has been no systematic effort to collect American commercial radio programming
at the national and local levels.”
So states the Library
of Congress in a new report. It calls on its preservation board to set up a
subcommittee “to develop strategies and tools to collect and preserve radio
broadcast content.” And the report calls for a symposium to discuss the
challenges of preserving American radio broadcasts.
development will hearten anyone in radio who has ever worked at a station with a deep history, only to learn that a new owner or a new format was coming in
and that all the station audio recordings had been tossed in a dumpster.
The recommendation about radio preservation is part of a much larger “blueprint” set out by the Library of Congress. Its overall goal:
Saving sound. Congress has charged the library with implementing a national sound recording preservation program; this new report is a big step in that effort, and contains a list
of 32 recommendations.
Librarian of Congress James Billington described the need: “Radio
broadcasts, music, interviews, historic speeches, field recordings, comedy
records, author readings and other recordings have already been forever lost to
the American people. ... [The plan] is America’s first significant step toward
effective national collaboration to save our recorded-sound heritage for future
The report is long and raises many
interesting angles dealing with audio technology, legislative reform and best
practices for both analog and digital audio preservation. I imagine it will
launch a new set of discussions and debate.
On the need
to save commercial radio audio, the authors wrote: “Radio programs make up a
significant portion of the nation’s recorded cultural history and encompass an
array of genres, including news, music, drama, variety, soap operas, sports,
quiz shows, public affairs, presidential addresses, community affairs, religious
programming, propaganda, and educational shows.”
libraries and archives have collections of historical radio recordings, the
report continued, “there have been few systematic efforts to collect
contemporary commercial radio broadcast recordings, and to document and
preserve the entire range of extant broadcasts in private and public
collections.” It added that the Corporation for Public
Broadcasting American Archive project seeks to preserve and manage public radio
and TV materials; “however, there has been no systematic effort to collect American
commercial radio programming at the national and local levels.”
Among broader recommendations, the plan calls for a national,
publicly accessible directory of “institutional, corporate and private recorded-sound
collections” as well as a national discography that details production of
recordings and the location of preservation copies in public institutions.
It recommends creation of a national collections policy for
sound recordings, “including a strategy to collect, catalog and preserve
locally produced recordings, radio broadcast content and neglected and emerging
audio formats and genres.”
It encourages the creation of
university degree programs in audio archiving and preservation, as well as continuing
education programs for audio engineers, archivists, curators and librarians.
Also on the list: More storage facilities for preservation; an
Audio-Preservation Resource Directory website, including preservation
guidelines; “best practices” for creating and preserving audio files that are “born
digital”; and a basic licensing agreement to cover on-demand streaming by
libraries and archives of recordings that are out of print.
The report notes that ownership is inadequately documented for many types
of recordings, including radio broadcast recordings. It said the preservation board
should encourage statewide and regional programs to collect and preserve “locally
produced recorded sound, including radio broadcasts,” and that collections from
radio stations should be part of those efforts.
is much more here, of interest not only to radio people but audio and history
enthusiasts in general. The plan also calls for copyright legislation reform
that could be contentious. I’ll explore that and other details of this report in future posts. But for now: Yay Library of Congress for starting to
tackle the question of how the U.S. can better preserve our radio heritage.