I was recently invited to join a new national project devoted to archiving local radio history. It’s tentatively called the Radio Preservation Task Force, and it’s working under the purview of the Library of Congress’ National Recording Preservation Board (NPRB), in conjunction with the National Archives and several major broadcast museums.
The task force’s primary goal is "to develop strategies and tools to collect and preserve historical broadcast content"—more specifically, content from "public, educational, local, and regional radio" stations and organizations. In simple terms, ample archives exist of national radio and television broadcasts, particularly at the network level and on the commercial side of the dial. But there’s been no coherent preservation strategy beyond this, and that needs to be rectified.
Task force research associates (such as myself) will be charged with evaluating existing caches of radio recordings and other material "at universities, libraries, and other archives in their city or geographic region," with the aim of creating "a digital library and an associated recording guide" to be housed (presumably) at the LoC. At this stage, it sounds like a straight-up treasure hunt: find out what sort of stuff exists, and assess its content and quality.
Next year, we’ll all convene in Washington, D.C. to discuss our findings and (hopefully) take the next steps toward formally establishing and populating a local radio archive. I’m looking forward to hearing more about this project’s full scope and objectives, and can’t wait to start digging through the troves of tapes and whatnot in the nation’s largest radio market. I also hope the task force is willing to consider archiving broadcasts from stations regardless of their legality, as the culture of radio in the U.S. extends far beyond the boundaries of what the FCC and industry acknowledge.