When Washington and Oregon used vinyl records to attract tourists

Mar 8, 2024, 10:49 AM | Updated: 11:26 am

Vinyl record...

Representing their respective home states, Chris Sullivan and Colleen O'Brien of Seattle's Morning News proudly display copies of the 1966 tourism promotional records "Holiday In Oregon" and "Holiday In Washington." (Feliks Banel/KIRO Newsradio)

(Feliks Banel/KIRO Newsradio)

For a tourism campaign launched 58 years ago this month, the regional phone company issued a special set of audio recordings designed to tempt visitors to come to Washington and Oregon. Just a few years earlier, the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair had generated tens of millions of dollars in tourism revenue across the region, and this initiative was perhaps an attempt to extend the streak.

This story, about uniting Washington and Oregon with a common goal, is an appropriate topic since this week marks the 171st anniversary of the creation of the Washington Territory. What eventually became the Evergreen State (but with very different borders to the east – encompassing all of what’s now Idaho) was carved from Oregon Territory by Congress and signed into law by President Millard Fillmore on March 3, 1853.

Pacific Northwest Bell issues “Tourist Trapper Kit”

Fast-forward to March 1966, and Pacific Northwest Bell, the regional “baby bell” phone company here in those long-ago landline years, issued something called a “Tourist Trapper Kit” with maps and brochures and a 7-inch vinyl record replete with audio enticements for visiting the Northwest.

The idea, as described in old newspapers stories from that time, was that a resident could request a “Tourist Trapper Kit” from the phone company by phone or by mail, and then easily mail it to someone anywhere in the country for a modest amount of postage. Ideally, the recipient would live somewhere other than the Pacific Northwest, and the “Tourist Trapper Kit” would convince them to visit and pump dollars into the local economy.

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It’s not clear how different the maps or printed materials were in the kits, but there was a Washington version of the vinyl record called “Holiday in Washington” and an Oregon version called “Holiday in Oregon.” Each was in a nearly identical cardboard sleeve, with an essay printed on the back by historian Murray Morgan, author (most famously) of the quintessential Seattle history book Skid Road.

Record collectors and regional trivia nuts will recall that a similar effort with just a single, one-sided 7” vinyl record for both states called “Fabulous Sounds of the Pacific Northwest” had been launched in 1965; the narration from that record was used cleverly in 1984 by Northwest band the Young Fresh Fellows.

Both states featured local celebrities

The Washington and Oregon 1966 records featured the same narrator (who had also appeared on the 1965 record), but this time, there were special guests for each state; Washington native Bing Crosby appears as a guest star on both versions.

One of the featured Oregon celebrities on the Beaver State version is that “man of a thousand voices” Mel Blanc, who grew up in Portland and who did so much for those old Warner Brothers cartoons with distinctive voices for multiple indelible characters.

On “Holiday In Oregon,” Blanc portrays a French diplomat who sounds suspiciously like Pepé Le Pew, and then answers his own question in voice which sounds like a cross between Speedy Gonzales and Bugs Bunny.

“My government, the people of France, have sent me to America at great expense to discover the real secret of Oregon,” Blanc says in a caricatured French accent. “What shall I tell them? Is there nothing I can say to them?”

After Blanc’s Speedy Gonzales voice answers in a pun based on the Spanish word for “yes,” the narrator – who’s not named anywhere on either disc, but who had to be a voice heard regularly in the Northwest 60 years ago – says, “Yes, come see. You will find plenty of guideposts on this new Oregon Trail.”

Bing Crosby… edited

Bing Crosby, perhaps the most famous performer of the 20th century to emerge from the Evergreen State, apparently did just a single recording session for the tourism project. However, with some vintage editing that nowadays sounds a bit clumsy – understandably, of course, because it was probably accomplished with a razor blade and splicing glue – Bing’s beckoning was able to be crudely customized for both Washington and Oregon.

“There’s another tonic of outdoor tones to be heard in Washington,” the narrator says on the Washington version. “The shush of a pair of skis . . . [SHUSH!]. The crack of a driver meeting a golf ball . . . [CRACK!]. The flap of a sail . . . [FLAP!]. The rush of an untamed river [RUSH!]. The wind of a reel . . . [WIND!].”

“Now, listen to a victim of all those siren calls,” the narrator continues, “Washington’s own Bing Crosby!”

“I like to remember the Pacific Northwest as a land that can put a song in your heart,” says the state of Washington’s crooniest crooner of all-time. “You know, when I was a kid around Spokane and Tacoma, the song was usually carried in a sort of an off-key whistle . . . or through one of my missing teeth.”

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To make Bing sound less Washington-centric and more palatable for our friends south of the Columbia River, the stone-age audio editor attempted what can only be considered a deft “geographic-ectomy.”

“It takes a man who has kept America singing to hear the real music of the Pacific Northwest country,” the now Beaver State-friendly narrator says. “Let Bing Crosby tell you about it!”

“I like to remember the Pacific Northwest as a land that can put a song in your heart,” says the now generically Pacific Northwest singer, repeating a familiar refrain while shilling for a state other than the one where he was born.

But then, something drastically changes.

“You know,” Crosby continues, “when I was a kid the song was usually carried in a sort of an off-key whistle . . . or through one of my missing teeth.”

Oregon minus Spokane and Tacoma

Spokane, beloved capital of the Inland Empire, and Tacoma, original terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad, are excised, expunged or otherwise audibly redacted in service to the good people of Oregon and to those potential visitors that Pacific Northwest Bell was hoping to attract there.

And, since the 1966 “Tourist Trapper Kit” was an initiative of the phone company, it’s likely that the final moments of each record won’t come as any surprise.

“And here’s one more sound that will help smooth the way to a happy holiday,” the anonymous narrator says, as “Holiday In Oregon” nears its finish.

In 2024, the sound effect that comes next may confuse anyone under age 45. To those youngsters, it probably sounds like a malfunctioning electronic device (that’s the dial tone) followed by someone trying unsuccessfully to pull-start an outboard motor or a chainsaw (actually, the sound of a rotary-dial telephone).

“That’s right,” the narrator assures those aspiring visitors of nearly six decades ago. “Telephone ahead for reservations, or look up ‘Travel Agent’ in the Yellow Pages.”

The Yellow Pages?

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea or a question about Northwest history, please email Feliks here.


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When Washington and Oregon used vinyl records to attract tourists