Reflections of Working With Singer Bing Crosby

An IEEE Life Member tells what it was like advancing recording technology with the star

1 November 2012

This month marks the 35th anniversary of Bing Crosby’s death. The American singer and actor became famous in the 1930s and went on to become one of the best-selling recording artists of all time. His most popular hit, “White Christmas” by Irving Berlin, first played on a Christmas Day radio broadcast in 1941 and remains one of the top-selling singles of all time.

But music wasn’t Crosby’s only passion. He was also interested in the recording technology behind it. Crosby was instrumental in advancing radio and television recording technologies throughout his career.

In the 1950s, Crosby began working with a former U.S. Army engineer, John “Jack” T. Mullin, who was experimenting with magnetic tape-based recording. Crosby had become interested in prerecording his radio shows (at the time all radio shows were live broadcasts) and wanted to know more about Mullin’s work. He hired Mullin as chief engineer for the R&D lab of his company, Bing Crosby Enterprises. Crosby, Mullin, and a small team of engineers that included IEEE Life Member Robert R. Phillips worked on developing a practical video recorder for TV shows. Crosby was interested in taping his TV shows as he had started doing with his radio broadcasts.  The R&D team also went on to develop such broadcasting advances as prerecorded laughter and applause.

Today, Phillips is the last living member of Crosby’s R&D team. And he has quite a story to tell. You can read his in-depth account of what it was like working with Mullin and Crosby on their recording breakthroughs in “First-Hand: Bing Crosby and the Recording Revolution” on the IEEE Global History Network.

The account starts with a story about his first days on the job.

“The job was to do electronic bench work for Jack Mullin because he had broken his arm,” Phillips writes. “It was to be for two weeks or until arm healed, but the two weeks turned into six years. The work involved building the first practical video recorder so that Bing Crosby could record his TV shows on magnetic tape just as he was doing with his radio programs…Jack Mullin became my mentor and took me under his wing.”

Check out the first-hand history to read the rest of the story.

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Photo: Keystone/Getty Images

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