Monday, June 25, 2007

Tracking the Ethereal

Sean Tubbs of the Charlottesville Podcasting Network left an excellent comment on our last post. In additions to his thoughtful observations and sharing his first-person experience in broadcasting, he asked a very important question:
So, what does happen to old radio programs?
As fans of nostalgia radio know, many of the radio dramas, comedies and variety shows broadcast from the 1930's through the 1950's were recorded onto vinyl, and are readily available today.

Many stations also did airchecks, and some of these from the 1960's and later have survived and are shared by collectors.

(An aircheck is a recording made of a station's broadcast for the purpose of monitoring the on-air talent. Usually the aircheck is reviewed by the program director and sometimes by the announcer as well. Some stations used "skimmers," which basically only recorded when the microphone was turned on, and paused when the mic was shut off. This "telescoped" a 4-hour airshift down to about 20 minutes of tape by skipping most of the music.)

The best source I've found for aircheck material is The site specializes in AM Top 40 radio, but within that focus contains an amazing variety of recorded radio segments from the 1950's up through the 1980's. Some of these are skimmed airchecks, which give you the flavor of the announcer's style, while others are complete recordings and include music and commercials.

Thanks to Reelradio, I've been able to listen to the first DJ of rock and roll, Alan Freed, and relive some memories with Tiger Bob Raleigh on WPGC.

For the Washington area, there's the excellent DCRTV historical site, DCRTV Plus. For a small fee, you can get access to a variety of information about old radio stations, programs and air talent, as well as some audio clips.

Some stations have their own fan sites, such as WPGC, and WJMA (the station I started at) also have some audio available.

And some air talent have made their own recordings available. In his comment, Sean mentions Ed Walker. Ed Walker and Willard Scott (long before the Today Show weather gig) were known as the Joy Boys and produced some of the greatest radio comedy ever heard (IMHO), rivaling Bob and Ray (also IMHO). Many of their skits are available through the Joy Boys website.

But this is just a fraction of what went out over the airwaves. Most of it is lost forever, and what remains reminds me very much of what's usually recovered at an archeological dig. Small shards of pottery and fragments of tools that give us but a hint of what the original objects were like to hold and use.

- Ralph

So what other sources are out there that I've missed? Leave a comment and share a link!

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