Thursday, June 21, 2007

Ethereal History

I listened to the final episode of the Tartan Podcast this week. After 2 years and 110 programs, producer and host Mark Hunter is closing out this portion of his podcasting career. The Tartan Podcast showcased upcoming independent artists in Scotland (especially Glasglow, where Hunter lived) and I discovered several excellent bands through the program, such as Gum and Kasino.

As the final episode played, I reflected on how the nature of audio has changed. Growing up in Northern Virginia, our family always listened to Harden and Weaver on WMAL in the mornings. They were brilliant broadcasters, entertaining and interesting in a low-key fashion. Although they had a successful 32 year run, and garnered several awards, little remains of their legacy (in fact, I couldn't even find an appropriate link for them).

You'll have to take my word for how great Frank Harden and Jackson Weaver were. To my knowledge there are no recordings of their broadcasts. It's not possible for anyone who didn't hear them on air to listen to examples of their craft now.

The Tartan Podcast is a different story. Mark Hunter will keep the website up, so anyone who is just discovering the program can listen to all 110 episodes. You'll have to take my word about Hardin and Weaver -- you can judge the Tartan Podcast for yourself.

But the purpose of this post isn't to contrast the transient nature of audio in the 1960's against the permanence of Internet audio. The Tartan Podcast has ceased production, but the show isn't frozen in amber for all eternity. Already some of the links on the site have gone bad. Kasino's called it a day, and the lead singer of Gum is now a solo artist.

The Tartan Podcast website will be around for a while -- as long as someone pays for the storage. Its possible that five, ten or even twenty years from now Mark Hunter will cancel the account, and the site and all its contents will disappear from public view.

The Internet has changed the way we listen to audio, and how its distributed, and even what happens when a program completes it run. For the Hardin and Weaver program, the show winked out of existence after their last sign-off; for the Tartan Podcast, it's the long goodbye. The time between that final post and the disappearance of the website might be measured in months, years, or perhaps even decades, but it will still be a finite period of time.

If you haven't discovered the Tartan Podcast yet, there's still time.

- Ralph


  1. So, what does happen to old radio programs? I became an early proponent of podcasting because I was interested in the archival element. When I produced a weekly arts show for WVTF earlier this decade, I was so frustrated that I was not allowed to put the show online. I spent hours and hours and hours on it, for very little pay, and the show was expected to just disappear into the air.

    But, that's how people have treated radio in America - throwaway.

    I commented because I'm curious to know if there will be organizations that come forward to keep the archive for all of this new material created for the online age, as far into perpetuity as possible. My goal on the Charlottesville Podcasting Network is to keep everything up for as long as I can, but that's a very heavy charge to maintain. I'm more interested these days in being an archive for local content, in perpetuity. I still get hits for some of the very first few things I posted to the sit. Thanks to Google, people can find stuff, too.

    I'm a big fan of Ed Walker's Big Broadcast show on WAMU, and miss being able to flip on the radio and hear it on Sundays. I love the sense of reverence for old-time radio, and I can imagine that's somewhat different from what you're describing with Hardin and Weaver.

  2. Sean:

    You raise so many good points, you've given me enough material for another post or two.

    You're right that a lot of radio broadcasts are considered disposable. A few years ago our business offered professional archiving services to public radio stations.

    The service included not just transferral of the material to a archival grade discs that were then sealed to prevent degradation, but a complete indexing of the material in basic file formats that should be readable for several generations of computers (with the offer to reformat should there be a significant change).

    There were basically two reactions in the public radio community.

    1) Archiving? What's that?

    2) Archiving? It's too expensive. We'll just have to muddle through with tape reels in banker's boxes.

    So even if things were recorded, it won't be too much longer before the source recordings will be virtually unreadable and they will disappear entirely.

    - Ralph