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Preserving Podcast History

We’ve been covering radio preservation quite a bit here at Radio Survivor. But, despite the medium’s relative youth, it’s not too soon to think about podcast preservation either.

Because podcasts are distributed as downloaded files they seem less ephemeral than radio broadcasts, which someone has to take the initiative to record and save. However, think about your own podcast use. How many do you actually save? Speaking for myself, I’ve been known to save some episodes that I particularly enjoyed or would like to refer to later. Still, for the most part, I delete files after I listen to them in order to keep my smartphone or computer storage below capacity.

That means in most cases it’s up to podcasters to save their shows. Yet keeping them hosted and available usually carries a price tag, and free hosting services can go out of business anytime. Certainly a podcast that’s currently in production will continue to keep its archive available. What about podcasts that went out of production, maybe several years ago? What incentive do those producers have to keep their old episodes online?

Questions like those are why we owe a debt of gratitude to Jason Scott, a computer historian and archivist who eleven years ago took it upon himself to try saving and preserving all the podcasts. That project only lasted a year before the computer he was using for it stopped working, but he ended up with about 14,000 episodes of 540 different shows.

Now Jason works for the Internet Archive and he recently completed uploading his collection there. He calls it the “2005 Podcast Core Sample,” and we can think of it as an early history of the medium. The great thing about having it hosted at the Internet Archive is that all the files are available for streaming or downloading, and will continue to be preserved as long as the IA is around.

To get a sense for the value of this collection, I randomly checked to see if there are shows in the Podcast Core Sample that are no longer otherwise available. In fact, the first one I looked at, the “5 Speed Cassette” podcast, was actually taken down by its producer, who writes on his website, “it’s over and you missed it. ;-)” The show is still listed on some podcast directories, but the files no longer exist.

Another show I found crosses over into terrestrial radio history. The Al Franken Show was a fixture of the defunct liberal radio network Air America. While sporadic archives of the network’s shows sometimes show up on YouTube or torrent sites, the old podcast files are otherwise mostly gone. Except on the Internet Archive, which at least has 45 episodes from 2005.

I was thrilled to find archives of my old radio show and podcast, Mediageek. The show ran for seven years and I distributed it as a podcast for six. While I continue to keep the archives online, I’m glad that about 35 episodes from 2005 are safely interned.

I’m relatively fastidious about maintaining good backups of my own media creations. I have archives of the Mediageek show on CD-Rs, DVD-Rs, several hard drives, as well as backed up in the cloud. Last fall I completed transferring from minidisc some source interviews and full episodes from the pre-podcast days and made backup copies.

However, seeing the Podcast Core Sample reminded me that my own online archive of the show is incomplete, and still volatile, since I continue to pay to host the files year after year. I’m inclined to keep doing it, but one never knows if I’ll be able to in the future. Though I don’t want to overestimate the value of my collection, my old show contains documentation of the early 2000s independent media movements that might otherwise be lost, and could be of us to future historians and researchers.

This is kicking my butt to start uploading my whole Mediageek catalog to the Internet Archive, which currently hosts over 47,000 podcast episodes. We should start doing the Radio Survivor Podcast, too, of which we only have 40 episodes to deal with.

Lucky for us–and everyone who uses the internet–the Internet Archive accepts uploads from anyone, for free. That means if you have a podcast you should really consider uploading your archives, too. Who knows what future historian will go looking for something you uniquely documented in 2006 or 2016.


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