Library of Congress – Antenna Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Conference Announcement: Saving America’s Radio Heritage at the Library of Congress Tue, 08 Sep 2015 15:18:43 +0000


Post by Michele Hilmes, Professor Emerita at University of Wisconsin-Madison

The Radio Preservation Task Force (RPTF), a unit of the Library of Congress’s National Recording Preservation Board, will hold its first national conference February 25-27, 2016, in Washington, D.C.

Keynote speakers will include Professor Paddy Scannell of the University of Michigan, a noted radio scholar and historian, and Sam Brylawski, former Head of the LOC’s Recorded Sound Division and a digital recording pioneer.

In 2014, the National Recording Preservation Board recognized the need to address the perilous state of the nation’s radio heritage, which has not received the archival and critical attention of other U.S. media. Over the last two years, the RPTF has coordinated a nation-wide effort to identify major collections of radio recordings and other materials that will help to raise cultural awareness of America’s rich tradition of radio-based soundwork and make it accessible to future generations.

A year and a half later, we have built an organization consisting of more than 130 media studies scholars actively engaged in researching radio’s past and identifying key archival sources; over 350 affiliate archives, collections, and radio producing organizations across the US and Canada; and a growing number of online partners who aid in critical discussion and dissemination of our efforts.

The most recent additions to our group of affiliated organizations include NPR, the Pacifica Radio Archives, the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, the Association for Cultural Equity/Alan Lomax Archive, the Paley Center for Media, the Prometheus Radio Project, the Media Ecology Project, the Studs Terkel Archive, and the Third Coast International Audio Festival.

The Library of Congress Packard Campus of the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center located in Culpeper, VA.

Our first national conference, Saving America’s Radio Heritage, will bring these groups together, along with members of the broader academic, archival, media, and general public, to discuss what we have accomplished and plan for future activities. Over three days in February, we will tour the LOC’s Packard Center, meet for a day of panels focused on radio’s history and cultural significance at the LOC’s Madison Building, then move to the University of Maryland’s Center for Mass Media and Culture (formerly the Library of American Broadcasting) for a second day of workshops and caucuses focused on issues of outreach, growth, and education.

RPTF Logo 2

The Radio Preservation Task Force curates a regular series for Antenna about radio history and archival issues, which can be accessed here. More information about the RPTF can be found at the organization’s new website. Stay tuned for further news and discussion of the conference and the RPTF’s activities. For additional information about the task force, please contact: radiotaskforce <at> Questions about strategic planning and partnerships can be directed to the RPTF’s National Research Director, Josh Shepperd (Catholic University): shepperd <at>


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“Something Into Nothing”: On the Materiality of the Broadcast Archive Mon, 27 Jul 2015 20:50:29 +0000 2Post by Laura LaPlaca, Northwestern University

eBay launched when I was seven years old and I bid on a beat-up old pair of Milton Berle’s shoes. I watched episodes of The Texaco Star Theatre over and over again with the shoes perched next to me on the couch. I thought it was incredible that they could be on the television screen and in my living room at the same time – like I had the power to pluck enchanted objects out of fairy tales and keep them for my own.

By the time I graduated from high school, I had just under 3,800 pieces of broadcast memorabilia. As I accumulated each one, I polished it, and labeled it, and learned its story. The history of broadcasting, as I knew it, grew wider and deeper along with the piles on my bedroom floor.

The material relationship I developed with broadcast history as a collector and, eventually, as a media archivist in more formal settings, leads me to balk a little bit when I hear the radio and television archive referred to as “ephemeral.” There are certainly undeniable benefits to emphasizing ephemerality, not least of which is the perpetuation of a sense of urgency; it is imperative that we maintain a high level of alertness as we devise and implement strategies for preventing losses of content. But we tend to emphasize ephemerality to such a degree that we do not discuss the broadcast archive’s extraordinarily expansive physicality at all. Its size and weight, as well as the infrastructures – both physical and intellectual – that support it, too often go unremarked upon. We should recognize that deflecting our attention away from the corporeal mass of the broadcast archive can undermine institutions that need our continual support. I return often to one of archivist Rick Prelinger’s Tweets: “The ‘archive’ is overtheorized; ‘archives’ (where the labor of record keeping takes place) are undertheorized and underfunded. #archives.”


What’s more, fixation on that which is ephemeral – or missing from the archive – dampens the spirit of discovery that so powerfully impels us toward knowledge. An overwhelming majority of the time, researchers walk into archives seeking to corroborate a preexisting thesis. And an overwhelming majority of the time, they walk out of archives feeling as though they did not find “enough.” For them, the archive is lacking – what they need has not been saved. As an archivist, I often find myself imploring researchers to shift their attitude at this moment of resignation, to move past bemoaning the lack and move toward celebrating that which has survived. This is usually the point at which new and different kinds of histories present themselves.

Whenever possible, we should strive to walk into archives with a spark of that collector’s greed that is such a terrific incitement to curiosity. We should let an acquisitive impulse – an open desire to know as much as possible – drive us, so that the archive can inspire, rather than merely support, our work. The process of grabbing on to something material, celebrating its miraculous survival, and then compelling it to dictate its own story is powerful. And when we let the objects come first, the problem is no longer that the archive is found lacking, but that we will never be able to discover everything that the archive has to offer. While this shift in attitude doesn’t change the hard facts of destruction and deterioration (which again, we need to continue to stay apprised of), it does facilitate the circulation of otherwise untold stories and, in this way, works as something of a preservationist tactic in and of itself. Indeed, many objects in archives are not constitutively “ephemeral” at all, but have nevertheless been obscured or erased by our sheer inattention.

Eugenia Farrar

Eugenia Farrar

The following is one of my favorite examples of what can happen when an ignored artifact asserts its materiality and cries out to be interrogated. This is the story (in brief) of radio pioneer Eugenia Farrar – the first person to sing over radio waves – and her century-long post-mortem fight against ephemerality.

In the fall of 1907, Farrar visited the Manhattan studio of Lee de Forest, an early radio inventor, to aid in the test of an experimental transmitter. Since de Forest had not yet invented a radio receiver, there would be no way of knowing if the transmission had been successful – and absolutely no record of Farrar’s song. Somewhat sardonically, Farrar approached the curious machine and said, “Here goes something into nothing!”

As she began to sing a rendition of “I Love You Truly,” a popular song of the day, a civil engineer tinkering with the USS Dolphin’s new radiotelephone at the Brooklyn Navy Yard clutched his earpiece and trembled, listening in rapture to what he could only assume was the voice of an angel. The engineer, 19-year-old Oliver Wyckoff, called the papers to report that he had experienced divine communication. The editor on duty dismissed the call as a prank, but – just in case it were true – buried the story on the seventh page of the next morning’s paper.

Lee de Forest

Lee de Forest

The Farrar story became the stuff of legend: no one could verify Wyckoff’s testimony, de Forest was notoriously fond of claiming credit for dubious innovations, and the broadcast itself had disappeared “into the ether” without a trace. De Forest and Farrar attempted to promote their achievement throughout the early 20th century, but their story faded and was almost entirely forgotten.

In 1966, six decades after having heard the “angel’s” voice, Oliver Wyckoff received a cardboard box containing Farrar’s cremated remains. He left the box unopened on a shelf in his office for years. The extended Wyckoff family inherited the remains, which they respectfully referred to as “The Madame,” and shuffled the box between their closets and garages until 2007. By this point, exactly one hundred years after the historic broadcast, the box itself was on the verge of complete disintegration.

Farrar’s remains were acquisitioned by the Brooklyn Navy Yard Archives and sound artists Melissa Dubbin and Aaron Davidson were commissioned to design an urn to properly contain them. Dubbin and Davidson used phonograph cutting techniques to carve a mid-20th century recording of “I Love You Truly” into a ceramic urn like the grooves on a wax cylinder. Farrar’s post-mortem journey ended with her ashen physical remains protected by the materialized solid form of her voice. The “angel” was interred during a ceremony at the historic Green-Wood Cemetery in 2010.

Perhaps there is no event as “ephemeral” as this forgotten broadcast of “something into nothing,” and no artifact more precarious than an “angel’s” displaced ashes.

Yet the stark materiality of Farrar’s remains, the way that they literally escaped their container and demanded to be attended to, preserved this important story about early radio innovation. Confronted with a tangible object, Dubbin and Davidson, as well as a small cohort of researchers, were incited to reconstruct the long-forgotten events of the fall of 1907, which were widely circulated by the media over a century later alongside coverage of Farrar’s interment ceremony.

I had the rare privilege of hearing the “angel’s voice,” quite on accident, when I was on fellowship at the Library of Congress. I was archiving a collection related to the radio talent program Major Bowes’ Original Amateur Hour – the earliest example of a phone-in voting contest, in the mode of American Idol. I was thrilled when I heard early performances by Frank Sinatra (his voice cracked fantastically), Paul Winchell, and Connie Francis. But I was absolutely stunned to find myself holding the small square form of Eugenia Farrar’s intricately embossed calling card, addressed to Major Bowes himself, requesting a spot on his show. A note from Lee de Forest followed, with a tiny golden radio tower emblazoned on it. I located the tape of the broadcast and listened as Farrar sang “I Love You Truly” in her lilting, distant voice and explained to the audience that, since only one man had heard it the first time around, she was glad to reprise her song “so that it might not be forgotten.”

Although I never saw the urn, Farrar’s words about the persistence of memory conjured the image of her song etched in ceramic, buried beneath the earth, and turned into a material thing. For me, the urn stands in for a whole class of artifacts that are both beautiful and haunting for the very fact of their durability.


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Missing from History: Langston Hughes’ The Man Who Went To War Fri, 12 Jun 2015 13:00:07 +0000 Front row standing (L-R): Hall Johnson, Alan Lomax, D. G. Bridson, Canada Lee, Paul Robeson, Ethel Waters.

Front row standing (L-R): Hall Johnson, Alan Lomax, D. G. Bridson, Canada Lee, Paul Robeson, Ethel Waters.

Post by Michele Hilmes, University of Wisconsin-Madison

I have been so overwhelmed, and humbled, by the recent sequence of posts here on Antenna, sparked by the wonderful podcast assembled by Andrew Bottomley, Jeremy Morris, and Christopher Cwynar, that I wanted first of all to thank all of you who cast so many kind words in my direction, and second to say something about what I’ll be getting up to in retirement.

It was especially gratifying to hear so many of you acknowledge the importance of an historical perspective on the present, to enable us to see it more clearly. This works the other way too: to paraphrase Foucault, the perspective of the present continuously helps us to see things that were obscured in the past, such as the agency of whole classes of people – women, minorities, those outside the mainstream’s scope – as well as the significance of work done long ago and forgotten but now finding new relevance as we push the borders of our field ever wider.

One example of this in the field of sound is the first ever collection of critical essays on the creative work of Norman Corwin forthcoming from California in the spring, edited by Neil Verma with contributions from many of you reading this. It took a new generation of media scholarship, combined with the new interest in sound sparked by the digital present, to enable us once again to perceive the value of Corwin’s innovations, so long unheard and unappreciated.

Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes

Another example involves one of those amazingly serendipitous archival stories we sometimes get to tell. About five years ago, I was at the Library of Congress following up on research for Network Nations. One thing I was looking for was any trace of some of the radio features produced in the US during the WWII years by D. G. Bridson, an important innovator of the radio documentary feature form at the BBC. In his biography, Prospero and Ariel, Bridson describes his experiences working with people like Alan Lomax and Langston Hughes, the premier poet of the Harlem Renaissance, whom Bridson commissioned in late 1943 to write an original “ballad opera” in support of the war effort.[1]

Hughes’ script of The Man Who Went To War was produced in New York in February 1944, featuring some of the most significant African-American performers of the era. Paul Robeson introduced the show and provided the “Voice of God” at the end; Josh White performed the sung narration, with Ethel Waters and Canada Lee playing the central roles of Sally and Johnny. Alan Lomax arranged the music, which was sung by the Hall Johnson Choir, accompanied by noted bluesmen Sonny Terry playing harmonica and Brownie McGhee on guitar.

Hughes, whose struggle to get his scripts on the air in the US had led to frustration and disappointment, wrote to Erik Barnouw in March 1945:

“Probably my best script is THE MAN WHO WENT TO WAR as performed on BBC for England and the colonies last spring…Considering the seriousness of the race problem in our country, I do not feel that radio is serving the public interest in that regard very well… Personally, I DO NOT LIKE RADIO, and I feel that it is almost as far from being a free medium of expression for Negro writers as Hitler’s airlanes are for the Jews.”[2]

Hughes’ answer to US radio’s silence on race was to construct a musical drama that simply refuses to acknowledge that African-American and British identity might not be thoroughly elidable, or that the language of blues and gospel music might not speak for “all freedom-loving people,” without distinction. More musical poetry than drama, Hughes and Bridson built on the “radio ballad” or “ballad opera” form pioneered by Alan Lomax in the US and later developed by Charles Parker in Britain.

Listen here to the opening sequence of The Man Who Went to War:

Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson

The show was never aired in the US, due to rights issues, but was recorded and broadcast over the BBC in the spring of 1944, with highly favorable reception. But here, according to Bridson, its story ends; the last remaining recording – made on glass discs – was shattered soon after. And thus faded The Man Who Went To War, one of the very few of Hughes’ scripts for radio actually broadcast, unheard by the American public and inaccessible to scholars.

But not so! As I found out that day in 2010, the Library of Congress amazingly preserved a recorded copy – not the best sound quality in places, faded and scratched, but bringing to human ears for the first time in more than six decades voices and performances unique to the historical radio soundscape. It has now been digitized and can be found in the LOC collection, though not alas online. I look forward not only to digging into the history and reception of this unique work, but to making it the centerpiece of a history of the radio feature in the United States – the creative tradition that underlies current innovative soundwork like This American Life and Serial but that, like Corwin and so much else in American radio, remains missing from history – until media scholars like us go looking.

Thanks to the field we have together built up, and thanks too to some important historical projects you’ve read about here – the Radio Preservation Task Force, the Archive of American Public Broadcasting, and others in progress – much more of our missing media history promises to be revealed, after decades of silence.   It is my hope, and a goal in retirement, that what I have elsewhere referred to as the “lost critical history of radio”[3] – and by that I mean the critical heritage of American soundwork, in particular – can be revived and made meaningful to those of us who create, listen to, and reflect on soundwork today.


[1] My grateful thanks to Lisa Hollenbach for sharing with me her research in Langston Hughes’ papers in Yale’s Beinecke Collection.

[2] Letter from Langston Hughes to Erik Barnouw, 27 March 1945. B1 F10, Erik Barnouw papers, Columbia University.

[3] Michele Hilmes, “Radio’s Lost Critical History,” Australian Journalism Review Special Edition “Radio Reinvented: the enduring appeal of audio in the digital age,” 36:2, Spring 2015.


Edgar Dale, Educational Radio, and Sensory Learning Mon, 16 Mar 2015 14:00:15 +0000 Post by Brian Gregory, Pace University

Dale_Cone of ExperienceMuch research on educational technology reforms in the twentieth century has placed emphasis on the idea that their inception and implementation has often been accompanied by a feverish excitement that sooner or later subsides. What is left, some of this research has argued, has been an all-too-common story of misuse and misguided aspirations. [1]

There have been many such reforms attempted in education since the end of the nineteenth century that have elicited widespread excitement about the potential for new forms of learning. Many of these reforms were backed by progressive educators in the early twentieth century. Edgar Dale, a professor at Ohio State University and a researcher at the university’s Bureau of Educational Research, identified himself as part of the progressive education movement. His instructional philosophy can be understood through a pyramid-like structure that he called the “Cone of Experience” (pictured right) in which he classified and detailed his beliefs about sensory and experiential learning.

Dale placed learning through direct experience at the bottom of the pyramid. Moving vertically up the figure, illustrated a shift in learning as it began to occur less through immediate experience, more through mediated means, and also became more conceptual and abstract. At the bottom of the cone, direct sensory learning provided students with rich experiences that included field trips, bird watching, fishing trips, and other types of worldly excursions. Next, came models and mockups of real experiences, such as miniature versions of airplanes, ships, and landscape scenes. These had educational value because they provided students with opportunities for scrutiny and analysis of structures, processes, and systems that could not be recreated through lecture and textbooks. Dramatic participation was the next up the pyramidal diagram. School plays were an example of this in which students either participated as actors or watched as spectators. Next came demonstrations enacted by the teacher, then field trips to cultural centers, and museum exhibitions, all of which had students function more as viewer than participant. Near the top of the cone was instruction that employed educational technologies including radio, film, newspapers, and phonograph records. [2]  To Dale, instruction with technology did not occur on a “direct sensory level”, but he saw this type of learning as important and necessary because it allowed students to encounter and examine the intellectual and emotional elements that were interwoven into many carefully devised media programs.

Dale spent much of his corpus examining the use of motion pictures in education, but in a large number of his writings he argued for the value of learning through all the senses, including the ears. [3]  Dale was also involved with the the Ohio School of the Air educational radio program at Ohio State University. In the 1935 inaugural issue of The News Letter, he argued for more research into the aural nature of radio programming. [4]

WillKingTextbookA nameless author, affiliated with the Ohio School of the Air, wrote a paper called “Will King Textbook Be Dethroned,” which illustrated Dale’s ideas about auditory education. In the paper, the author proclaimed that radio “become[s] a new sort of textbook – aural instead of visual.” [5]  The author illustrated this point in a cartoon (pictured left) that depicts a textbook, aptly named “King Textbook,” perched on a throne.

Educational radio was often characterized as a medium that encouraged passive listening and learning. The criticism was that students who listened to programs on the radio tended to sit lifeless in their seats while a radio instructor came through the ether into their classrooms to play music and authoritatively tell them what to think and feel. At a 1932 conference, Edgar Dale struck back at these sorts of characterizations with the argument that there was no such thing as passive listening and that listening should be seen as an activity in itself.

In the 1940s, numerous research studies investigated the efficacy of sensory learning. In a meta-analysis on audio-visual education, written in 1945, one author looked at learning with radio versus learning without radio and studies that compared learning that involved visuals with learning without them. [6]  The writer concluded that these studies “were inconclusive” and did not provide “definite proof” on the efficacy of auditory or visual learning through their respective technologies. Another group of researchers three years earlier had commented on studies that compared aural to visual learning, most notably one study by Paul Lazarsfeld from the Office of Radio Research at Columbia University called Radio and the Printed Page, in which he stated that “for every study which shows that the ear is more receptive, another study can be quoted which attributes the same advantage to the eye.” [7]  Lazarsfeld had concluded, according to the researchers, that what was most important was how well people concentrated on the medium at hand and their present context.

More recently, studies have shown that there has been “no scientific evidence backing up the idea” that teaching should be augmented for various learning styles even though “an entire industry has sprouted” up to support it. [8]  Other contemporary research has shown that learning is more effectual when it is varied and integrates various styles than when it targets only one mode of communication and one style of learning. [9]  What is important, as Dale argued, is that in order for sensory learning, involving educational technologies, to be useful, educators must have an explicit understanding about the types of lessons that make these technologies educational, how to use them in productive ways, and have clearly defined objectives that will result in effective educational experiences for students.


[1] David B. Tyack and Larry Cuban, Tinkering toward Utopia : A Century of Public School Reform (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995) 111

[2] Edgar Dale, “Coming to Our Senses,” The News Letter 5, no. 1 (November 1939).

[3] Audio-Visual Methods in Teaching (New York: The Dryden Press, 1946) 48

[4] Edgar Dale and I. Keith Tyler, “Foreward, the Radio,” The News Letter 1, no. 1 (November 1935).

[5] OSU Ohio School of the Air (RG 8d6), Box 1. Ohio Teaches School By Radio, n.d.

[6] Arthur C. Stenius, “Auditory and Visual Education,” Review of Educational Research 15, no. 3 (1945): 246.

[7] Seerley Reid and Daniel Day, “Chapter Vi: Radio and Records in Education,” Review Of Educational Research 12, no. 3 (June 1942): 313.

[8] Patti Neighmond, “Think You’re an Auditory or Visual Learner? Scientists Say It’s Unlikely,”

[9] Richard E. Mayer, “A Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning,” in Multimedia Learning (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).


Crumbsucking the FM Dial Mon, 16 Feb 2015 15:53:57 +0000 615x200-ehow-images-a02-6l-n6-place-fm-transmitter-radio-station-800x800

FM transmitter tower

Post by John Anderson
Brooklyn College at the City University of New York

For more than a decade now, a spectrum-grab of impressive proportions has been taking place on the FM dial in the United States. While services such as Low-Power FM and HD Radio have dominated many discussions about future paths for broadcasting, the proliferation of FM translator stations has dwarfed them both.

The Federal Communications Commission created the FM translator service in 1970. Translator stations are limited to 250 watts of power and can only rebroadcast the signals of other stations. The original intent behind the translator service was to help noncommercial FM stations located in areas with challenging terrain provide a mechanism by which to address coverage gaps.

In 1981, the Chicago-based Moody Bible Institute petitioned the FCC to allow translators to be fed with programming other than a locally based full-power FM station. The FCC initially denied Moody’s request, in large part due to worries that “some parties” were engaging in practices with translators that smacked of speculation, such as filing applications in bulk to preclude competitors from certain markets. The agency also noted that many broadcasters were stretching the existing rules by siting translators to extend the reach of a full-power station.

But by 1990, after a well-coordinated lobbying campaign, the FCC fundamentally overhauled the FM translator service, effectively opening it up to commercial development. Translators were also unchained from local parent-stations and could be fed remotely. These changes spurred the rise of broadcasters who used FM translators to build out their own networks of stations. Since there’s no office to keep or staff to pay, costs of operation are low. Religious and public broadcasters took the greatest advantage of these rule changes to expand their reach.

Then LPFM got in the way. In 1997, as the FCC began receiving petitions to legalize a local low-power radio service, it froze new applications for FM translators on the majority of the dial. From a purely technical perspective, the only real distinction between FM translators and LPFM stations is that LPFMs must be live and local to some degree, while FM translators cannot. But incumbent broadcasters fervently opposed the creation of LPFM because they believed that the band was running out of capacity to accommodate more stations.

There is a grain of truth to this argument; the Reagan-era FCC opened up the FM dial to an increasing number of applicants and liberalized the rules regarding the movement of existing stations between markets. By the time LPFM came on the scene, spaces for new development of the FM dial in most markets had been reduced to crumbs, typically doled out as full-power FM licenses in rural and exurban locales and translator stations elsewhere. Yet while incumbent broadcasters railed on LPFM stations for asking to be “shoehorned” onto the dial, they prepared to make their own grab for all the crumbs they could.

In 2003, the FCC opened up an application window for new FM translator stations, and more than 13,000 were filed. A goodly portion were tendered by established religious and public broadcasters, though individual speculators came primed to play big. One enterprising man in Idaho, who had previously worked to build a large network of translators for Calvary Chapel churches, wrote software to spam the FCC’s electronic filing system, filing some 4,000 applications under two corporate names. In all, the FCC issued more than 2,000 new translator construction permits, but many who got them never intended to build the stations—or, at best, they only planned to build them out just enough to sell them to someone else.

Willis Tower in Chicago

Willis Tower in Chicago

In the intervening decade, as proponents of LPFM fought a protracted battle with Congress to expand the service to a point of technical parity with FM translators, the trade in translators became a market all its own, now worth tens of millions of dollars. Single construction permits now sell for five to six figures each, and in major markets they’re more valuable than some full-power AM stations. Last June, a 10-watt translator licensed to broadcast from atop the Willis Tower in Chicago sold for $4.6 million, while in December, a 4-watt translator in Long Island City, Queens changed hands for $3.5 million.

Far removed from their original intent as supplemental repeater-stations, most FM translators are now widely employed by broadcasters as “new stations” built and programmed on the cheap. Since the FCC considers translators a secondary service, they don’t count against the agency’s caps on media ownership. It’s a loophole in the law that’s widely acknowledged with a wink and a nod. An executive at mid-market conglomerate Saga advises his sales staff to call translators “metro stations” in pitches to advertising clients, so as to deemphasize their relatively weak signals and “make them sound more legitimate.”

Furthermore, transactions in the translator marketplace demonstrate a curious financial symbiosis between noncommercial broadcasters and some of America’s largest radio conglomerates. For example, in multiple markets, the Educational Media Foundation—parent of the K-LOVE and AIR-1 music networks—has sold or leased translators to iHeartMedia, who uses them to relay programming previously available as an HD-only subchannel. (HD Radio’s proprietor, iBiquity Digital Corporation, openly urges stations to set up their own “HD-on-translator play” as way to make some analog hay out of the stalled U.S. digital transition.)

Other major broadcasters use translators to relay out-of-market stations, or to provide a foothold on the FM dial for their AM properties. In fact, AM broadcasters are clamoring for the FCC to open one more translator filing window just for them, as a way to provide “relief” to their “beleaguered” band. It’s the beginning of a trend toward the ultimate settlement of all over-the-air broadcasting on the FM dial, something already underway in several Latin American and European countries. While they may be small and secondary, the rise of translators speaks volumes about the state of broadcast innovation. Like most natural resources, broadcast spectrum is finite, and we’d be wise to utilize it effectively. Instead, we’ll deep-sea drill and frack it to exhaustion—spare no expense to suck those last crumbs.


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‘Real People, Real Radio’: KXCI community radio in the aftermath of January 8, 2011 Mon, 26 Jan 2015 15:00:00 +0000 KXCI Mary Beth Haralovich
University of Arizona

This is a story of a particular time at KXCI, Tucson’s community radio station and a reflection on the role of community radio in a community. On January 8, 2011, there was a horrific shooting at a “Congress on Your Corner” event outside a grocery store in Tucson, Arizona. Six dead, more wounded physically and emotionally, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords shot in the head. KXCI’s slogan – “real people, real radio” – had particular resonance that January as KXCI responded to the crisis from its position as a local station with 70 djs, diversity in music, and locally produced public affairs programs.

The shooting occurred on a Saturday, a day of DJ specialty shows – Ruby’s Roadhouse, Kidd Squidd’s Mystery Jukebox, and Marty Kool’s Blues Review. Carol Anderson (aka Ruby) was live on the air while fragmentary news of the shooting circulated. Prepared in advance, she had the day’s music at hand. Ruby recalls, “We do our shows in real time and without any pre-recorded segments, so I was in the most difficult position of trying to keep my emotions in check so that I could still operate the broadcast equipment and keep the flow of programming going until I could get more information.” She experienced a huge dissonance between the horrifying events playing out and rockin’ roadhouse tunes. Musically, the show was “upbeat and positive” yet the dj experienced “intense emotions: confusion-fear-sorry-anger.” Ruby reflected, “My belief was that having continuity of programming took precedence over the (still unfolding) events of that day, and perhaps even offered a source of comfort for some.”

Music Director Duncan Hudson was at first conflicted about KXCI’s response, thinking they should air PSAs about mental health and interview guests on air. Hudson “came to realize that KXCI’s role in the community at this difficult time was to keep things consistent and dependable. KXCI’s core philosophy is to be an alternative to news and to talk.” While there are featured albums each week, KXCI does not dictate playlists. In the aftermath of January 8, each dj reacted in her/his own way, connecting with community and healing through music. Hudson commented, “KXCI creates a culture of self-expression and djs express themselves through their shows, through music that is meaningful to them. What we do every day made what we did in the crisis the right way to respond.” KXCI’s structure meant that 70 individuals created their own playlists, going live to express the inexpressible through music. General Manager Randy Peterson estimated that calls to the station were 50-to-1 thanking KXCI for the music.

While KXCI did not have the wherewithal to cover breaking news, KXCI’s locally produced public affairs programming was able to explore the local situation in depth. KXCI Community Engagement Director Amanda Shauger produces 30 Minutes, a weekly public affairs show. The day after the shooting, 30 Minutes covered the first press conference. One week later, 30 Minutes explored a local memorial for healing. In the months that followed, Shauger produced podcasts about mental health first aid in Tucson and the first “Beyond” community-wide event that commemorates loss, celebrates togetherness, and recommits to building a future. In podcasts where voices speak at leisure rather than in sound bites, 30 Minutes helped to close “the gap between national and local knowledge,” an issue that Joy Fuqua examines in her study of “national media as official narrators” in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Leonard Bernstein, writing in November 1963, in the aftermath of President Kennedy’s assassination: “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” [i] One may think that the music of comfort would be sad songs in a minor key. That wasn’t the case at KXCI. Musician and neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin notes, “Whenever humans come together for any reason, music is there” (6). He explains how music channels the inexpressible, arousing complex interconnections with memory. Levitin writes, “We take pleasure in the sensory experience, and find comfort in its familiarity and the safety that familiarity brings” (242). “We surrender to music when we listen to it” — we let ourselves become vulnerable. Levitin cites “groove” as the quality that connects us to music: “When a song has a good groove, it invites us into a sonic world that we don’t want to leave.  Although we are aware of the pulse of the song, external time seems to stand still, and we don’t want the song to ever end” (170). Pleasure, safety, familiarity, vulnerability — these words describe the music listener’s state of mind.

Peter Brooks’ concept of the “mute gesture” of melodrama intersects with music in many ways. The mute gesture articulates the inarticulate nature of grief and response to trauma. It is the gesture that speaks when words cannot. The mute gesture calls to mind Roland Barthes’ “third meaning … I cannot name it, but I can clearly see the features … of which this sign … is composed.”[ii] The emotional and collective affect of music brought comfort and hope to the grieving subject. Music spoke for the dumbfounded and helped the community cope through those days of trauma and disbelief.

Inspired by impromptu shrines, local musician Mitzi Cowell wrote Shine From the Valley “to honor the positive response of the community, the potential of humanity to rise to a higher state.” Her hybrid pop-country tune crossed the demographics of Tucson. Local musician and documentary filmmaker Beverly Seckinger produced the music video. The setting — a desert chapel at sunset — calls upon regional iconography of peace and hope. Cowell commented, “music is the closest thing to magic that the human race has.” On her Media Praxis website, Alexandra Juhasz explores “the [feminist] distinction between one’s own voice and the voice of history.” Music around Tucson’s tragedy offered both voices: a voice for this ineffable and emotional moment in history; and the invitation to “self-name,” to find one’s way in and through the music. Notes [i] Bernstein’s statement graces the mission statement of Luz de Vida/Light of Life, a Music Against Violence album that benefits the fund for the victims of January 8. [ii] Roland Barthes, “The Third Meaning” (trans. Richard Howard) Artforum 11:5 (January 1973), 46-50.


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Announcing the Radio Preservation Task Force of the Library of Congress Wed, 01 Oct 2014 16:42:22 +0000 schaeffer-with-needlePost by Christopher Sterling and Josh Shepperd

Growing out of the National Recording Preservation Plan (NRPP) of the National Recording Preservation Board (NRPB), the Radio Preservation Task Force (RPTF) is the Library of Congress’s first national radio history project.

The Radio Preservation Task Force (@radiotaskforce) was mandated by NRPB Chair Sam Brylawski in early 2014, and is directed by eminent broadcast historian and NRPB member Christopher Sterling, Associate Dean at George Washington University. Comprised of 100 media history faculty and the staff at the Library of American Broadcasting at the University of Maryland-College Park, the RPTF is currently aggregating participation from Affiliate Archives and assessing their collections. Radio shows that aired between 1925 and 1975 have been preserved in the form of “program transcriptions” – most often reel-to-reels or broadcasts pressed to vinyl. Thanks to previous work by the LoC, media libraries, and “Old Time Radio” (OTR) preservationists, the golden age of commercial radio is well represented at digital archives. The RPTF continues this work in application to local, regional, noncommercial, and under represented movements in broadcasting history.

Over the course of 2015 the RPTF will begin to analyze processed and unprocessed collections to create a national finding aid. Surveying the landscape of extant radio materials will require the application of metadata analytics to sound history, as well as the development of research caucuses comprised of faculty specialists and state university archivists. This work will culminate in an autumn radio history conference at the Library of Congress.

As we move closer to the conference, the RPTF will be airing features and series with our growing contingent of Online Partners beginning in November. Antenna will be running an ongoing series in which RPTF participants, graduate researchers, and radio practitioners will discuss historical and contemporary issues in radio studies. Over January and February Sounding Out! will air a short series on endangered radio collections, and In Media Res will run a week-long feature on radio archives. Next May, FlowTV will publish a special issue on historiographical and cultural questions facing radio researchers. Radio Survivor, a blog renowned for its ties to college radio, will post continued updates about the project. And we are delighted to name two preservation pioneers – Orphan Film Symposium and Ubuweb – as new partners.

ERPerpetually declared to be a dying medium, radio has continued to attract dedicated listeners and receive commercial and public support. We argue that the study of radio history is also a chronicle of cultural history in the United States. Radio historians have written about radio’s role during the progressive era, wartime propaganda, the origins of reception research, the struggle over the public sphere, program innovations in genre and journalism, and cultural tensions over gender and identity, among numerous other topics.

Yet so much of the cultural history of mass media remains inexplicably untapped, perhaps due to problems with availability and accessibility. Radio’s characteristic “liveness” has made it an integral tool for 20th century social movements, community building, civil rights, and local politics. Community and college programs have disseminated perspective, performance, and provided a medium for aesthetic experimentation. Educational and public stations have long aired (and hence preserved with their transcriptions) documentary evidence of national, regional, and local interviews, debates, curricula, and perspectives. Historical questions regarding the role of “old media” in social advocacy, cultural conflict, race, orientation, class, labor, and political uses of technology, are in many cases lying in wait to receive their first historical exegeses by media scholars. We hope that making radio materials widely accessible will help to encourage further interdisciplinary discourse about technology’s role in American history.

The RPTF is organized to encourage the preservation, research, and pedagogical application of media history through the implementation of five core initiatives, also listed at our Library of Congress site.

  1. To support collaboration between faculty researchers and archivists toward the preservation of radio history
  2. To develop an online inventory of extant American radio archival collections, focusing on recorded sound holdings, including research aids
  3. To identify and save endangered collections
  4. To develop pedagogical guides for utilizing radio and sound archives
  5. To act as a clearing house to encourage and expand academic study on the cultural history of radio through the location of grants, the creation of research caucuses, and development of metadata on extant materials



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