The Slingerland Broadcaster
By Mark Cooper
American’s love affair with the radio was in full bloom in 1935 when Benny Goodman’s hot new swing rhythms were first broadcast over the air waves. In that same year, the Slingerland Banjo and Drum Company launched their newly designed snare drum, aptly named, “The Broadcaster”. Designed with the swing drummer in mind, the Slingerland Broadcaster snare drum was a sturdy and powerful instrument with a brand new look. Gone were the old fashioned, tubular tension casings of the previous decade. A new “modernistic” streamlined tension casing or “lug” was introduced, giving the Broadcaster a very strong and distinctive appearance. The addition of a special extended snare system and massive double flanged “stick chopper” brass hoops made the Broadcaster a true heavyweight contender in a very competitive drum market.
The Broadcaster was built around a thick one piece, solid maple shell which gave the drum its unique sound. A solid brass shell version was also available. The drum was offered in both 5x14 and 7x14 sizes and could be had in a variety of dazzling sparkle, pearl, and lacquer finishes. The drummer of 1935 could choose from many exciting and colorful pearl finishes such as Sea Green, Peacock, and Abalone, as well as the more standard Black Diamond and White Marine pearl. Sparkling finishes were also available in green, red, silver and gold. For even more flash, multi-colored sparkling diamonds could be applied over any finish. This was known as the “Full Dress” option. A distinctive cloud-shaped brass badge adorned every drum, proclaiming them to be “Slingerland Quality Drums - Chicago, Illinois”.
Sparkling Green Pearl Broadcaster
Early Broadcaster snare drums utilized a rather primitive method for attaching the snares to the “butt” side of the drum. A single “eyelet” held the snare cord in place. This was soon replaced with a more standard butt side assembly. Special extended twelve strand snare wires covered the entire diameter of the bottom drum head, providing plenty of sensitivity for softer playing. The dual snare extension brackets had two small wheels or levelers in place that when turned, would raise or lower the height of the snare wires for added adjustability. Controlling all of the snare action was Slingerland’s “Speedy” snare strainer, which had been in use since 1928. A newly designed internal muffling device known as the “Harold R. Todd” tone control was installed on every drum, allowing the drummer to finely tune the amount of overtones and volume.
Slingerland’s Broadcaster snare drum was also a powerful percussive weapon, capable of chopping through the biggest and loudest swing band. The drum would absolutely explode with power when a drummer laid into it with a heavy back beat or rim shot. The steam-bent, solid maple shell produced quite a musical tone as well, with substantial mid-range sound, gutsy snare sound and plenty of volume. The tall stick chopper hoops enabled the drummer to achieve a vicious sounding rim shot with ease.
White Marine Pearl Broadcaster
The Slingerland Drum Company published their full color product catalogs every few years but the Broadcaster never appeared in any of them. The last Slingerland catalog had been the 1934 volume and the next one was not scheduled until 1936. Unfortunately, the drum would be discontinued before the 1936 catalog was published. The Gretsch Drum Company had been using the name “Broadkaster” (spelled with a “k”) since 1928 and it is likely they objected to Slingerland’s use of the Broadcaster moniker, even though it had a different spelling. It is not known if any legal action was taken but ultimately Slingerland discontinued the name. Records indicate that Gretsch filed the Broadkaster name with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office on October 10, 1936 and it was granted the following year. By late 1936, Slingerland’s exciting new snare drum was no more. There is a good ending to this story, however. Upon dropping the Broadcaster name, Slingerland executives dubbed their snare drum, “The Slingerland Radio King”, once again drawing upon the popularity of radio. Of course, today the Radio King drum is legendary, having been popularized by swing drumming sensation, Gene Krupa.