Self-Help Before YouTube: More Records to Improve Your Life

Self-Help Before YouTube: More Records to Improve Your Life

Written by Rich Isaacs

Have you ever wondered how we learned to do things (repair/install/build/develop skills, etc.) before smartphones and YouTube came along?  Well, back in ancient times, before “there’s an app for that,” there were records for that (and I mean LPs).

I worked in record stores for nearly 30 years, and after a while I owned most of the music that I wanted, so I began to collect non-music albums – the weirder, the better. The thought was (in part) that I could cull some interesting snippets to throw in for fun between songs on mix tapes. I ended up with hundreds of LPs filed under headings such as “Lectures,” “Children’s Stories,” “Historical,” “Old Radio Shows,” “Literature” (readings from classic books), and “Instructional.”

Here’s a look at some of the entries in that latter category, a few of which are actually on YouTube.

How to CB album cover.

How to CB – 500 CB Terms for Quick on the Road Reference

Hey, good buddy, aren’t we glad that fad didn’t last? The Citizen’s Band craze in the 1970s spawned movies (Smokey and the Bandit and others) and even hit singles (“Convoy,” by country singer/songwriter C.W. McCall). For the most part, the CB world was the domain of truckers and other “good ol’ boys,” as evidenced by some of the blatantly sexist lingo included in the glossary on the back. You got yer “beaver,” for female, and “seat cover” as code for an attractive female passenger. At least they used “mercy” as a substitute for those bad words you couldn’t legally say on the air. The enclosed booklet lists all 500 terms, colorful names for 64 cities and towns (e.g. Corpus Christi, Texas, is “Taco Town”), and four square feet of insanely fine print with the complete text of FCC Rules and Regulations Part 95 – Citizens Radio Service. There are lots of videos on YouTube covering the jargon, along with ones demonstrating the installation and maintenance of CB radios.

If the Bomb Falls album cover. If the Bomb Falls, back album cover.

If the Bomb Falls – A Recorded Guide to Survival

The early 1960s was a time of nuclear paranoia. The possibility of atomic weaponry being used was ever-present, what with the antagonistic relationship between the USA and the Soviet Union. People were building bomb shelters and stocking them with non-perishable food and other survival supplies. Children in schools practiced getting under their desks to “duck and cover,” (as if that might protect one from an H-bomb). This short (23-minute) album was intended to prepare you for a possible nuclear explosion in your vicinity. The narration is measured and sobering, and the list of survival supplies is exhaustive (and exhausting).


How to Get Appointments by Telephone album cover. How to Get Appointments by Telephone, back cover.

How to Get Appointments by Telephone by Mona Ling

False advertising! Mona Ling is not heard on this record. Ms. Ling did write the script, and she autographed this particular copy, but the narration sounds as if it was done by the same guy who voiced all those deadly dull educational films we watched in school. This one comes from the Success Motivation Institute of Waco, Texas. The album demonstrates all the sales techniques you’d expect: using the client’s name, promising benefits, attempting to overcome objections, etc. These are all things that turn me off when I know the salesperson is using them. The accompanying booklet has the complete transcript of the record, so you don’t really have to listen to it, if, like me, it makes your skin crawl. The booklet includes bonus material such as voice exercises, self-evaluation quizzes, and the “Ten Commandments in Telephone Selling,” with gems like Number Five: You shall not show off your technical vocabulary.

Jimmy Nelson's Instant Ventriloquism album cover. Jimmy Nelson's Instant Ventriloquism, back cover.

Jimmy Nelson’s Instant Ventriloquism

Jimmy Nelson was one of the most famous ventriloquists during what The New York Times referred to (in his 2019 obituary) as “the golden age of ventriloquism.” He and his characters, Danny O’Day and Farfel (a dog), were beloved staples of the variety show and nightclub world. The first track on side two is Review and the Ventriloquial Voice. I didn’t know there was such a word as ventriloquial, and I dare you to say it five times fast. A complete script booklet came with the record to help with learning. The tracks on this YouTube link are in a different order, and it looks like they jazzed up the album cover for subsequent issues.




Contract Bridge: The Stayman System album cover.

Contract Bridge: The Stayman System

My folks used to play bridge with friends, and I tried to learn it when I was in elementary school, but understanding it was way beyond me, then and now. I’ve always thought that some comedian could make a routine about learning a foreign language by reading the bridge column in the newspaper. I once saw a reference to “finessing a player out of their honor,” which sounds like they’re talking about seduction and not a card game. Well, if you want to try playing bridge, there are plenty of videos out there, but this album isn’t on YouTube.

The Basic Principles of Kreskin's ESP album cover.

The Basic Principles of Kreskin’s ESP

“You are about to enter an uncanny world of your mind.” Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Not when the narration is bone-dry. You’d think as an entertainer, mentalist and magician George Joseph Kresge, better known as Kreskin, would put a little more life into it. He was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show in the 1970s. To his credit, he didn’t present himself as a psychic with paranormal powers, but he was known for making predictions about the future.


Learn Morse Code the Easy Way album cover. Learn Morse Code the Easy Way, back cover.

Learn Code the Easy Way

Don’t get excited – they aren’t talking about computer code. After all, this article is about “old-school” learning. Most of us don’t have a practical use for Morse code anymore, but it shows up every once in a while. The front and back album covers for the Roger Waters LP Radio Kaos consisted entirely of coded information, with short vertical lines separating the letters and longer lines separating the words. With the help of this record (actually just the chart on the back cover), I could decipher it all. Although I couldn’t find Learn Code the Easy Way on YouTube, I was amazed at the numbers of Morse code instructional videos there. This album was released on the Archer label, which some will remember as the “house brand” of Radio Shack.

Radio Kaos back cover.

Roger Waters, Radio Kaos front and back album covers.
Roger Waters, Radio Kaos front and back album covers.

Dye-Call Presents The Mallard Sound, album cover.

Dye-Call Presents The Mallard Sound – A Lesson in Duck Calling

What manner of quackery be this? Why, it’s Harry B. Dye, the eponymous founder of Dye-Call, showing you how to attract waterfowl. As a bonus, he’s included a typewritten order form with retail prices for 1974. You might notice on the back cover showing four types of calls that the sound of three of them are described as “quacks,” but the feeding call is described as “kitty, kitty, kitty.” The greeting or comeback call has the cadence of human laughter, and the feeding call has rapid staccato quacks with a lot of vibrato. This is definitely an amateur production, done on the custom Century label, which was known for recording high school bands and other non-professional performances. Again, it isn’t on YouTube, but there’s no shortage of other duck-calling videos.

Make Your Bird a Star album cover. Make Your Bird a Star, back cover.

Make Your Bird a Star

If you value your sanity, you’ll leave the house when you put this one on – it consists entirely of passable impersonations of famous celebrities doing their catch phrases repeated ad nauseum so your pet talking bird can learn to sound like a Hollywood star of the past. The producers went to great (?) lengths to avoid lawsuits by attributing the lines to names like “W.C. Birdfields,” “Greta Garbird,” “John Wainbird,” or “Clark Gaybird.” (We may never know if that last one was an intentional reference.) Only two of the sixteen utterances are from female movie stars, and one impressionist handles all the male voices.

 Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Home Computers, album cover.

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Home Computers

This one’s a head-scratcher. I mean, to whom else would you turn to learn about computers other than Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows? Don’t answer that. This was done in 1983, which, in technology terms, might as well be the Stone Age, but I have to admit that some of their predictions about future computer use were uncanny in their accuracy. You can hear the unintentionally campy album in full with the link below.




I had fun with these albums, although I may never listen to them again!

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