media archives – Antenna Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 “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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Audiovisual Archives and the Context Conundrum Mon, 13 Jul 2015 13:00:56 +0000 Distribution brochures for instructional radio series, from the paper archives of the National Association of Educational Broadcasters (NAEB) at University of Maryland

Distribution brochures for instructional radio series, from the paper archives of the National Association of Educational Broadcasters (NAEB) at University of Maryland

Post by Stephanie Sapienza, Project Manager at the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH)

Historical collections of audiovisual material are housed at repositories of an extraordinarily varied nature: within museums, libraries, historical societies, private collections; within media production units; and within traditional archives (only a small percentage of which are specifically dedicated to audiovisual collections). Archival paper collections are certainly more ubiquitous across all these institutions and more, representing the vast majority of the overall archival record.

As someone who has utilized, studied, worked in, and then managed projects related to audiovisual archives, there’s a trend I’ve been tracking for some time which continues to vex me. This trend relates to a very common scenario – split collections of media and related paper/textual collections – which are accepted into archival repositories and then, for lack of a better analogy, “separated at birth.” The collections are accessioned, and then broken apart and processed using very different and separate techniques, guidelines, and description schemas. Quite often, the two collections never get near each other again – physically or ontologically.

I will try to succinctly break down how this phenomenon occurs. Archival institutions often utilize a traditional description approach for paper-based materials such as transcripts, production and field recording notes, press kits, photos, correspondence, provenance and copyright materials. This usually results in an online finding aid. Conversely, institutions with significant audiovisual holdings traditionally favor an item-level approach, often with the aim of preparing for a preservation effort which requires metadata on item condition, formats, etc. Often the “split but related mixed media collections” scenario occurs within an institution that holds both paper and media materials, yet processes them differently and in different departments. Other times, as with the case study I’d like to discuss, the paper and media collections are also geographically separated.

Paper archives of the NAEB Collection

Paper archives of the NAEB Collection

The National Association of Educational Broadcasters (NAEB) historic radio collection spans the breadth of twentieth century mass media. Throughout its 60 years of existence, the NAEB ushered in or helped to enable major changes in early educational broadcasting policy. The NAEB audio collection, now fully digitized through a collaboration with the American Archive of Public Broadcasting, is held at the University of Maryland Libraries and represents the archives of the radio programming service of the organization, known as the National Educational Radio Network (NERN). The paper materials, comprising correspondence, reports, clippings, speeches and more, remain at the Wisconsin Historical Society. The finding aid for the NAEB paper collection alone reveals that it contains a depth of contextual information relevant to the study of the tape collection. Digitized paper materials would reveal even more.

For example, The Jeffersonian Heritage, a 1952 series of 13 half-hour radio programs, was recorded by the National Association of Educational Broadcasters and syndicated for commercial-free broadcast. Funded by a Ford Foundation grant, The Jeffersonian Heritage starred English-born actor Claude Rains, made famous by appearances in The Invisible ManMr. Smith Goes to WashingtonCasablanca, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious. An attempt to create radio that could be both “educational and appealing,” The Jeffersonian Heritage began its first series by educating the public about Thomas Jefferson’s attempt to have an anti-slavery clause written into the U.S. Constitution. With subsequent episodes attempting to tie themes from Jefferson’s personal and political history to contemporary events, The Jeffersonian Heritage provides a rich vein of material for explorations of how mid-twentieth century Americans engaged in remembrances of an agrarian past. How was Thomas Jefferson presented through the lens of anxieties about America’s place within the Cold War world? How were these episodes marketed and promoted to the public?*

Aural Press brochure, describing the American Life Series

Aural Press brochure, describing the American Life Series

To gain an accurate picture of the importance of these broadcasts, researchers would need to understand not just the content of the broadcast but also the circumstances of its production and its reception. For starters, the NAEB paper collections contain a brochure which reveals that the series was marketed by Aural Press of Western Michigan University as part of an “American Life Series” alongside other program series such as “Patterns in Pop Culture,” “Women,” “Abortion,” “Sounds of Poverty,” “Censorship,” and “The Nostalgia Merchants.” Placing one highly specific (and dramatic) series in context alongside such broadly-conceived topical documentary programs indicates that it held a certain level of specialized merit as an individual historical record.

A speech by former NAEB Chair William Harley which says the following about The Jeffersonian Heritage: “In 1951 we produced a dramatic history series called The Jeffersonian Heritage starring Claude Rains as Jefferson; a dramatic series on cultural anthropology called ‘Ways of Mankind’ and a series produced in conjunction with the Russian Institute at Harvard called ‘People Under Communism.’ The significance of this project is that our products convinced Scotty and his Board that educators were professionally competent and deserved support as they ventured into the new field of television. Thus did educational radio help the launching of educational television, for the Fund for Adult Education and later the Ford Foundation itself poured millions of dollars into projects fostering the start of education television.”

The above two pieces of contextual detail were uncovered only from the two small boxes of paper material that was retained with the audio collection at UMD. The Wisconsin finding aid reveals two additional folders of information on this series, which could unearth a great deal more contextual information which is ripe with potential for teaching curricula or individual scholarly research.

A second example is the series Why is a Writer?, which originally aired from 1960-61. The individual media records for the series contain the following description: “Produced by the Iowa School of the Air, this series focuses on various works of literature from Shakespeare to Twain.” The description for one individual program, “Critic of the king,” has an additional program description: “This program focuses on English writer Leigh Hunt, also known as James Henry Leigh Hunt.”

UMD has, by all means, a very richly descriptive individual record for this one individual program recording – even to have two separate descriptions (one for the series as a whole and one for the program) is uncommon in most descriptive catalogs.

A cursory search in the NAEB paper archives unlocked the following information:

Iowa School of the Air Teaching Aid for Why Is a Writer?

Iowa School of the Air Teaching Aid for Why Is a Writer?

In 1967-67, several years after it originally aired, Why is a Writer was still being distributed to educators throughout the country through Iowa School of the Air, along with teaching aids and instructions on how to teach the material. This teaching aid included instructions for educators such as “Every broadcast should be preceded by a short warm-up period so that the pupils know why they are listening to and what to listen,” and “Every broadcast should be followed by an integration period during which the students tie together facts, form generalizations, discuss ideas presented, and plan related work.” Additionally, the teaching aid contains a much more detailed program description for “Critic of the King:” “‘Critic of the King’ is another way of describing the English writer Leigh Hunt. Through history the writer has often been a critic of powerful through corrupt men. This is often a dangerous practice. Leigh Hunt knew the danger, but wrote as he felt, nonetheless. James Henry Leigh Hunt, 1784-1859, was the friend of many great romantic poets, including Byron, Shelley, Moore, and Lamb. He was a liberal in politics and was the editor of many periodicals.”

Why is a Writer shows up again in paperwork related to programs later rejected by NPR in 1976 for “content validity.” To pass the content validity test, NPR required “users and/or producers of Instructional Program materials to provide documented research and evaluation results on the utilization and effectiveness of such radio program materials in formal teaching-learning situations.” This indicates that sometime between the mid-60’s and the mid-’70s, Why Is a Writer? became “invalid” for teaching purposes. This raises two interesting research questions: 1) What pedagogical changes or educational reform may have led to changing perspectives on the “validity” of Why is a Writer?, and 2) How did educators and users of the Instructional Program materials feel about NPR making content validity assertions which affected available content?

Both of the above examples have relevant contextual information related to both the subject matter inherent in the content itself, as well as the cultural and sociological forces which shaped its production and distribution. The NAEB collections account for more than a record of a specific broadcasting entity and its industrial/narrative production. They also provide an in-depth look at the engagements and events of American history, as they were broadcast to and received by the general public in the twentieth century. This may be evident in the recordings themselves, but the potential scholarly and educational insights are particularly apparent when presented with rich, contextual materials to accompany it.

The fact stands that there is a lost opportunity here, and in many similar instances. Unless researchers are able to travel between Wisconsin and Maryland to conduct this research (assuming they even know that there is deep contextual information to be found there, since no electronic catalog connects the two collections). Additionally, in instances where these two collections are linked, it could partially relieve the burden of catalogers, lessening the amount of labor needed to provide access to richer descriptive detail.

Despite public broadcasting’s mandate to “inform, inspire and educate,” most of this important historical content, produced at significant cost, has never been seen or heard again after its initial brief moments on the air. MITH is developing and seeking funding for a project which aims to create a prototypical user interface which would allow researchers to explore the split NAEB collections together in context, and hopefully provide a blueprint to inspire further work in this area. The broader goals of the project are to look at ways in which scholarly and archival processes and needs can converge in order to raise awareness of the cultural significance of broadcasting collections.

*Select prose from the discussion on The Jeffersonian Heritage contributed by Jennifer Guiliano.


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Digital Tools for Television Historiography, Part I Tue, 26 May 2015 13:57:01 +0000 devonthinkPost by Elana Levine, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

This is the first in a series of posts detailing my use of digital tools in a television history project.

When I was researching and writing my dissertation at the turn of the 21st century, analog tools were my friend. Because my project was a history of American entertainment television in the 1970s, I drew upon a wide range of source materials: manuscript archives of TV writers, producers, sponsors, and trade organizations; legislative and court proceedings; popular and trade press articles; many episodes of ‘70s TV; and secondary sources in the form of scholarly and popular books and articles. The archive I amassed took up a lot of space: photocopies and print-outs of articles, found in the library stacks or on microfilm; VHS tape after VHS tape of episodes recorded from syndicated reruns; and stacks and stacks of 3X5 notecards, on which I would take notes on my materials. I gathered this research chapter by chapter and so, as it would come time to write each one, I would sit on the floor and make piles in a circle around me, sorting note cards and photocopies into topics or themes, figuring out an organizing logic that built a structure and an argument out of my mountains of evidence. It. Was. Awesome.

As I turned that dissertation into a book over the coming years, and worked on other, less voluminous projects, I stuck pretty closely to my tried and true workflow, though the additions of TV series on DVD and, eventually, of YouTube, began to obviate my need for the stacks of VHS tapes. Around 2008, I began to research a new historical project, one that I intended to spend many years pursuing and that promised to yield a larger archive than I’d managed previously. This project, a production and reception history of US daytime television soap opera, would traverse more than 60 years of broadcast history and would deal with a genre in which multiple programs had aired daily episodes over decades. Still, as I began my research, I continued most of my earlier methods, amassing photocopies and notes, which I was by then writing as word-processor documents rather than handwritten index cards. By late 2012, I was thinking about how to turn these new mountains of research materials into chapters. And I freaked out.

Sitting amidst piles of paper on the floor seemed impractical—there was so, so much of it—and I was technologically savvy enough to realize that printing out my word-processed materials would be both inefficient and wasteful. So I began to investigate tools for managing historical research materials digitally. Eventually, I settled on a data management system called DevonThink. I chose DevonThink for a number of reasons, but mostly because it would allow me to perform optical character recognition (OCR) to make my many materials fully searchable. This was a crucial need, especially because I would be imposing a structure on my research after having built my archive over years and from multiple historical periods. It would be impossible for me to recall exactly what information I had about which topics; I needed to outsource that work to the software.

This required that I digitize my paper archive, which I did, over time, with help. My ongoing archival research became about scanning rather than photocopying (using on-site scanners or a smartphone app, JotNot, that has served me well). And I began to generate all of my new notes within DevonThink, rather than having to import documents created elsewhere. Several years into using DevonThink, I still have only a partial sense of its capabilities, but I see this not as a problem but as a way of making the software fit my needs. (Others have detailed their use of the software for historical projects.) I have learned it as I’ve used it and have only figured out its features as I’ve realized I needed them. There are many ways to tag or label or take notes on materials, some of which I use. But, ideally, the fact that most of my materials are searchable makes generating this sort of metadata less essential. I rely heavily on the highlighting feature to note key passages in materials that I might want to quote from or cite. And I’ve experimented with using the software’s colored labeling system to help me keep track of which materials I have read and processed and which I have not.

levine-devonthinkBecause I have figured out its utility as I’ve gone along, I’ve made some choices that I might make differently for another project. I initially put materials into folders (what DevonThink calls “Groups”) before realizing that was more processing labor than I needed to expend. So I settled for separating my materials into decades, but have taken advantage of a useful feature that “duplicates” a file into multiple groups to make sure I put a piece of evidence that spans time periods into the various places I might want to consider it. I have settled into some file-naming practices, but would be more consistent about this on another go-round. I know I am not using the software to its full capacity, but I am making it work in ways that supplement and enable my work process, exactly what I need a digital tool to do.

In many respects, my workflow remains rather similar to my old, analog ways, in that I still spend long hours reading through all of the materials, but now I sort them into digital rather than physical piles (a process that involves another piece of software, which I will explain in my next post). In writing media history from a cultural studies perspective, one necessarily juggles a reconstruction of the events of the past with analyses of discourses and images and ideas. I don’t think there is a way to do that interpretive work without the time-consuming and pleasurable labor of reading and thinking, of sorting and categorizing, of articulating to each other that which a casual glance—or a metadata search—cannot on its own accomplish.

But having at my fingertips a quickly searchable database has been invaluable as I write. Because I have read through my hundreds of materials from “the ‘50s,” for instance, I remember that there was a short-lived soap with a divorced woman lead. Its title? Any other information about it? No clue. But within a few keystrokes I can find it—Today Is Ours—and not just access the information about its existence (which perhaps an internet search could also elicit) but find the memo I have of the producers discussing its social relevance, and the Variety review that shares a few key lines of dialogue. OCR does not always work perfectly—it is useless on handwritten letters to the editor of TV Guide—but my dual processes of reading through everything and of using searches to find key materials has made me confident that I am not missing sources as I construct my argument and tell my story. It’s a big story to tell, and one that may be feasible largely due to my digital tools.


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A Turn Toward the Ruins of Radio History Mon, 25 May 2015 12:15:16 +0000 radioruin1Post by Peter Schaefer, Marymount Manhattan College

Given the tremendous wealth that continues to pour into Manhattan and Western Brooklyn, it’s hard to imagine that in the 1970s New York City came perilously close to declaring bankruptcy. The city nearly defaulted on large loans due in part to revenue reductions associated with decreased local manufacturing. To help remedy the situation deep cuts were made across the municipal budget. As a result, New Yorkers saw a city on the brink of collapse with irregular garbage collection, shuttered local libraries, and public school classrooms bursting beyond capacity. Public broadcasting was particularly hard hit with hiring freezes at the municipally owned public radio station WNYC, along with a reduction in staff and constant threats to curtail broadcasting hours. Budget cuts to stations like WNYC resulted in dramatically decreased efforts to save material from this era. In retrospect, the financial catastrophe of 1970s New York might seem like a mere pothole on the road to the city’s current renaissance. But in regard to radio preservation, the ‘70s fiscal crisis left a giant crater in the historical record.

WNYC logosBefore visiting the WNYC Archive I assumed that the older the broadcast era, the spottier the historical record becomes. That is not the case, however. Due to the 1970s fiscal crisis, WNYC recordings from that era are the least represented in the archive. It’s contrary to what one might assume, but there’s a richer and more comprehensive historical record for NYC public radio of the 1930s than for the 1970s. This example attests to the fact that what’s included in an archive depends on much more than the durability of recording formats. Archives develop over time because of decisions made in response to cultural assumptions and economic imperatives more so than the material conditions of sound recording. These decisions are often hidden from view when archives are made publicly accessible.

RPTF1In regard to radio preservation efforts, such as the vital new Radio Preservation Task Force, how might we think differently about the representation of extant materials such that what’s not preserved is also a part of the public face of an archive? In what follows I consider the implications of embracing the monuments to radio history while simultaneously acknowledging the surrounding ruins. I explain some of the emerging norms for radio preservation, and I conclude by connecting contemporary fallacies about the utility of information to the question of how to represent radio history.

The Radio Preservation Task Force, along with other like-minded initiatives such as the American Archive Content Inventory, is establishing what it means to preserve 20th century radio history in the 21st century. This history is still being written, but so far the public access points for the radio historical record employ tagged audio clips, social media updates, and keyword searches to databases. These interactive options are an important resource for communication historians and the public at large, and at the same time, these options are becoming ossified as the way we access the cultural history of radio. What if we offered additional ways of showing radio history that do more than provide a means to access and comment on surviving documents?

devon1Contemporary radio preservation efforts tend to present history in ways that elide the space between the past and the present. For example, take the show Nights in Latin America broadcast on WQXR from 1947 to 1971 and hosted by Pru Devon. Although the vast majority of WQXR materials are lost to the ages, much of the content and supporting documents related to Nights in Latin America survive. Ms. Devon’s daughter saved her mother’s scripts, research notes, air-checks, and fan mail and recently donated these items to the WQXR archive. The ruins of the station’s past now appear forgotten as preservations efforts for the show oscillates from transient to permanent.

Radio history appears stable, durable, and immutable via tributes to Nights in Latin America aired on NPR shows like All Things Considered and represented online. These preservation efforts and its attendant public face, do not show the fact that the historical record for WQXR is spotty at best. Some lacquer discs, some quarter inch audio tapes, and some assorted ephemera comprise the bulk of the archive for the station’s long 20th century legacy. What we see in this example is the wide gap between the appearance of an archive and its actual content. As a result, radio preservation efforts when made publicly accessible typically appear as an unmediated report of an ideally preserved past.

wqxr1Without some nod to the ruins of radio, cultural artifacts are represented in ways that gloss over the decisions that shape an archive’s contours. These decisions may be motivated by economics (as seen in the 1970s NYC fiscal crisis example) or by cultural values (as with the historical revisionism of the Radio Preservation Task Force) or by other fortunate circumstances (such as the mindful conservation of a family legacy as with the example of Nights in Latin America). But in all cases, radio preservation efforts stem from a lineage of integral decisions. Some of these decisions might be lost to the ages as well, but there is value in striving to represent this loss, however imperfect.

Just like there are often disguised decisions that shape an archive, decisions are made in the creation of all contemporary data sets. I frequently encounter students who are surprised when I encourage them to use resources other than Google Scholar to access scholarly literature. These students don’t yet know that Google is a filter not a portal to a limitless universe of information. Anecdotes such as this reflect why I think now is the time to call attention to the ruins of radio history. Common access points for radio’s past offer easily accessible and instantly recoverable historical artifacts. These interfaces deepen historical knowledge but also lend credence to notions of information as a means for social control.

The historical record is being deployed in new ways via aggregated data sets. Evgeny Morozov refers to “solutionism” as a mistaken belief in the ability of big data to solve social problems that range from health care to crime. To put such faith in aggregate data analysis ignores the fact that all data are imperfect reflections of the reality they represent. To embrace the gaps in the radio historical record works against current tendencies to believe in the essential unmediated status of data, whether these data pertain to non-network radio broadcasts or data directly connected to social issues. In short, a turn toward radio ruins serves a critical function in the fight against an ideology of information control.

Now you might be thinking that it’s fun to privilege the vibrant strands of radio history, and it’s a downer to acknowledge what’s lost, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The gems uncovered via the vital work of radio preservationists will sparkle even brighter if shown in context as the rare items that they are. In other words, a turn toward radio ruins doesn’t have to be just about loss but could help make what’s found appear all the more special. And in so doing helps embrace the particular against the aggregate.