The digital world is a great place to be. I can take photos on my phone and upload them to my computer, and I can read all of my books on my Kindle. I can have all of my music in one place, and I can read this magazine online.
But what about the photos in my parents’ albums of my grandfather teaching me to fish? They’re collecting dust on a shelf. What about my copy of Dr. Seuss’ Oh the Places You’ll Go, in which my mom wrote a note to me when I graduated from high school? It’s in my parents’ basement, probably covered in mildew.
This is a sign that I need to take better care of the things I value … but it’s also proof that in the preoccupation with documenting the here and now, we can’t forget to preserve documentation of the past.
That’s exactly what’s happening in radio stations across the country. Everything is digital, and the reels of old music and radio broadcasts are either collecting dust in a basement storage closet or in a landfill somewhere. It wasn’t until 2014 that anyone realized the scope of this problem: At least 75 percent of America’s recorded radio has been lost. This week’s feature shows how an effort in Missouri is trying to rectify this.
For the past year, as part of a Missouri Broadcasters Association initiative, radio stations in St. Louis, Kansas City and Jefferson City have been compiling radio archives from all over the country, some dating back to as early as 1931. Steve Morse, Zimmer Radio Group's chief engineer, is helping digitize those reel-to-reels.
Morse has taken on the task as a personal project. It’s time-consuming work, but he and others included in the project see that the effort now will make sure the sounds of the past don’t die out.