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Radio Survivor Academic Series 2014 Year in Review

Earlier this year I wrote my first post for Radio Survivor following the annual Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference that took place in Seattle in March. In this initial post, I pointed to an increase of Sound Studies research at the conference and located within this field a vibrant cohort of radio researchers who are helping to make sense of the changes facing the radio industry today. Over the course of the year, there have been a number of exciting developments in the scholarly study of radio, including the establishment of the Radio Preservation Task Force.

The Task Force has helped inspire Radio Survivor’s Academic Series as many of its posts have featured findings from the project or have profiled Task Force researchers. As well, 2014 has seen the publication of exciting academic books on radio. Two that are currently on my shelf include Eric Weisbard’s Top 40 Democracy (an interview with the author was featured recently on Radio Survivor) and Christina Dunbar-Hester’s Low Power to the People (see Radio Survivor’s preview of the book).

My own work with the Task Force this year involved consulting university archives in Southwestern Ontario. In November, I wrote about some of my findings, including two digital/archival initiatives. York University in Toronto is home to the Mariposa Folk Foundation fonds, which includes radio broadcasts related to folk music for both Canadian and American audiences and some of this collection can be accessed online through the Celebrating Canadian Folk Music Project. At Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, there is an extensive collection of early Canadian educational radio holdings. This collection is currently featured online as an exhibit titled “90 Years of Queen’s Radio.”

The Academic Series also featured two interviews with members of the Radio Preservation Task Force. In late November, Kenneth Goldsmith shared his thoughts on archives, on issues of access to information in academia, and on the role of contemporary radio. Goldsmith stressed the importance of radio as a filter in an age of abundance. He explained:

Radio is still important because even though everything is available, you still need someone to show you what is what, the good from the bad. In other words, abundance means nothing without filtering, taste and aesthetic.”

More recently, Brian Gregory shared his work on educational radio broadcasting. Gregory discussed how he has integrated his academic research into his educational practice. Local radio broadcasting, according to Gregory, has great potential for meeting the goals of educators. Gregory said:

More voices need to be heard from educational stations that broadcast at the local level. This will benefit other educators who would like to use radio in their classrooms because they will be able to learn about new and innovative ways to use the medium, which, in turn, might inspire them to experiment with and develop their own ways to use radio for educational purposes.”

Although this Academic Series is a new initiative at Radio Survivor, the research and work featured throughout the series anticipates a strong 2015 for the study of radio. Looking forward, a conference at the Library of Congress is on the horizon for the Task Force, likely towards the end of next year.

Appropriately, given that my initial post for Radio Survivor followed this year’s SCMS conference, next year’s preliminary conference program draft for the meeting in Montreal has just been released. I’ve taken a quick glance at the program and it includes a number of panels and papers on radio and sound, including a panel on podcasting, one on War of the Worlds, another panel on North American public service media, one on local and national radio in the 1960s, a workshop on radio production cultures, and a workshop titled “The Problem of the Radio Canon.” This is just a brief overview, but there are many other panels and papers featuring radio as a subject.

Given the range of radio-related research featured at next year’s SCMS conference as well as the extensive preliminary findings of the Radio Preservation Task Force (an estimated 250,000 – 275,000 program transcriptions were reported in November), it’s safe to say that radio continues to be an active area for both new and established scholars. I’m extremely excited for what 2015 has in store.

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