In an article entitled “Saving Historic Radio Before It’s Too Late,” Adrienne LeFrance (The Atlantic) details the Library of Congress’s audio preservation efforts and the National Recording Registry, drawing particular attention to the difficulties of preserving access to broadcast media.
But serious discussion of how to preserve early audio collections, and what to preserve, didn’t really begin until the 1960s, by which point decades of historic audio had been lost, destroyed, or never recorded in the first place. And format changes over the years have forced preservationists to start anew every few decades.
There’s no way to quantify how much of broadcasting history has been lost, except to say that most of American radio will never be heard again. That is, many scholars argue, in large part the fault of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which eliminated mandates for local ownership and led to major consolidations across the radio market. New ownership often meant the obliteration of recorded history. “They literally incinerated and trashed entire local collections,” said Josh Shepperd, the national research director of the Radio Preservation Task Force at the Library of Congress.
LaFrance goes on to describe the recent Radio Preservation Task Force meeting and Library of Congress’s plans for preservation and public access to historical broadcasts.