I mentioned this initiative a few months ago when I first heard about it, but the details have only recently been released. Can you help us assemble a national archive of local radio broadcasts?
The official name of this project is the Radio Preservation Task Force, being conducted under the auspices of the LoC’s National Recording Preservation Board. For many years, the NRPB has pursued various study-strategies to get a sense of just how much of our nation’s broadcast history has actually been preserved.
Turns out, it’s not much: sure, you can easily find and watch pretty much any of the “Big Three” national TV newscasts of the last 40+ years, but radio has no such archive, and local radio is especially unremembered. The Radio Preservation Task Force hopes to change that, with special focus on radio broadcasts from 1922-1980, and especially those from the noncommercial, educational side of the medium.
Many scholars (including myself) were invited this summer to join the Task Force. Earlier this month, we were given our charges: find what existing radio broadcast archives exist, what they contain, and what general condition they are in. The country’s been divided up so each “faculty research associate” is responsible for a particular geographic area.
My task is to identify extant radio broadcast recordings from Brooklyn, Staten Island, Long Island, and a goodly part of New Jersey.
We’re concentrating on a meta-review right now, just to get a sense of the scale and scope of what recordings may be available. While the primary focus is on institutional archives such as libraries and musesums, I sincerely believe there’s a veritable gold mine of privately-held archive material that’s out there.
We’re all supposed to report back on our searches by November 1st, at which point the Task Force will coallate everything and make a presentation to the NRPB. At that stage, the Board will decide how we take the next step—accessing these recordings and putting together a plan to digitize them in a national archive. To be clear, the Task Force does not seek to accumulate the tapes of everyone: we just want to see what’s out there and figure out some master plan for a future repository.
I’m honored to have been invited to participate in this ambitious project, and I’m casting a wide net. Historiography is a lot like treasure-hunting, full of dusty places and hard work, but rewarding for the gems we unearth.
If you have any leads on local radio recordings from the NYC/Long Island/New Jersey areas, please drop me a line. You can also check out the Task Force members’ list to send tips to those scholars with responsibilities where you live. Sometime next spring, we’ll all convene at the LoC to plot future moves.