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The Library of Congress Launches Radio Preservation Task Force

Editor’s Note: A few weeks ago, John Anderson shared with Radio Survivor readers some details about a Library of Congress initiative focused on the preservation of local radio history all over the country. As he mentioned, The Radio Preservation Task Force is now hard at work identifying radio collections in every corner of the United States.

Radio Survivor is excited to announce that we are an official online partner and will be providing regular updates about not only Radio Preservation Task Force activities, but will also be publishing guest posts from Task Force members. It’s long been a goal of mine to increase Radio Survivor’s coverage related to not only radio history, but also radio scholarship, so I’m thrilled about this partnership.

And, finally, I am also happy to announce that I have joined the Radio Preservation Task Force as a Research Associate. Through my participation, I hope to bring more attention to college radio’s rich history. To that end, if you are aware of college radio archives, collections, and artifacts, please get in touch (Jennifer AT Radio Survivor DOT com).

For our first Radio Preservation Project guest post, I’m pleased to share this update from Radio Preservation Task Force Director/Convener Christopher Sterling and Research Director Josh Shepperd. – Jennifer Waits, Radio Survivor Co-Founder and College Radio & Culture Editor

Post by Christopher Sterling and Josh Shepperd

Growing out of the National Recording Preservation Plan (NRPP) of the National Recording Preservation Board (NRPB), the Radio Preservation Task Force (RPTF) is the Library of Congress’s first national radio history project.

The Radio Preservation Task Force (@radiotaskforce) was mandated by NRPB Chair Sam Brylawski in early 2014, and is directed by eminent broadcast historian and NRPB member Christopher Sterling, Associate Dean at George Washington University. Comprised of 100 media history faculty and the staff at the Library of American Broadcasting at the University of Maryland-College Park, the RPTF is currently aggregating participation from Affiliate Archives and assessing their collections. Radio shows that aired between 1925 and 1975 have been preserved in the form of “program transcriptions” – most often reel-to-reels or broadcasts pressed to vinyl. Thanks to previous work by the LoC, media libraries, and “Old Time Radio” (OTR) preservationists, the golden age of commercial radio is well represented at digital archives. The RPTF continues this work in application to local, regional, noncommercial, and under represented movements in broadcasting history.

Over the course of 2015 the RPTF will begin to analyze processed and unprocessed collections to create a national finding aid. Surveying the landscape of extant radio materials will require the application of metadata analytics to sound history, as well as the development of research caucuses comprised of faculty specialists and state university archivists. This work will culminate in an autumn radio history conference at the Library of Congress.

As we move closer to the conference, the RPTF will be airing features and series with our growing contingent of Online Partners beginning in November. Antenna will be running an ongoing series in which RPTF participants, graduate researchers, and radio practitioners will discuss historical and contemporary issues in radio studies. Over January and February Sounding Out! will air a short series on endangered radio collections, and In Media Res will run a week-long feature on radio archives. Next May, FlowTV will publish a special issue on historiographical and cultural questions facing radio researchers. Radio Survivor, a blog renowned for its ties to college radio, will post continued updates about the project. And we are delighted to name two preservation pioneers – Orphan Film Symposium and Ubuweb – as new partners.

ERPerpetually declared to be a dying medium, radio has continued to attract dedicated listeners and receive commercial and public support. We argue that the study of radio history is also a chronicle of cultural history in the United States. Radio historians have written about radio’s role during the progressive era, wartime propaganda, the origins of reception research, the struggle over the public sphere, program innovations in genre and journalism, and cultural tensions over gender and identity, among numerous other topics.

Yet so much of the cultural history of mass media remains inexplicably untapped, perhaps due to problems with availability and accessibility. Radio’s characteristic “liveness” has made it an integral tool for 20th century social movements, community building, civil rights, and local politics. Community and college programs have disseminated perspective, performance, and provided a medium for aesthetic experimentation. Educational and public stations have long aired (and hence preserved with their transcriptions) documentary evidence of national, regional, and local interviews, debates, curricula, and perspectives. Historical questions regarding the role of “old media” in social advocacy, cultural conflict, race, orientation, class, labor, and political uses of technology, are in many cases lying in wait to receive their first historical exegeses by media scholars. We hope that making radio materials widely accessible will help to encourage further interdisciplinary discourse about technology’s role in American history.

The RPTF is organized to encourage the preservation, research, and pedagogical application of media history through the implementation of five core initiatives, also listed at our Library of Congress site.

  1. To support collaboration between faculty researchers and archivists toward the preservation of radio history
  2. To develop an online inventory of extant American radio archival collections, focusing on recorded sound holdings, including research aids
  3. To identify and save endangered collections
  4. To develop pedagogical guides for utilizing radio and sound archives
  5. To act as a clearing house to encourage and expand academic study on the cultural history of radio through the location of grants, the creation of research caucuses, and development of metadata on extant materials

This post originally appeared on Antenna and is reprinted with the permission of its authors.


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