Hard at work with all the tools he needs: a computer and a Fujitsu fl6670 scanner. Say you want to find out what year WJZ(AM), the forerunner of WABC(AM) in New York, went on the air. Simply go to the FCC archives online and do a search, right? Just one problem: The FCC may well not offer what you need online.
Instead, visit a free, public site called www.americanradiohistory.com, which is created and maintained by radio fan David Gleason.
There you’ll find back issues of well-known publications like Broadcasting magazine and “The Broadcasting Yearbook,” as well as less familiar titles like Sponsor, Television/Radio Age, Radio Daily and many others.
Also to be found are obscure technical publications featuring equipment that hasn’t been in use since the potted palm era, and even station ratings not just from Arbitron but from the all-but-forgotten Pulse and Hooper. Near-complete collections of the FM Atlas, White’s Log, Radex and Vane Jones’ Log are there.
This collection comprises a narrative of our industry that no one else has taken the time to preserve.
“I started out with a personal collection going back 10 or 15 years,” said Gleason, who spent more than 50 of his 66 years in radio.
“I found that I was becoming a source of answers for people who could not find this material elsewhere. Then I decided that I would upload it all as copy-protected, non-printable PDFs so that anyone could have access, just like a library.”
Gleason uses the Atiz Bookscan Mini for archiving, which includes a ‘darkroom’ hood. Gleason scans all the material himself and makes most of his documents searchable. His archive now dates back to the 1920s.
“I bought some discontinued university library publications and got most of my Broadcasting magazines from an Air Force base in Alabama that was closing down its library. Since the word has spread, people just donate their collections and the more I put up there, the more I get offered.”
Business model, schmusiness model
For Gleason, there’s no plan for making money with this site.
“Today, not everyone can say radio is good to them,” he said. “But it was good to me, and this is kind of a payback.”
As public libraries routinely jettison hard copies of seldom-referenced material, many of these artifacts are being consigned to landfills. Gleason became concerned that much of the history of radio was going to be lost forever.
“I have talked to people who sought information on the Fairness Doctrine, for example. They couldn’t find much on the famous ‘Red Lion’ case of the ’60s. By making what I have available, these people are able to research things like that,” Gleason said.(Red Lion Broadcasting Co. vs. FCC was a case in which the FCC ruled in 1968 that the Fairness Doctrine enhanced the freedoms granted by the First Amendment. This ruling was repealed in 1987, meaning that broadcasters no longer had to provide both sides of an issue to maintain their licenses.)
There are now about 1 million pages on americanradiohistory.com, representing almost 189 GB of files. Not every publication is represented; there are permissions to consider, and not every company responds to his requests, even when a given publication is no longer in business.
Where it all began
In the early 1950s, Gleason’s favorite radio shows included “Jack Benny,” “Fibber McGee and Molly” and “The Lone Ranger.”
“It was back when we lived in Cleveland and our family had this humongous mahogany radio in the living room. My father was involved in investing and, with his guidance, one of my first holdings was a couple of shares of Storer Broadcasting. I wanted to listen to every station they owned so I got into DXing. Then I started visiting stations, which led to my first radio job, at WJMO(AM)/WCUY(FM) in Cleveland, where I filed records and cleaned bathrooms. After a year of that, I started getting paid.”
RCA Broadcast News covers are among the archival treasures found in Gleason’s collection. And what was he paid for?
“We had a personality around 1959 who liked to scream on the air,” he said. “And every time he did it he knocked the transmitter off the air, so I’d turn it back on.”
Gleason gained engineering experience and later built stations in South America. Eventually he got his “first ticket” from the FCC.
“When I was completing high school in Ecuador, I picked up a license for a full-time AM on 570. After I bought all the equipment, I found nobody there had experience with solid-state devices, and no one had ever seen a cart machine!
“So while we were waiting for the studios to be built, I sped through several Cleveland Institute home study courses and, amazingly, was able to install the studios myself. From 1964-1970 I was chief engineer of what became a 12-station group.”
The man loves radio
Gleason is simply fascinated by the technical side of radio.
“There was one magazine called Radio Digest, which was published from 1922–1927 which had articles about stations of the day,” he said. “That magazine was beautifully illustrated and written. Sometimes when I’m scanning things, it takes me four times as long because I stop to read the pages.”
In addition to amassing radio arcana, Gleason had to teach himself Web development.
“All the scans on my site have been OCR’d (converted using Optical Character Recognition) so that everything of significance has a searchable index. So if you are interested in WSM(AM) between 1940–1950, you type that in and see every reference from that decade. This is something that even a library doesn’t have available.”
In order to store all the hard copies in his collection, Gleason built a climate-controlled extension onto his garage. Some especially rare publications are sealed in plastic bags.
Radio World asked Gleason to name the one item he could never get, the “holy grail” he would like to add to his collection.
“The first 50 issues of RCA Broadcast News,” he said. “They are such beautiful magazines graphically. I’ve found several people who have large collections from the late ’40s to when it ended in 1984. I would sure like to have the pre-1947 issues.”
Other magazines he would love to add are the earliest issues of Broadcast Engineering and BM/E (Broadcast Management and Engineering).
Now and forever
Gleason has given some thought to what will happen to his radio archives when he is no longer around to maintain it.
“I want to make sure there are custodians for the raw data,” he said. “And I am setting up an endowment to take care of keeping the server up in perpetuity. Also I need to find radio fans that care for and love what this represents.”
David Gleason wants to get the word out to anyone who has printed material that should be preserved.
“I’ll send them a shipping label, pre-paid,” he said. “I can even scan the items that people have and send them back.”
Your donation is not tax-deductible, but Gleason said that is not an issue.
“We don’t yet have a non-profit set up,” he said. “But the kind of documents I have on the site have limited appraisal value, other than that derived from the contributor when he makes scarce things available to others for the future.”
How about it, Radio World readers? Write to email@example.com.
Ken Deutsch is a bit of a radio relic himself. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.