Tag Archives: Radio Archiving

Advice on preserving 1940s era homemade records

At the Winter SWL Fest last week, my friend, Andrew Yoder (author of the Pirate Radio Annual) told me about a recent find: homemade records by amateur radio operator W3JJN.

Andrew wrote about these recordings on his blog:

[…]Before open-reel decks were wire recorders. Information was magnetized onto a fine reel of stainless steel wire. It was essentially the same concept as tape decks, whether open reel or cassette, only the tape system was a refinement (an oxide coating on a plastic tape), rather than trying to magnetize a wire.

[…]Before wire recorders were record recorders. These took an audio source and the needle cut a blank disc with grooves. From what I understand, these homemade discs weren’t meant to be played back too many times because the needles wore into the grooves more quickly than commercially manufactured records. I’m not sure what they were all made from, but I know that some were aluminum discs with a thin layer of plastic.

I always look for the homemade records because there weren’t too many options for audio sources back then. By the open-reel tape era, a lot of people were recording entire albums to tape, so they weren’t necessarily recording the radio. But, for example, in 1940, the options were basically either family greetings, someone singing or a band playing, or the radio. And chances are good that any recording you find is the only one in existence.

I found three of these on Saturday.

Here’s a photo of one.

They are amateur radio QSOs from W3JJN to a couple of other operators. W3JJN cataloged the discs by side . . . and this was number 477. So, at least 237 other records existed in his homemade record collection at one time. The sides that I have are dated in late 1945 and early 1946. To me, this is an astounding find because I’m not sure how many recordings exist of any amateur radio operations prior to 1950, not to mention that this is still very early in the post-war period.

I did some searching on W3JJN and he was William E. Belz, who lived at that time on 1509 Linden Avenue in Baltimore, Maryland. He was a TV repairman who was born in Duncansville, PA, and died in 1981 after a lengthy illness.

My big problem here is that these records are disintegrating. The plastic layer is cracking badly and separating from the aluminum discs. I guess what I really need is one of the laser turntables that can play back audio from broken discs and won’t damage the grooves. I don’t think I can risk playing any of these on a regular turntable, but I want to recover the audio quickly before the discs degrade further.

Click here to read the full article.

Post readers: Any advice on preserving these recordings? It sounds like using an actual needle to make a digital copy might be a little too destructive.  Are there alternatives?  Please comment if you have any experience or suggestions!

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How to safely archive QSLs, postcards, photos, and printed memorabilia

Recently, an SWLing Post reader asked this simple question:

“If you were me, would you laminate a super-rare QSL card?”

The short answer–?  Please don’t!

Never laminate a QSL card, photo, page or postcard

You should never apply heat-seal or adhesive (cold) seal lamination to a QSL card or any other paper memorabilia if your ultimate goal is to protect and archive it.

Why?  Doesn’t lamination, for example, make your card impervious to moisture (and spilled coffee)?  Sort of.  So that makes it safe for the long term, doesn’t it? Well…not exactly.

These forms of lamination, over time, basically destroy printed media. In the short term, laminating your cards can look great, and will keep some of the coffee off (though it may still seep in the sides); in the long term, however, the (petroleum-based) plastic can “off gas,” causing a detrimental chemical reaction with the media it attempts to protect.  Plastic can also be acidic.  Coupled with the lamination heat (or the adhesive, in the case of cold-seal lamination) these processes can actually speed up the aging process “causing progressive deterioration and eventual embrittlement,” according to one archiving source.

I feel fairly passionate about this because, during my undergraduate studies, I worked for my university archives department where I was taught (by an excellent and knowledgeable archivist) to handle, document, index, and preserve sensitive documents, books, photos, cards, slides and other forms of media (known in the trade as “ephemera”).  Many times, we’d receive important documents or photos from donors who had laminated them, believing they were archiving these items for future generations. Alas, we saw the results of the lamination damage first-hand:  decades-old items that had been heat-laminated were separating and clouding up, often tearing apart the item inside. Our head archivist likened laminating to a self-destruct mechanism.

Take away? Lamination is a very bad idea for the long-term protection of any print media.

How to archive a QSL card––or any document, for that matter

Archival sleeves come in all forms. This one holds four cards and fits in a three ring binder.

Fortunately, there are effective (and fairly affordable) ways to properly archive and organize your QSL card collection, as well as other sentimental and/or valuable ephemera.

Look for archival transparent sleeves supplied to libraries. These are generally made of polyethylene, mylar/polyester, or another transparent archival material that passes the Photographic Activity Test (PAT).

In short: If you find an archival sleeve, from a reputable seller that passes the P.A.T. test, you’ll know it’s safe.

Archival products are acid-free, lignan-free, and chemical softener-free, thus should not interact or bind with the media you’re preserving as non-acid-free items are prone to do. With anything I wish to archive, I go with archival quality all the way.

For example, I make sure not only the clear sleeves or pages are archival, but that the binder or box containing the items are acid-free and of archival quality, as well. Any labels I use are archival, as well . That may seem like overkill to many, but it’s just what an archivist would do!

Storage of the media is also important; you don’t want to put your cards in archival sleeves and then leave them in a damp shed or shack where moisture can become trapped between your card and the encapsulating archival sleeve; mold could still develop.  So a dry, somewhat temperature-controlled environment is key.  Generally speaking, keeping ephemera indoors where you live may be a better option.

Sources of Archival Materials

A simple acid-free box can store hundreds of QSL cards in archival sleeves sleeves.

Archival products are more expensive than standard office products, but they’re worth it. Make sure you’re purchasing the best quality you can afford. Two of my favorite suppliers are Gaylord Archival and Light Impressions, though there are many other reputable ones out there.

Amazon and eBay offer sources of archival quality products, as well, and pricing can be more competitive than either of the retailers I’ve listed above.

As for myself,  I only buy archival products from retailers that specialize in them. Both Light Impressions and Gaylord Archival have helpful staff you can call on the phone. They’ll help you find the best material for the preservation of your collection of QSL cards or whatever else you may want to protect.

I’d rather support Light Impressions with my purchase knowing that their standards are strict and their reputation rides on their products meeting strict archival standards. If you’re going to pay for something to protect your memorabilia, I say, go for quality!

And in the meantime…give the heat lamination a miss.

Good luck with your long-term archiving!  And don’t forget to share those rare QSL cards with us here.

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Curating a list of endangered shortwave stations

RCI-Sackville-2012

That’s my minivan parked in front of the RCI Sackville transmitting station in June, 2012. The site was closed by the end of 2012 and towers demolished shortly thereafter.

Recently, my friend and fellow archivist, London Shortwave, and I engaged in a discussion about creating a curated list of “endangered” shortwave radio stations.

The idea being we could use such a list to focus our efforts and those of the archiving community on recording broadcasters that were most likely to disappear in the near future.

London Shortwave published an excellent post about this on his blog.

Please click here to read his post.

We quickly put this page on the Shortwave Radio Audio Archive as a starting point.

We need your help to curate this list!

Please comment either on London Shortwave’s blog, or on this post, and suggest any additional broadcasters we may have missed. Please include a link to news item(s) which may indicate the broadcaster faces closure.

Of course, this list and the categories are subjective–we’re simply using our best judgement in this process. Often, broadcasters can shut down with little or no notice.

Thanks in advance for your help!

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KIRO saves radio history by accident

Crosley-Dial-BlackAndWhiteMany thanks to SWLing Post reader, William Lee, who shared the following story from Mynorthwest.com about how radio station KIRO saved a bit of radio history through “accidental preservation.” Here’a an excerpt:

One of the most important events of the 20th century was World War II. The Cold War that followed and many of the national borders that exist to this day were largely created during that deadly, years-long conflict from the late 1930s to 1945.

An expert speaking at the Library of Congress at the first-ever Radio Preservation Task Force Conference described how one of the most important tools for understanding World War II is available to researchers only because of an “accident” at KIRO Radio more than 70 years ago.

During his keynote address last week in Washington, DC, longtime archivist and librarian Sam Brylawski spoke of KIRO Radio’s role in saving a priceless audio record of American history.

It was a case of “accidental preservation,” Brylawski told the audience of more than 200 radio history scholars from around the US and Canada, that resulted in the creation of a nearly complete archive of CBS news broadcasts during World War II.

“KIRO is the station in Seattle that cut lacquer discs to timeshift,” Byrlawski said, explaining how the scheduling of live broadcasts of CBS Radio’s news coverage was aimed at the Eastern time zone, which was not convenient for West Coast audiences. KIRO, as Brylawski described, violated network radio policies to make recordings of news programs on giant, 16-inch diameter discs, and then play them back a few hours later at times that were more convenient to Seattle-area listeners.

Continue reading the full article and listen to the audio report at Mynorthwest.com…

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