Arthur B. Lintgen: Groove Reader

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Back in the day before CDs, you either spun vinyl or tape, reel to reel or cassette. When KCRW’s studio was in the old John Adams Middle School classroom, the only bathrooms were outside. If you had to use the restroom, you’d have to know how much time you had left on an LP and factor in wait time if somebody else was using the bathroom. Dead air is anathema in radio…the “fsst, fsst” sound of the needle at the end of an LP is bad. “Tracking vinyl”, which is playing cut after cut from the same LP, is also unacceptable. Maybe for a classical programmer playing a symphony this wouldn’t be a problem, but that wasn’t the case with me. This was all before we DJs used CDs or computers; now all you have to do is set the CD setting to “time remaining” and bingo! you’re done.

And so I learned how to read the grooves on LPs to know how much time I had. Tight grooves meant complex or loud passages, or music with a lot of treble in it. Larger grooves meant more bass but less time; 12″ grooves were spaced very wide so you’d better stay put and make your bladder wait.

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But Dr. Arthur Lintgen–who still practices geriatric medicine in Pennsylvania–went one step further. Back before we had Shazam on our smart phones to help us identify or just plain remember the music, here was a guy who by looking at the grooves of a vinyl LP, could tell the composer, work, and timing: by just looking at the grooves of the record. Often, he could tell the record label and conductor. He was blindfold tested many times, even by members of the Pittsburgh and Chicago Symphony Orchestras. They’d cover up the label info and Lintgen got it right every time. He specialized in classical orchestral music of Beethoven and post-Beethoven works. One time, being shown a recording of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, he was able to identify the record without even a glance. On the other hand, he could not “read” or identify an Alice Cooper record: for him the grooves denoted incoherent gibberish.

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