best-known accomplishments was the preservation of sounds from his neighborhood in New York City that documented what he heard and people he met, whether they were taxi drivers, school children playing or the jarring noise of jack hammers drilling. Most of his life he suffered from agoraphobia, which kept him anchored to his home turf, but despite this handicap, he created thousands of radio spots, political ads and ads for social issues, such as anti-smoking campaigns.
Schwartz made commercial albums of his street recordings with Folkways and Columbia Records. His first two releases on Folkways were 1, 2, 3 and a Zing Zing Zing (Folkways FW07003, 1953) and New York 19 (Folkways FW 05558, 1954). Others released on Folkways included Nueva York: A Documentary of Puerto Rican New Yorkers (Folkways FW 05559, 1955), and An Actual Story in Sound of a Dog’s Life (Folkways FW05580, 1958). His album, The New York Taxi Driver, was released by Columbia Records (Columbia ML5309, 1959). It was also named to the National Recording Registry in 2003.
One of his best known and most remembered political campaign ads was the “Daisy ad” he made for Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 presidential campaign against Sen. Barry Goldwater. Airing only once, the ad portrays a young girl stripping petals one-by-one from a daisy, counting them. Her voice is overtaken by another voice, a count down for a nuclear test. The picture dissolves into an atomic blast. According to Schwartz’s 2008 obituary in the New York Times, the ad “was credited with contributing to Johnson’s landslide victory at the polls in November. It was also credited with heralding the arrival of ferociously negative political advertising in the United States.”
Before he died in 2008, the Library of Congress acquired the Tony Schwartz Collection which contains folk songs, poems, conversations, stories and dialects from his neighborhood, and his tape exchange program, which is a collection of over 30,000 songs that he exchanged with folklorists and collectors around the world. There are also recordings of his own radio program, which he produced for 27 years on New York City radio stations WBAI and WNYC; political campaign ads for radio and television; and recordings and videos of more than 15,000 radio and television ads for commercial products and services.
Listen to some of the recordings Schwartz made for his radio programs on stations WNYC and WBAI.
Sound Picture of New York is an undated montage of sounds from around New York City.
Columbus Day Parade is another montage of sounds from the 1963 Columbus Day Parade in New York City.
The Small Recorder is a collection of interviews from people on the street about the photographs they like to take.
How We Remember presents a montage of schoolchildren telling the same story in different ways.
Sounds from New York is one of the many “audio Christmas cards” presented to New York City radio listeners over the years. This 1962 program was probably his fullest sonic exploration of Christmastime in the city.
Several thousand sound recordings and hundreds of films and videocassettes from the Tony Schwartz Collection, most of them relating to topics documented in the paper and graphic materials, are being digitally preserved by the Library of Congress for future public access. These audio and moving image materials will be described in more detail in an upcoming version of the online finding aid. For details on recordings that are available for research purposes, contact the Recorded Sound Research Center.