Sound Archives Preserves 1940s Radio Broadcasts

LP record

The Marr Sound Archives team completed the project Preserving 1940s Radio Broadcasts on Severely Damaged Lacquer Discs, for which they were awarded $33,323 from the Council of Library and Information Resources (CLIR) for a Recordings at Risk grant

This grant-funded project allowed the Sound Archives to digitize and provide access to 1940s radio broadcasts on 29 severely damaged lacquer discs, the contents of which would otherwise have been lost forever. The broadcasts were recorded in the 1940s and include world news, news commentary, radio dramas, and performances by the Kansas City Philharmonic. 

Due to the damage of the discs they could not be played, and could not be digitized by conventional methods and standards, requiring the use of a specialized audio preservation technology. Each disc is one-of-a-kind, holding a piece of radio history and reflecting the culture of the period. The rescued recordings will now be available to researchers as digital files. 

This disc with severe surface damage has a logo for “American Broadcasting Company, Inc.,” and contains an instantaneous recording of a radio drama with organ accompaniment titled “Ellery Queen: The Blue Egg.” 

One of the discs included in this project contains audio that was recorded off the coast of Cherbourg, France, during World War II and broadcast on KMBC in Kansas City on July 1, 1944. The news correspondent, Charles Collingwood, was recording from aboard a duck boat (or PT boat) on its way out to a sinking ship that had been hit by a mine. Other boats had arrived earlier to rescue the sailors and the correspondent narrates the final sinking of the ship, including witnessing, at the very end of the broadcast, the successful rescue of the ship’s cat! Listen to the audio.

The IRENE audio preservation technology, a non-contact method, is the only way to digitize content on severely damaged discs like these. The UMKC Libraries contracted with the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) to digitize the discs using their IRENE equipment, one of only three in the world. The IRENE technology uses electronic imaging to create high-resolution digital images of the surface of the discs, applies image processing to fill in the gaps left by the damage, and then digitally emulates a stylus to reproduce the audio content.

The Marr Sound Archives holds over 400,000 audiovisual items, with a focus on the American experience as reflected in recorded sound. Included in the collection are 62,000 radio broadcasts, many of which are currently being digitized in-house for preservation. This project preserved the small portion of the collection on severely damaged lacquer discs. The recordings came from three different collections donated to the UMKC University Libraries: the J. David Goldin Collection, the Arthur B. Church KMBC Radio Collection, and the Ed Roche Collection.

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