A Talk By Bill
The First Ever Recorded Talk
From the October 1951 Grapevine:
“On Wednesday April 9, 1947, Bill came to Los Angeles and gave a talk at a big open meeting. After the meeting, a member from Los Angeles, who was in the recording business, suggested to Bill he should record his talks. This member offered to provide Bill and AA his recording services, for a small fee of course. That weekend, Bill shortened his talk and he made a wire recording. This recording was pressed into a 16 inch record. Bill took the recording back to New York and found a record company there that would press records as needed. The member in Los Angeles wanted to press a couple hundred records at one time, but Bill thought this would put an unnecessary financial burden on the New York Office. Besides, he didn’t think they would sell that many records.
Bill found a company in New York, without ties to AA, called Rockhill Radio, that was willing to press one record at a time, or as many at one time as needed. This way the New York office would not have to fork out a lot of money all at once or keep track of any inventory. Bill even negotiated a deal where the New York office would take all the orders and handle the money from sales, and this reduced the selling price of the records even more.
We do not know the member’s name from Los Angeles or the company he worked for. However, in the AA Archives’ files in New York, there is yellowed business card from Specialty Records, 2719 W 7th Street Los Angeles, with the name “Art” handwritten on the back. After some searching, it can be found that Art Rupe started Specialty Records in 1946. It is not clear if Art was the member that made the suggestion, or if he was just someone the member put Bill in touch with.
In a letter to the group secretaries from the New York office dated May 6, 1947 it offers these records for sale for $3.30 including shipping. Not everyone had a phonograph that could play 16 inch records, so the talk was made on two12 inch records, having a playing time of 15 minutes (15 minutes is a very short talk for Bill). In this letter, it states that Bill was very reluctant to make any kind of records, but finally gave in.
Order information first appeared in the June 1947 Grapevine. A few years later, the following message was printed in the October 1951 Grapevine: “An earlier recording known simply as ‘A Talk by Bill’ has become a “collector’s item.” It is no longer possible to make copies from the master record, and the existing supply has been exhausted.” And according to the A.A. Bulletin #9 dated September 1951, “The recording, ‘A Talk by Bill,’ is no longer available, due to failure of the master record.”