Jerry Klatt was a pioneer in the field of live theme park audio recording, having made the earliest Walt Disney World cassette tapings of which I'm aware (he began in 1975). He didn't just record rides, as was the case with many others in the late 1970s, but also atmospheric background sounds such as those at the original Frontierland Shooting Gallery. And his ride recordings are in some cases the only documentation out there for early sounds like the original (1971-1975) Captain Nemo narration for 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea or the Liberty Square Riverboats back when the narration was given by cast members vs. pre-recorded. When I first started making my own park recordings in the early 1980s, I had no idea that anyone had done it before me. Learning about others was surprising and, in a way, comforting. Jerry first contacted me through Widen Your World and offered to send some of his early recordings for use on the site. Over time we became friends and have had many discussions about many things, but it wasn't until this year that I realized Jerry would be a great candidate for an interview. And since there haven't been any posted on the site until now, he's the first!
Omniluxe: When was your first trip to Walt Disney World?
Jerry Klatt: April, 1972 on my honeymoon. I was 28.
O: Had you ever been to Disneyland before that?
JK: No, but I followed the Disneyland TV shows in the late 50's, so I had a pretty good idea of what the park was like.
O: As a kid, were you insanely into Disney TV and movies or more of a “regular” fan?
JK: I'm leaning toward insane. My grandmother took me to see all the first run Disney classics in downtown Cleveland. I specifically remember seeing Peter Pan at the Palace Theater and was blown away. I had a great Disney comic book collection with Uncle Scrooge being my favorite. (Unfortunately, my mother gave it away while I was in the service). I never missed Disneyland on TV and was caught up with the Davy Crockett craze with Mike Fink my hero. Walt Disney gave me a wonderful childhood for which I am forever thankful.
O: That’s completely relatable in many ways. So was WDW your first and only choice for your honeymoon?
JK: Don't tell my wife, but a visit to the newly opened WDW was in the back of my mind when I "suggested" Florida. So not to overplay my hand, we stayed in Tampa. After visiting many Florida attractions including world's largest gift shop at Sunken Gardens, it was the perfect time to checkout Orlando. My devious plan worked and we visited WDW for the first time on April 12, 1972.
O: Well played. What’s your very first memory of being on WDW property?
JK: I looked across the Seven Seas Lagoon at the Magic Kingdom for the first time as we waited for the ferry. Like a child, I had a feeling of anticipation and excitement. The very same feeling when I visited the World's Fair in 1965. Too bad such feelings are so rare as we grow older.
O: I was only three then, but looking at 1972 WDW photos the entire place seemed to gleam with sparkling white concrete and crisp glossy paint finishes. Did it seem completely fresh and amazing to you?
JK: I totally agree. The cleanliness and attention to every little detail was amazing. The brass was being constantly polished, windows cleaned and streets swept. All the flowers looked like they were just planted and everything worked. No "out of order" signs. The background music set the mood and everything seemed to gel together. I guess it's called continuity. The results of great planning. One thing that really stood out was the attitude of the cast members. They seemed as excited to work for Disney as I was as a guest. I watched a supervisor, in a suit and tie, spot a spilled ice cream on Main Street and he cleaned it up himself. It was only natural for this attitude to diminish a little over time, but not noticeably for the first ten years.
JK: This is a rather weird story. In 1973, I watched a man who appeared to be filming Main Street from in front of the flag pole. He had what must have been an early portable video recorder.The recorder was a large unit that was hung from a shoulder strap and a separate video camera held on top of his shoulder. Then from nowhere, a security person appeared and ordered him to stop recording and remove his equipment from the park. I concluded at the time that recording was forbidden at WDW! This presented a challenge. I didn't have video equipment, but I could get a small cassette recorder that could be concealed and do some clandestine recording. It's always more fun to beat the system. I purchased a Panasonic RG212DS and was ready for my next trip in Feb. 1975. Many of the records sold at the park were actually music and attractions from Disneyland, so this was the only way I could take home audio from WDW. Looking back, I believe Disney considered early video recording as being done for commercial reasons and personal recording wasn't really prohibited. Just a guess. I continued to record every year until the Epcot era.
O: Long live the rebellion! Your reasons are so in sync with my personal experiences, it’s inspiring. I feel like the value of the live audio is sometimes lost on audiophiles who can’t endure the noise which, to some extent, is understandable. But no source recording can give you the context of the in-park experience. Sometime the reverb alone can completely change the sound of a track. Did you ever make a recording that you couldn’t enjoy listening to after the fact?
JK: That's a great question. Your observations are right on the mark. One thing missing from source audio is audience reaction. Some examples are the Circle-Vision shows. Listen to the audience react as the camera banks through canyons or we hear the Vienna Choir Boys or hear cars speeding around Paris. The audience is an important part of the experience. I must admit that coughing, babies crying and talking would drive me crazy and I would try get as pristine a recording as I could, I then realized that recording the total environment, with all its imperfections, was a good thing. Some recordings were harder than others. Space Mountain was a challenge, especially the Home of Future Living. Kids would be constantly running down the speed ramp on their way to the exit and completely ignore the future. After many takes, I would just give up. Some rides were just plain noisy as was Mister Toad. It sounds like total bedlam, but Toad wouldn't have it any other way. Carousel of Progress was another show that required many takes. People came in just to get out of the heat and totally ignored the show while loudly talking throughout the show. Outdoor musical performances were the most fun and always came out fine. Sometime the unexpected happened. I was recording the live narration (not the canned recording) on the Riverboat. I was on the top deck and away from the crowd. I could clearly hear the Captain and also the rhythm of the steam engine. I didn't realize I was standing next to the steam stack and it let loose to relieve the pressure. It lasted about 30 seconds and scared the daylights out of me! I thought the recording was ruined, but it turned out to be my favorite. So to answer your question, while some recordings are better than others, I like them all.
O: Incidental sounds can definitely make or break the recording. I could get 30 minutes into a background music recording and then I’d sneeze or a cast member would come up and start a conversation with me. On the other hand if you did an area recording and caught the sound of the steam train or riverboat whistle in the background, then THAT’S the true sound of the park. You made the same types of non-ride recordings, such as outside the EPCOT Center Preview Center where there were unique versions of the main EC pavilion themes. What was the longest recording you made?
JK: I was limited to 30 minutes per side of the cassette tapes. Fortunately, most shows and performances were shorter than 30 minutes. I recorded the Preview Center music from a ceiling speaker in the covered walkway to the right of the Preview Center (aka Walt Disney Story). I taped for about 20 minutes when the tape ran out, so I flipped the cassette and recorded for another 15 minutes. The longest recordings that took both sides of the tape were America on Parade (1975) and 10th Anniversary Parade (1981). Finding speakers in quiet areas was the best place to record. I taped Alpine music from a speaker hidden in the stairway to the Fantasyland Skyway Station and Caribbean area music in the men's room next to the Caribbean Arcade (that was awkward!) Other recordings that ran over 30 minutes were Michael Iceberg at the Tomorrowland Terrace and The Sandy Valley Boys in Frontierland.
JK: To paraphrase Frank Sinatra, I have very few regrets when it comes to WDW. As a guest, I was able to see and do just about everything. As far as recordings go, I wish I would have taped Flight to the Moon and Mike Fink's Keel Boats. I started recording in early 1975, so Flight to the Moon may have already been closed. The Keel Boats gave fun spiels just like Jungle Cruise and that would be great to hear again. My main regret was using that terrible Kodak 110 Instamatic camera. George Eastman really let me down. If I had a better camera and a redo, we would have a ton of photos of The Safari Club and Westward Ho!
O: Ugh, the dreaded 110. It was like the Gremlin of cameras. So in the midst of all the recordings you made, did WDW Security or any other cast members ever approach you?
JK: I always assumed, correctly or not, that recording was forbidden, so I tried to conceal my activity. Outdoor recording wasn't a problem, but with indoor shows, I was often given the hairy eyeball by cast members when I had to expose the recorder to get the best position. I really don't think they cared and they had enough problems with flash photography. I was never approached by security, but I was always careful not to attract their attention or suspect my evil deeds.
JK: My last audio recordings were March, 1982. Then, as the saying goes, life happens. Our first son Danny was born in August, 1982 and as all new parents know, everything changes. One thing I didn't want to change was my addiction to WDW, so I selfishly talked my wife into flying to Florida, with a 8 month old baby, in May, 1983. It was a total disaster! The sun, heat and sunscreen were disagreeable to Dan and he and my wife spent most of their time in the trailer at Fort Wilderness. I however, not wanting to waste our vacation, volunteered to checkout Epcot Center and selfishly had a great time. My wife wasn't about to let this mistake be repeated and we didn't return to WDW until 1989. In my absence, many people, like Omniluxe, made great audio and video recordings and did a far better job, so it was a good time to retire the old cassette recorder.
O: Not a better job, but I do like the fact that I made my first WDW audio recordings in 1981, just overlapping with you by a matter of months. I stopped in 1996 and guess who was just getting started? Foxxy. So we’ve got a great, long record here. And it has been a privilege to share your recordings with so many people over the past ten years. Thank you for making them and allowing all of us to hear those rare sounds that in many cases would have otherwise gone unheard.
JK: Thank you for the opportunity. It was fun to jog loose some great memories. I hadn't returned to Disney since 2001, but in 2013 my son Andrew treated his parents to his timeshare at the Wilderness Lodge. I had to promise my family I wouldn't continually bitch about all the changes and just have fun. I was keeping my promise until I visited the Contemporary. I loved to sit at the far end of the concourse and look across at Mary Blair's magnificent tile masterpiece. In the evening, when the hotel was quiet, you could hear dishes clinking from the restaurant side and the monorail silently glide through --almost a religious experience. It was hard to comprehend why anyone would destroy this beautiful wide open space with a gift shop. It took several Monorail Yellows to recover and I was eventually forgiven.
OMNILUXE ORIGINAL TEXT AND IMAGES COPYRIGHT 2017 MIKE LEE