Earlier this year, the American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB) launched FIX IT+, a crowdsourcing tool that invites the public to help improve the searchability of over 50,000 hours of historic public television and radio programming. Now, with the generous support of George Blood, a digitization service provider, the AAPB is launching the Transcribe to Digitize Challenge. The challenge is simple: George Blood will digitize another tape (for free!) for every transcript that is corrected.
AAPB has digitized and preserved more than 50,000 hours of public television and radio programming created by stations and producers across the United States. This unique historic material, created as early as the 1940s and often lacking closed captioning, represents our shared and diverse cultural heritage. Yet it is not highly discoverable to researchers, educators, students, lifelong learners, journalists and the public because it lacks robust descriptive information, or “metadata.”.
For the Transcribe to Digitize Challenge, a minimum of 20 transcripts must be corrected for a station to meet the challenge, and George Blood will then provide free digitization for 20 tapes selected by that station. Up to 100 transcripts can be corrected for 100 tapes to be digitized per station. The digitized materials will be delivered back to each station, and a copy will also go to the AAPB for long-term preservation at the Library of Congress and access through the AAPB website!
Greetings gentle reader, I’m Eric Saxon, a Masters of Information and Library Science student specializing in archives at the University of Missouri – Columbia, and part of the second cohort of the Public Broadcasting Preservation Fellowship (PBPF). This summer, I embarked on a deep tape diving expedition at the radio station, KOPN.
KOPN 89.5 FM, community radio from Columbia, Missouri, broadcasts to antennas throughout the central part of the state and via online at kopn.org. KOPN has transmitted information and music since 1973 AD. As part of the PBPF mission to record local histories across the nation, I set out to discover Columbia and KOPN as it existed in the first twenty or so years of the station, through a media format heretofore unfamiliar to me, the ¼ in. audio tape reel.
The idea was to give these audio reels new life through digital preservation, and, subsequently, new access points to the history of community radio in Columbia, MO in the era of the ¼ in. magnetic tape.
What I ended up recording is only a small piece of this history, but the audible trace there tells a story of a community radio station being born out of the progressive ethos of the 1960s, open to and actively exploring all available ideas during the 1970s, and incompletely mutating into new wave ideals of the 1980s. During the era of the magnetic tape, KOPN filled a void in mid-Missouri left by mainstream broadcast radio and television, serving across an intersection of race, class, gender, style, sexuality, attitude, and musical preference.
The collection is particularly strong in broadcasts that represent feminist discourse and practice of the time, and my predecessor (Rebecca Benson, PBPF Spring 2018 Fellow) had already begun work that focused on feminist community radio. Having inherited her excellent start to the project, I built upon the theme and expanded it to include live music broadcasts and a wide range of programming, all under the umbrella of feminist community radio.
To convey an idea of this breadth, some titles of the audio broadcasts I digitized include Betty Friedan in Columbia (1973); Don Cooper Live at KOPN (1973); Consciousness Across the Void (1973); Angela Davis in Columbia (1974); Political Gayness (1974); National Women’s Music Festival (1975); The End of “Alternative Radio” on WGTB (1976); Off Our Backs (1976); The Fabulish Winotones Live (1977); Numerology (1978); The Booty Band: Demo Tape (1978); Reasonably Polite New Wave (1981); Program on Lesbian Separatism (1981); DuChamp Live at the Blue Note (1981); Bella Azbug at MU (1984); Gloria Kaufman, “The Politics of Humor: A Feminist View” (1992); City Council Meetings; and discussions by the Women’s Health Collective.
I transferred only a few reels from the 1990s to a digital format, and none from the 2000s. (By that time, the station had switched to digital machines.) However, a quick listen to KOPN today will tell you that the community values and open radio format there in the beginning continue to be the guiding forces of the station.
The digitization process not only transferred content but also often recorded the unique physical characteristics of the tape and its interaction with the reel-to-reel tape machines, which, in the University of Missouri – Columbia KOPN Digitization Station’s case, are the Studer A807 (mono) and the Studer B67 (stereo). These were hooked up to a PC and a Mac desktop computer, respectively, where both utilized the audio editing software, Audacity. I could have removed some tape hiss, a sizzle of magnetic particles here and there, and other imperfections, but I left in all but the most egregious content obfuscators, not only to digitize as much as possible in the time allotted, but also as an aesthetic choice and to preserve the unique qualities of the tape medium itself.
Emancipating the tape reels from their media-specific obscurity required multiple other steps, with some reels needing more TLC and resuscitation than others. After vigilant cleaning of the machines between reels, this process might entail repairing splices that popped off during the recording process, adding leader tape to the heads and tails of reels, re-housing tapes with broken parts, periodic demagnetizing of the tape machines, untangling and re-spooling tape that had become curled and twisted, and baking/dehydrating tapes exhibiting “sticky-shed syndrome” where deteriorating binder material becomes unfixed in the tape path and gums up the machine’s moving parts. In addition to the more physical aspects of the project, there was also record creation for each reel, inventory production, metadata researched and added, checksum generation, audio file conversion, and ingest into the mothership servers at WGBH.
Although I worked independently, at every stage I had a network of experts and mentors to turn to when encountering an obstacle, from the immersion week of audiovisual preservation training in Boston to the final handoff of the files. Thanks go out to the amazing folks at WGBH and all involved in immersion week, including George Blood and Jackie Jay for introducing me to legacy A/V equipment, all my fellow Fellows, host mentor Jackie Casteel and everyone at KOPN, faculty mentor Dr. Sarah Buchanan and the scholars at MU’s Allen Institute, local mentor Jim Hone, and every one else involved in this far-reaching project.
Going forward, I’m excited to bring forth more untold and seldom heard stories from their various limbos, utilizing what I learned as a PBPF fellow to help make a more complete historical record that is inclusive of the entire spectrum of human experience.
Written by Eric Saxon, PBPF Summer 2018 Cohort
The Public Broadcasting Preservation Fellowship (PBPF), funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, supports ten graduate student fellows at University of North Carolina, San Jose State University, Clayton State University, University of Missouri, and University of Oklahoma in digitizing at-risk materials at public media organizations around the country. Host sites include the Center for Asian American Media, Georgia Public Broadcasting, WUNC, the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority, and KOPN Community Radio. Contents digitized by the fellows will be preserved in the American Archive of Public Broadcasting. The grant also supports participating universities in developing long-term programs around audiovisual preservation and ongoing partnerships with their local public media stations.
For more updates on the Public Broadcasting Preservation Fellowship project, follow the project at pbpf.americanarchive.org and on Twitter at #aapbpf, and come back in a few months to check out the results of their work.
“The AAPB is a vast resource and a unique catalogue of our nation’s history through the lens of public media and local perspectives. The feedback we receive from our new committees is crucial to making the AAPB as accessible and user-friendly as possible to key communities across the country,” said Karen Cariani, David O. Ives Executive Director of the WGBH Media Library and Archives and WGBH’s Project Director for the AAPB. “We look forward to collaborating with scholars, educators, stations and producers and expanding the reach of the AAPB.”
The SAC, comprised of scholars from universities, academic and cultural institutions and non-profits from across the U.S., will collaborate on developing ways to engage with scholars and students, discuss how the AAPB can better support research, provide feedback on the AAPB’s website usability and accessibility, advise on future collections significant for preservation and assist in outreach across their academic networks. SAC scholars represent expertise in a range of fields, including public history, media, cinema, library and information science, journalism, science and American studies. The AAPB’s audio and video content from public media stations is a rich resource for research across these topics and more. The SAC’s input will help the AAPB make the use of these resources more accessible for researchers.
A group of education professionals comprise the EduAC. This committee will help the AAPB assess how it can better grow the usage of public media materials in k-12 and community college classrooms. EduAC will advise the AAPB on how to build better and/or integrate with existing online educational tools, to engage with k-12 students and better support educators in the field, and will act as advocates for public media preservation in their networks and communities.
The SPAC will bring together members of the public media community to gather input on how the AAPB can help stations preserve public media and make their historic content more accessible. The SPAC will offer feedback on the archiving services most needed by public media stations and identify significant collections and content for preservation.
The AAPB is a national effort to preserve at-risk public media and provide a central web portal for access to the programming that public stations and producers have created over the past 70 years. To date, over 50,000 hours of television and radio programming contributed by more than 100 public media organizations and archives across the United States have been digitized, and the Archive aims to grow by up to 25,000 additional hours per year. The entire collection is available for research on location at WGBH and the Library, and currently more than 30,000 programs are available in the AAPB’s Online Reading Room at americanarchive.org to anyone in the United States.
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About the American Archive of Public Broadcasting
The American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB) is a collaboration between the Library of Congress and the WGBH Educational Foundation to coordinate a national effort to preserve at-risk public media before its content is lost to posterity and provide a central web portal for access to the unique programming that public stations have aired over the past 70 years. To date, over 50,000 hours of television and radio programming contributed by more than 100 public media organizations and archives across the United States have been digitized for long-term preservation and access. The entire collection is available on location at WGBH and the Library of Congress, and more than 30,000 programs are available online at americanarchive.org.
WGBH Boston is America’s preeminent public broadcaster and the largest producer of PBS content for TV and the Web, including Frontline, Nova, American Experience, Masterpiece, Antiques Roadshow, Arthur, and more than a dozen other prime-time, lifestyle, and children’s series. WGBH also is a major supplier of programming for public radio and a partner with Public Radio International (PRI). As a leader in educational multimedia for the classroom, WGBH supplies content to PBS LearningMedia, a national broadband service for teachers and students. WGBH also is a pioneer in technologies and services that make media accessible to those with hearing or visual impairments. WGBH has been recognized with hundreds of honors: Emmys, Peabodys, duPont-Columbia Awards and Oscars. Find more information at www.wgbh.org.
About the Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States – and extensive materials from around the world – both on site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at loc.gov, access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at congress.gov and register creative works of authorship at copyright.gov.
About The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
Founded in 1969, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation endeavors to strengthen, promote, and, where necessary, defend the contributions of the humanities and the arts to human flourishing and to the well-being of diverse and democratic societies by supporting exemplary institutions of higher education and culture as they renew and provide access to an invaluable heritage of ambitious, path-breaking work. Additional information is available at mellon.org.