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Saving College Radio Symposium Highlights Importance of Archiving Radio History

On Friday I spent an amazing day at University of Maryland, College Park for the Saving College Radio Symposium. Hosted by the University of Maryland Libraries’ Special Collections, the symposium was held in conjunction with the exhibit Saving College Radio: WMUC – Past, Present and Future. Throughout the day, archivists, scholars, and college radio participants talked about the culture of college radio and methods for preserving its legacy.

I opened up the event, doing a keynote presentation titled “Changes in the Air: Reflections on the Ongoing Relevance of College Radio Culture.” I outlined the history of college radio in the United States and also made the point that college radio is ever-changing, with many stations going through periods of instability and periods of renaissance. Other presenters shared case studies of specific stations and archivists and digital librarians for University of Maryland spoke about the process of obtaining and archiving materials related to college radio station WMUC. At lunch, we also got the opportunity to tour through the university’s Digital Conversion and Reformatting Center, where archivists painstakingly transfer old media (carts, tapes, reel-to-reel, etc.) and paper artifacts to digital files.

Equipment for Digitization at University of Maryland

University of Maryland’s Digital Conversion and Reformatting Center

In wrapping up the day, event organizer (and exhibit curator) Laura Schnitker said that she hoped that this symposium was a first step towards establishing a space in academics for “this dialogue” about college radio history. Additionally, she offered words of encouragement to college radio stations, arguing that we can all take a few steps in order to preserve station history, including:

  • Getting in touch with university archivists in order to ask to create a college radio collection
  • Identifying  historical materials and working with university archives in order to move materials to a stable, climate-controlled space
  • Reaching out to radio station alumni in order to ask for historical materials
  • Create a plan for archival process
  • Potentially secure funding in order to grow the college radio archives

After the symposium, we all had a chance to tour the Saving College Radio: WMUC – Past, Present and Future exhibit. On view in the Hornbake Library at University of Maryland, College Park through the end of July this year, the show should be a must-see for anyone interested in college radio history. Featuring a wide range of artifacts, from old newspaper clippings, to yearbooks, to trophies, to a WMUC jacket, to vintage station equipment and flyers, to audio from WMUC’s past, the exhibition paints a broad picture of the expansive role that radio has played on campus for the past 75 years. If you can’t make it in person, an online exhibit will give you a flavor for the experience of being there.

Station equipment and flyers at the Saving WMUC exhibit

Saving WMUC Exhibit

I was impressed to find out that when planning began for the exhibit in fall 2012, the organizers only had one box of paper materials and 10 audio reels from the station’s past. Today, they have collected 11 boxes of materials and 1850 audio items. Much of this material was donated by alumni, but the current WMUC also proved to be a treasure trove of artifacts as well.

After seeing the amazing archival work that could be accomplished in such a short time at University of Maryland, I’m hopeful that their experience will help to encourage other stations to begin to preserve station artifacts and history. As I’ve toured college radio stations all over the country, I’ve been amazed to see historical gems that are often hidden away in closets. I’d hate to see these fascinating artifacts deteriorate due to sub-optimal storage conditions, or even worse, end up in a dumpster during the next station move or building remodel. A simple call to a university archivist might be the first step towards creating an all-encompassing college radio history collection on one’s campus.

Collage of Artifacts at Saving WMUC Exhibition

Saving WMUC Exhibit

Some of the materials that archivists might want to preserve include old audio recordings (carts, mini disks, reel-to-reel tape, DATs), station ephemera (flyers, posters, stickers, Tshirts, program guides), business documents (meeting minutes, letters from listeners, communication with college radio organizations), scripts, engineering documents, station manuals, newspaper clippings, paper playlists, photographs, promotional items, and more.

For inspiration, you might want to take a look at a few of the college radio archives that I’m aware of:

WMUC Collection (University of Maryland)

WTUL Collection (Tulane University)

Beloit’s College Radio History Collection (Beloit College)

If you know of other college radio archives, please let me know, as it would be great to have a comprehensive list of these amazing resources.


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One Response to Saving College Radio Symposium Highlights Importance of Archiving Radio History

  1. jeremy April 15, 2014 at 6:53 am #

    Hi Jennifer. Great post.

    UMass-Amherst has material on its college station, WMUA, the Black Mass Communications Project (BMCP), which was an audio-based student group that recorded lectures on campus and had reserved slots on WMUA, and several low power stations within residential buildings. All collections are within Record Group 45 (RG45 Student Groups) of our University Archives: http://www.library.umass.edu/spcoll/ead/umassarchives.html

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