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He Wrote The 'All Things Considered' Theme. What Happened To His Instruments?

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Through presidential elections, stock market crashes and, yes, even global pandemics, one thing has remained constant in the public radio world.

(SOUNDBITE OF DON VOEGELI'S "ALL THINGS CONSIDERED THEME")

KELLY: The ALL THINGS CONSIDERED theme - it was written in 1971 by Don Voegeli, the longtime music director at WHA, which would go on to become Wisconsin Public Radio. His original sounded like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF DON VOEGELI'S "ORIGINAL THEME TO ALL THINGS CONSIDERED")

KELLY: When Voegeli retired in the 1980s, the synthesizers that made those iconic sounds were sold off. Well, reporter Maureen McCollum is just one of many Wisconsin Public Radio staffers who've been wondering what happened to them. So she went looking.

MAUREEN MCCOLLUM, BYLINE: There's a photo of Don Voegeli hanging up in Wisconsin Public Radio's hallway. He's dressed in a dapper plaid jacket in his studio just down the hall from my office.

NIGEL O'SHEA, BYLINE: And he's standing in front of this impressive bank of synthesizers.

MCCOLLUM: That's Nigel O'Shea, a technical director at WPR who passes that photo nearly every day.

O'SHEA: And since I started working here, I've always wondered, where did those go?

MCCOLLUM: Don Voegeli was WHA's in-house composer, as his son Jim explains.

JIM VOEGELI: He produced lots of music over five decades. He played the organ interstitials in studio A. He got small ensembles to play for College of the Air and School of the Air productions, some of which were nationally distributed.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCCOLLUM: In the final decade of his career, Jim's father transitioned to synthesizers.

VOEGELI: It was kind of the cutting-edge sound of its time.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCCOLLUM: Don Voegeli made his music available for free to stations throughout the public radio system. So these synthesizers are important in the history of public radio. Where did they go?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCCOLLUM: They were auctioned off in 1982, and we can't find records of them anywhere. But O'Shea and I knew we were looking for at least five synthesizers, including a Moog and a Putney.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCCOLLUM: The Putney is the nickname given to Electronic Music Studio's VCS 3. This portable rig was created in the late 1960s and beloved by many bands, perhaps most famously The Who and Pink Floyd.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCCOLLUM: Don Voegeli composed the first ALL THINGS CONSIDERED theme on the Putney. We heard a rumor that it had been purchased by someone in Madison. But when we went to find it...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I knew the guy.

MCCOLLUM: Did you?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yeah - not well.

MCCOLLUM: OK.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: But I don't have any of his stuff.

MCCOLLUM: A dead end. Next, we were looking for the Moog. It was unveiled in the mid-1960s. One of its most famous early appearances was on the Beatles' "Abbey Road."

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BEATLES SONG, "MAXWELL'S SILVER HAMMER")

MCCOLLUM: We heard a rumor that Voegeli's Moog went to the University of Wisconsin's School of Music.

BRIAN: This is one of the original earliest Moog synthesizers.

MCCOLLUM: The school has a Moog stashed in storage. But when we looked more closely...

Do you see a serial number on it?

BRIAN: Look at this. Let's see.

MCCOLLUM: ...We struck out again. This wasn't Voegeli's Moog. Then we found someone who participated in the auction in which Voegeli's synthesizers were sold off after he retired.

TOM NAUNAS: This is my electronic music studio.

O'SHEA: Oh, wow.

MCCOLLUM: Holy cow.

For decades, Tom Naunas worked as a music composer and sound designer for WHA-TV, now known as PBS Wisconsin. He remembers getting a rundown of what was to be auctioned off.

NAUNAS: There was a list of the different pieces that were going up. So it was a silent auction.

MCCOLLUM: Naunas bid about $300 on two synthesizers.

NAUNAS: The winners were announced. This is what I got.

MCCOLLUM: Voegeli's ARP Quadra.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCCOLLUM: The other, an ARP Soloist.

NAUNAS: There we go.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCCOLLUM: For Naunas, owning two of Voegeli's synthesizers is really special.

NAUNAS: When I think about his classic tune - doo, doo, doo, doo (ph) - having heard that and then going and meeting the man who had created it and seeing where he had created it - it was inspirational. I am indebted to him, really.

MCCOLLUM: Naunas says Voegeli paved the way for him to have a meaningful dream job - creating music for public broadcasting. Nigel O'Shea would like to see a return to that era.

O'SHEA: I just kind of hope that maybe in the radio community, we can get back to that DIY or self-made kind of model where we're not looking for canned, already produced stuff, but we're actually making it ourselves.

MCCOLLUM: And maybe even, if we can find them, on some of Don Voegeli's other synthesizers.

For NPR News, I'm Maureen McCollum in Madison, Wis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.