Authoring in Sound:

An Eccentric Essay on Aural History, Radio, and Media Convergence

Charles Hardy III

West Chester University

January 1999

 

(Draft, not for quotation, distribution or use without permission of author)

 

My thanks to Charles Hardy for permission to distribute this to all class members. References to audio files on an accompanying CD are now links on the Syllabus.

Introduction (January, 1999)

This study began out of frustration and curiosity.  Trained as an historian I labored throughout the 1980s as an independent documentary producer and historical consultant. Much of my work was in public radio, for which I produced two oral history-based documentary series and served as the first producer of Crossroads, a national weekly radio magazine on multi-cultural affairs.  Self taught, like so many radio documentary producers, I soon became so discontent with both my own work and the general quality of radio documentaries that I began to search for models.  I also moved into the field of “audio art,” producing sound montages from oral histories, archival recordings, and other sound elements that permitted me to push the boundaries of my own conceptions.  After becoming a full-time academic historian in 1990, I began to research the history of the sound documentary using aural reminiscences, both to figure out how the field evolved, to explain why, in my opinion,  the radio documentary had never lived up to its potential, and to locate seminal works that actually held my interest and that might inspire other academics to work in sound.  My primary audience at that point, was oral historians, whom I wanted to convince of the importance of recording high-fidelity interviews. [1]

What in the early 1990s seemed a rather esoteric study, of interest to only a very small and specialized group of oral historians and public radio documentary producers, has now, perhaps, become less obscure, for the authoring of history in sound is coming of age with the ongoing digital revolution.  Liberated by digital field recorders, work stations, and expanding “ancillary” markets, the spoken-word sound documentary has entered a period of renewed creativity and vitality. A host of other independent documentary producers are creating programs that demonstrate the beauty and utility of aural reminiscences presented in sound.  American non-commercial radio continues to air ambitious sound documentaries.  Indicative of growing importance of electronic media, the Oral History Association (OHA) in 1998 revised its professional guidelines to acknowledge the importance of recording high-fidelity interviews and the proper storage and preservation of the sound documents.  Each year the OHA annual meeting hosts a growing number of media sessions, and biannually awards a prize for the best work in non-print media.  The most recent winner,  the Southern Regional Leadership Council’s(?) Will the Circle Be Unbroken , (1997) was a series of 13, 1/2 radio programs that documented the Civil Rights movement in five southern towns. 

The growing appreciation of history in sound can be seen clearly with the debut Lost and Found Sound: An American Record, a new national series produced by veteran radio documentary producers, Kitchen Sisters. Debuting on NPR in January, 1999, Lost and Found Sounds is a national collaboration of radio artists, producers, sound designers, record producers, musicians, filmmakers, composers and others who are producing a “millennial audio anthology;”  stories and pieces that “explore how recorded sound has captured history, how sound recording has changed the course of history, and how the sound of life has changed over the past century.” An ambitious project of short segments and long-format programs that will be aired on some of NPR’s most popular programs, its producers will also be asking public radio listeners to search for and share their own families’ audio histories .[2]

To produce spoken-word programming that holds its own against print, television, and other media, academics, journalists, and other authors must listen to and learn from to the best of these works.  In other words, they need to learn how to think in sound.  Throughout this paper I will use the word “author” rather than “write.”  I do so not an academic pretension, but to distinguish between writing, which is done on paper, and the processes by which one communicates effectively in sound.  Words written down and then read aloud rarely do good radio make.  “Radio,” too, is a word that is losing its utility. During the past century the technological triumph of motion pictures, recorded sound, radio, and television brought about monumental changes in the nature of human communications.  Today we are in the midst of a second, digital revolution that is laying the groundwork for an international and interactive information infrastructure in which once separate media are already converging; a celestial jukebox in which information will be recorded, stored , transmitted, and received digitally.  What this means for the nation is that more and more people will be generating documents about themselves and receiving information about the world, past and present, in multi-media formats.  From the 1920s through the 1980s radio was the dominant electronic medium of spoken-word communication, (the limited market for spoken-word records and tapes I address elsewhere), but in the 1990s it lost its monopoly.  Today,  radio is but one outlet for spoken-word programming that can be distributed in a growing variety of media and formats: CDs and cassettes, the Internet, CD-ROMs, sophisticated digital repeaters that permit many levels of interactivity, and a host of multi- and multiple-media combinations.  [3]

To author the history of the twentieth century, authors working in digital media need usable records; documents that accurately reproduce the sound and visual events that they recorded.  Increasingly affordable technologies today permit sound gatherers to record high-fidelity interviews and sound documents, and to convert those materials into sound and multimedia "articles,” "books" “documentaries,”  “pieces,” exhibits, and still emerging forms of “programming” that can be released in a variety of stand-alone and multiple media formats. Targeting car drivers who want alternatives to the fare offered them by both commercial and non-commercial radio, the Books-on-Tape industry exploded in size during the 1990s.  At first most books-on-tape were like old wine poured into new bottles; written words read aloud.  But the industry has slowly begun to develop an ear.  More and more publications are paying attention to production values , utilizing actualities, sound effects, and ambiances.  Today one can find autobiographies read by their authors, dramatic recreations, and publications that include archival recordings. Claybourne Carson’s excellent print biography of Martin Luther King, for example, when released as a book on tape (•• 1999) included archival recordings of King speeches that date back to the 1950s.

Such publication permit authors to use print and sound in a complementary fashion, playing to the strengths of each medium.  A collaboration of scholars, artists and technicians at four different institutions, Remembering Slavery  (The Free Press, 1998), for example, combines a book of slave narratives with two, one-hour tapes that include the words of former slaves read by actors and oral histories recorded during the 1930s.  Produced by Smithsonian Productions these tapes were also broadcast by NPR in 1998.  Here radio broadcast also served as marketing and promotion for the New Press book-and-audiotape publication.

The 1990s witnessed a growing number of similarly ambitious multiple-media publications.  A collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution and NPR, Wade in the Waters: African-American Sacred Music Traditions  included a 26-hour radio series, traveling museum exhibit,  four-cassette music anthology packaged with an 115-page Educator’s Guide (NPR 1994), and musical recordings released on cassette and CD by Smithsonian/Folkways.  To tell the story of the exciting literary movement of the American Southwest, University of Arizona English professor David Dunaway produced Writing the Southwest , a complementary book (Penguin, 1995) and radio series that included thirteen, half-hour radio documentaries.[4]

Television broadcasters and video documentarians also use sound recordings.  The explosion of new broadcast and non-broadcast outlets has created a voracious demand for spoken-word programming.  In the 1990s the communications and entertainment industries recognized that the nation’s libraries and archives are a major, under-utilized source of inexpensive “software;” raw material to help fill the expanding universe of electronic space.  Swamped by requests from network and cable channels, A&E, independent documentary producers, and website designers,  growing numbers of sound archives are setting up rate schedules and retooling their reading rooms to accommodate the growing number of researchers.  [5]

Quick to embrace the computers, academics first learned to author in the digital domain in the 1990s.  Joining the soaring numbers of high-quality video and sound documentaries are multi-media monographs that team text, documents, still and moving images and audio recordings.  A superb example of things to come is The American Social History Project's Who Built America, the 1993 CD-ROM that incorporated several thousand pages of text, hundreds of high resolution photographs, sixty graphs and charts, four hours of audio--including oral histories--and forty-five minutes of film. That a reviewer in The Wall Street Journal found the oral histories with ordinary people "some of the most fascinating entries" indicates the ability of oral histories to hold their own against other visual and audio-visual materials.  This came to life for me while listening to a segment on composer Eubie Blake, who while talking about his early musical education plays a song as his music teacher taught it to him, and as he "ragged" it on his own.  In 1995 Voyager commissioned the American Social History Project to produce a second volume of Who Built America?  covering the period from 1914 through 1945 that will include even more oral histories and other sound documents.  [6]

A growing number of oral history projects are finding their way onto CD-ROM and the Internet.  One of the first significant oral history projects committed to the digital domain was undertaken by the Rasmusson Library Oral History Program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.  In the mid-1990s the Program created a series of innovative, interactive computer workstations that teamed interviews with native elders with pictures, maps, text,  and short video clips that highlighted local history.  Historians working on this Jukebox Program quickly experienced how authoring in multimedia alters the way one thinks about history; how it led them to "think beyond individual interviews to the corpus of comparative perspectives which we are assembling... In a sense,”  William Schneider wrote, “we resemble orchestra conductors encouraging many voices and variation and sometimes are able to leave our listeners with lasting impressions of what went on, what it was like, and what we think it means." [7]

Ongoing improvements continue to transform the Internet, a digital domain with which many scholars are already quite comfortable.  The arrival of CD-quality, high-fidelity sound streaming to the Internet may prove to be the most revolutionary development of all.  Users can already listen to the radio, music, and other sound programming over the Internet.  Opportunities for journalists and academics abound.  Debuting in 1998, the Journal forMultiMedia History  (JMMH) became the first refereed academic journal to appear on-line.  Able to publish “articles” that include text, still and moving images, and sound, the JMH in May, 1999 will publish I Can Almost See the Lights of Home: A Field Trip to Harlan County, Kentucky, (Charles Hardy and Alessandro Portelli).  a 2hr.21min. stereo, oral history essay-in-sound authored as a scholarly study that must be heard rather than read.

 

 Museums that experimented with sound installations  in the 1970s and 1980s often experienced nagging problems with the cart machines and other analogue tape technologies then available. These were expensive, high-maintenance, low-fidelity technologies that broke down with great regularity and that required periodic replacement of tapes.  Walking tours were limited by the lock-step, linear character of the programming and the requirement that each user carry a cassette recorder, tape, and headphones.  Today, solid-state digital repeaters and multi-channel, computer-based digital processors have the potential to revolutionize the use of sound in museums, exhibits, battlefields, towns, and other locations.  Storing the sound programming on a memory chip, digital repeaters are practically maintenance free.  Information that can be presented in multiple languages, at different levels of expertise--such as for children or adults--and in sequential segments,  at the end of each of which the listener can choose to go to one of four subsequent messages.  Branching permits each listener to select his or her own individual pathway through the stored information, listening to as much or as little as is desired.  A light-weight portable pointer that activates each sound station with the press of a button replaces the cassette player.

The replacement of individual cassette players, with their fixed, linear programs by wands that activate interactive repeaters, can revolutionize the audio walking tours already popular with museums and visitors.  Audio walking or driving tours are ideal not just for history museums, but historic parks and districts,  and the sites of important historical events.  Imagine, when visiting the City of Birmingham, Alabama, for examine, being able to walk through an historic site such as the Schloss Industrial Furnace, your tour narrated by former workers who describe the steel making process, labor issues, life stories, and significant events, or listening to audio walking or driving tour composed of oral histories, news reports, music, and the sounds of the crucial moments of the Civil Rights during the spring and summer of 1963.  [8]

 The only way to really experience the potential for the use of oral histories in audio tours, is to listen to one. Alcatraz: Cellhouse Tour,  a half-hour, self-guided, audio walking tour used at the National Park Service's Alcatraz prison museum in San Francisco, might be a good place to start.  Former Correction's Officer Tom Donohue serves as the narrator, leading the visitor through the prison and introducing the voices of prisoners and guards, all residents of Alcatraz between 1934 and 1963, who describe their daily routines and recall the most bloody prison break and only successful escape.  The producers make excellent, spare use of the sound of cell doors shutting,  footsteps on hard pavement, and other effects to punctuate the recollections and stories about individual cells, the library, mess hall, and solitary confinement. The Alcatraz tour also makes effective use of complementary media,  including panels of historical photos and portraits of the informants to whom the visitor is listening or about whom they are hearing.  Available for rent or purchase, Alcatraz: Cellhouse Tour demonstrates an effective, cost-efficient use of oral histories for audio tours.  (Selection)

Stereo is only a poor analogue of the way we actually hear.  New three-dimensional sound systems, already being marketed for use with computer games, may also revolutionize the whole world of sound reproduction, enabling authors to work in multi-channel, three-dimensional soundscapes that enable sophisticated positioning and movement that brings sound to life.  [9]

Three-Dimensional Sound:

In selecting their oral history excerpts, the most historians, filmmakers, and other media professionals are not especially concerned with sound quality.  Beggars cannot be choosers, so recordings, if intelligible are usually deemed usable.  Few oral historians pay serious attention to sound quality.  Most don't understand its importance.  Museum professionals, too, are only now beginning to use audio stations as more than a multimedia gimmick to entertain easily distracted visitors.  Many exhibit designers have told me that program segments should be no more than 90 seconds long, both to keep traffic moving and because visitors won't listen any longer than that.  And why should they when segments are poorly written and produced, the high frequencies have been accentuated to increase the intelligibility of audio listened to in noisy spaces on low-fidelity telephone receivers?

If aural history is to hold its own against history presented in other media, good sound is essential.  Ongoing breakthroughs in hi-fidelity stereo and three-dimensional sound provide aural historians the tools they need to make sound come alive.  Psychoacoustic research on how people hear and perceive different types of sound waves, is providing manufacturers the information they need to design a whole new generation of digital sound systems.  Convinced that new multimedia computers playing enhanced CDs will enhance sales, the large entertainment corporations producing popular music and computer games are pioneering the advanced sound systems and sophisticated speakers technologies.  Computer games are pushing further innovations in sound as a means of taking players "inside" their games through the use of surround sound and multi-channel sound systems.  A number of companies are working on surround sound and 3D sound systems that place the player inside a three-dimensional sound space and bring the games to life auditorially.  Computer makers are already packaging superb close-proximity speakers, very small speakers that produce high fidelity sound at low volumes.  Altec Lansing has already introduced a new generation of wireless surround-sound speakers which will be controlled by personal computers.

To bring sound to life manufacturers are also introducing a series of competing technologies, with names like Spatializer, Gravis, QSound and SRS (Sound Retrieval System), a playback only process that works with any sound system, stereo or mono.  An SRS-equipped audio playback system, such as your home stereo, takes a sound, processes it, and plays it back through two normal speakers with added spatial breadth, thereby overcoming the limitations of traditional stereo, which works most effectively when one is located in the "sweet spot" where audio from the two speakers mixes best.  SRS claims to deliver full sound throughout the room.  SRS cannot "place" sounds in a three-dimensional audio field.  The ability to give sound placement and movement is offered by QSound, a new speaker system which by using mathematical models of how people hear and interpret sound, produces audio that creates the illusion of three-dimensional sound with only two speakers.  QSound Labs technology brings this sound-placement capability to PCs.  Another new system, Surround Sound, offers hardware capable of sending separate sound signals to four or more separate speakers, thereby providing 360 degrees of virtual audio sources.  Microsoft Corp. is working with Dolby Laboratories to produce new high fidelity, multi-channel sound systems that will use up to five separate speakers.  [10]

Multi-channel installations and performance pieces

The ongoing innovations in sound technology that will soon enable authors to present their work in three-dimensional sound are tremendously significance.  We have all experienced the opening of sonic space that takes place when one shifts from monaural and stereo sound.  A visual analogy might be movement from black and white to color.  A single, monaural sound source offers information about distance, but little about position.  Stereo creates a limited two-dimensional effect, enabling limited linear movement,  some information about position, and separation between direct and background sounds. It still, however, presents a listener only a facsimile of the three-dimensional soundscapes we hear in real life.  Ongoing innovations in multi-channel sound processors, advanced sound systems, and speaker design will soon replace stereo with "three-dimensional" sound.  We are standing on the edge of a revolution in audio technology that will quite literally add another dimension to aural history.

Three-dimensional sound has tremendous potential for museums.  High fidelity, multi-channel sound installations and sound environments presented through multiple speakers bring a space sonically to life, moving sounds through and around the listener.  To date, zoos have shown the greatest interest in multi-channel sound installations, using them to recreate the sounds of tropical rainforests and other natural environments.  The potential is as great for historical museums.  Through the use of four or more independent channels and speakers strategically positioned,  one can create sound movement through and around a gallery space.  A horse-drawn trolley, for example,  could pass right through the middle of the room or a conversing couple pass by the visitor.  A steamship could move slowly from left to right along one wall, while one hears a team of black longshoremen singing work songs in the distance, a hushed conversation  along the other wall, and a flow of aural reminiscences describing the place and time emanates from different exhibit cases in the room.  Interactivity, here,  is created not by a button or switch but by physical movement, thereby giving the visitor a sense of control and discovery otherwise missing. (This is much the same as what one does when listening to or moving among conversations at a party).  And again, such a sound environment, could be experienced differently each time the visitor returned to that space. For those, such as younger visitors,  with only a casual interest in content, the experience of a well designed three-dimensional sound environment could be a tremendous attraction, drawing them into the substance of the exhibit.  (Remember, too, that higher fidelity permits greater intelligibility at lower volume)  [11]

The use of three-dimensional sound and multi-channel installations leads to the question of what a truly "aural history" would sound like.  How would an audio history "book" or "article" be composed and structured?  How could the different sound elements be juxtaposed and blended to best effect?  What system of cues and markers would give the listener the ability to efficiently scan, locate and sample?  

In traditional historical studies we have the written document: the word. In the traditional museum we have the material artifact: the object. In aural history we have the spoken word and the sonic artifact: the sound.  A good museum exhibit, like an arcade or child's room offers choices, enabling visitors to determine their own course through the exhibition.  Using the arcade or museum exhibit as a model,  the listener within such a space should be able to move freely among the mix of sound elements that most attracted his or her attention.  Such a sonic display would, like a piece of good music, provide the listener the ability to follow the instrument of choice: to create their own mix.  As Glenn Gould's Solitude Trilogy  has demonstrated, all the voices need not be understood in a single pass, just as all the display copy and exhibition pieces need not be looked at in a strict sequential manner.   What could be more tedious?  How many people take in an exhibit in such a fixed and linear way? 

The implications for the understanding and presentation of history are also intriguing.  Perhaps multi-channel aural histories represent an important tool for the authoring of "post-modern" histories by providing a means of sharing authority, privileging multiple rather than univocal perspectives, and opening space; using simultaneity and dimension in the presentation of history that is not possible in the printed word, bound as it is to a linear unfolding.  One of the constant challenges historians face in the college classroom is to disabuse their students of the notion that history is fixed; that one interpretation is true and all others false.  Perhaps multi-channel aural histories can assist in loosening this linear worldview.  Perhaps they will remain nothing more than a failed experiment or academician's pipe dream.  But as historians we do know that motion pictures, television, the phonograph and radio, and other new communication technologies have all been treated at first as novelties, their power to transform recognized only later. 

So authors already have an extraordinary range of broadcast and non-broadcast media in which to present their work: radio and television, audio and video cassettes, books on tape and CD; CDs and tapes with print supplements, and websites.  Museums can now present highly interactive sound and multimedia programming through high fidelity solid-state interactive digital audio repeaters and multi-channel, computer-based digital processors.  All these wonderful new digital technologies have one thing in common:  they require high-fidelity, and preferably stereo recordings.

The ongoing digital revolution is rapidly accelerating the democratization of sound recording,  production and distribution. In the era of open-reel analog tape technology, sound documentary production was an esoteric craft practiced by few competently, and even fewer with skill.  Today one can produce high-fidelity interviews with equipment that costs under $400, and can author sophisticated multi-track, broadcast-quality sound documentaries on a home computer with digital audio workstation software (DAWs) that costs even less. If sound programming is to hold its own against works in print, and still and moving images, however, authors are going to need to learn how to think and to author in sound.  For these reasons, then, a history of the sound documentary using aural reminiscences may prove useful to journalists, scholars, and others who would author in sound.

So why, then, if authoring in sound offers scholars, journalists and others such wonderful opportunities, have so few learned the grammar and syntax of sound media?  Three reasons come quickly to mind: the print biases of academics, the marginality of American radio as an educational medium, and potential authors lack of exposure to quality sound productions.  Most Americans think of sound documentaries, when they think of them at all, as the poor cousins of video and film documentaries: tv shows without the visuals.  Conceived as such, audio documentaries offer little to potential creators or users.  And, indeed, most audio documentaries do little to dispel this misconception.  The vast majority continue to be fashioned according to presentational formulas borrowed from print and moving-image broadcast journalism (movie newsreels having helped create the model followed by radio and television journalists). They thus tend to be formulaic, inappropriately “written” and voiced, and sonically unengaging.  Since most of their producers are trained, when trained at all, in other media, it would be unrealistic to expect anything better. [12]

Underfunded and relegated to the extreme ends of the radio dial, educational and public radio have always been overwhelmed and rendered practically invisible by American commercial radio and television; what media historian Erik Barnouw has called the “American system of commercial-sponsored broadcasting.”  As a result few people have heard the exciting audio works produced during the radio renaissance of the past quarter-century;  a renaissance made possible by steady improvements in audio field-recording and production technologies, and the debut of the National Public Radio in 1971.  What I would like to do now, then, is present a brief history of the aural-reminiscence-based sound documentary, explaining how radio producers have attempted to solve the problems of voicing, contextualization, analysis, and storytelling that emerged when one moved from print to radio.  The best way to do this is not just to discuss programs that offer useful models of how to author in sound, but to also listen to excerpts that illustrate and bring this analysis to life.  [13]

(Most of what follows was written in 1995.   As a result the following study does not include an analysis of more recent sound pieces that have much to offer as models.)

Modes of Presentation

 Having made the determination to record broadcast-quality interviews and enter the electronic age, the next step is to share one's work with others not only in print, but in other media.  Although video or film generate the greatest public interest and audiences, audio media offer an affordable and equally valuable forum for the presentation of oral histories.  What happens, then,  when the oral historian's chosen mode of presentation shifts from print to sound?  Without getting into the controversial and disputatious tangle of media theory,  one can begin with the simple recognition that we experience the world differently through the ear than through the eye; differently through the electronic media than through print.  The ear has a different aesthetic than the eye, an aesthetic that very few oral historians or even documentary producers, all but a few of whom have been trained and based in the primarily visual media of video and film, have explored. 

Media theorists and those who work in sound have long recognized the unique attributes of sound presentation.  While print tends to flattens, simplify, and standardize voices, resulting in the loss of essential information and vitality, radio and other forms of sound presentation utilize the mind's ability to create visuals that are often more compelling and engaging than the real thing.  A well recorded voice standing alone tends to draw people in and is intimate in a way that film and video are not.  Aural presentation may also shift the power relations between the oral historian and the narrator in that the narrator speaks in his or her own voice--it is the actual sonic imprint of the author's authentic voice which is heard.  There are also strong economic and pedagogical reasons for oral historians to work in sound.  Americans spend more time listening to their radios and tape players than reading weighty historical monographs or articles.  With production costs only a fraction of those for television or film, audio documentaries can enable oral historians with limited financial resources reach large audiences with their work and ideas.  A final reason to present one's work in sound is that it is a wonderfully creative and satisfying medium in which to work.  6

An Eccentric and Highly-Opinionated Essay on the History of the Sound Documentary Using Aural Reminiscences

Even as they were perfecting their new recording technologies, Thomas Edison and Emile Berliner recognized the importance of their inventions for the preservation for posterity of the voices of the great men and women of their era.  A handful of academics and record companies began to record folk music and oral reminiscences as early as the 1890s.  But such research remained limited by the high cost and technical limitations of the available recording technologies.  The development of both the phonograph and radio was shaped by their ability to serve as consciousness industries carrying the promises and appeals of modern consumer capitalism.  Early radio pioneers' utopian visions of both media as mechanisms of universal public education soon withered beneath the onslaught of popular music, formulaic fiction, and advertisements.  [14]

Aural reminiscences recorded on phonographic disc and broadcast over radio did reach the national airwaves by the early 1930s in a series of syndicated programs which included interviews with prominent Americans.  Recognizing that recorded programming was a cost-effective way to reach local radio audiences, Chevrolet commissioned production of the Chevrolet Chronicles,  which first aired in October, 1930, as part of a national advertising campaign.  Each half-hour program, hosted by World War One flyer Eddie Rickenbacker, presented the personally narrated experiences of prominent American war heroes.  Enormously successful, in part due to their quality recordings and high production values, the Chevrolet Chronicles  spawned a number of imitators.  Early in the 1930s, however, the major radio networks colluded to keep all recordings off the air, a decision purportedly made to protect artists but implemented, in fact, to increase their control of content.  The new prohibition not only ended the use of syndicated recordings then in competition with the networks, but also shaped the sound of American radio during its "golden age."  It also inhibited the development of an actuality-based audio documentary tradition.  Although the equipment to make recordings that could be broadcast within minutes of their creation was available by 1930, the networks did not lift their ban until the end of the decade.  The network ban made coverage of the news especially difficult.  Not only did it prevent the broadcast of any programs that wished to use excerpts of recordings with prominent leaders, be they alive or deceased, but it also prohibited the broadcast of all recorded presidential addresses!  (The same policy also figured prominently in NBC's decision not to record historically significant live broadcasts, as it was thought that they would never be rebroadcast on the network!) [15]

The broadcast ban of recorded materials forced radio news, public affairs, and documentary producers to rely upon dramatic recreations to tell their stories.   As far as most Americans were concerned, the radio documentary really began with appearance of The March of Time, radio dramatizations,  or "dramatic documentaries" as they were called, of lead stories in Time magazine, that debuted on CBS radio in March, 1931.  New media are habitually treated as extensions of the old.  The producers of The March of Time  combined the drama of radio theater with a journalism time-tested in print and film that relied on vivid storytelling to hold audience attention.   A compelling mix of  current events and dramatic storytelling, the program was enormously successful and for years considered the apex of radio showmanship.  Emerging during the so-called "Golden Age" of radio, The March of Time  also became the prototype of the radio documentary formula, introducing the disembodied "voice-of-doom" narrator who provided exposition and set the stage for the actors’ performances.  American radio documentaries for decades to come would remain locked in the aesthetic conventions associated with this program and this "golden age" of American broadcast history. [16]

After the sudden success of Amos and Andy  in 1929 demonstrated the potential of radio as a mass medium for advertising, investors began to buy up broadcast licenses and many of the small town, low-budget community and college stations that had sprung up in the 1920s went off the air.  By 1938 only 48 of 202 licensed educational stations remained on the air.  Corporate dominance of the American System of Broadcasting limited the presentation of history by and large to safe, sanitized, and celebratory visions of an Anglo-American past.  Programs such as the DuPont sponsored Cavalcade of America, produced by the prestigious Batten, Barton, Dursteine & Osborn advertising agency, tended to be tributes to some great American hero or heroine.  Funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Library of Congress did in the 1930s developed a number of programs dealing with social problems in America.  A handful of documentarians, perhaps the most notable of whom were John and Alan Lomax, produced pioneer programs on the nation's  cultural heritage.  By and large, however, programs on African-Americans, labor history, and the role of women outside of a limited range of achievements were strictly taboo.  As a result, the work being carried out by folklorists and historians working in sound, such as the interviews with former slaves recorded by fieldworkers in the Federal Writers Project, never found their way onto the nation's airwaves.  [17]

The network ban on the use of recordings began to erode in the late 1930s, paving the way for the emergence of an actuality-based radio documentary.  The recording of announcer Herb Morrison's anguished description of the explosion of the German dirigible Hindenburg, at Lakehurst New Jersey in 1937 was simply too compelling to keep off the air.  Orson Welle's epoch Halloween "trick" the next year, the legendary The War of the Worlds  broadcast, not only led to a network ban on the use of simulated news broadcasts in dramatic programming, but also to the use of dramatic techniques in news programs.  The network ban on the broadcast of recordings finally ended during World War Two.  The public desire for news from the front was met by reports from journalists' in the field, who filed their reports not only live, but also on portable disc recorders and newly introduced optical film and magnetic wire recorders.  Eric Severeid parachuting with troops into Burma, Edward R. Murrow's broadcasts from London, and George Hick's wire-recorded reports on D-Day from the deck of a ship and then from the beaches of Normandy electrified Americans, bringing the war into people's homes and revolutionizing American broadcast journalism.  Able to bring news from the front to Americans almost instantaneously,  radio challenged  print journalism as the nation's most important source of news and information.  Sixty-one percent of those responding to a poll in 1946 indicated that radio was their primary source of daily news.  [18]

The same year CBS set up its first documentary unit armed with state-of-the-art, analogue, reel-to-reel tape recorders.  Developed by German engineers during the war, these improved analogue tape recorders represented the most important breakthrough in audio technology since the invention of the vacuum tube in the mid-1920s.  This new technology would have a profound impact not only on popular music, but also as an adjunct to the democratization of mass communications that would mark the second half of the twentieth century.  Improving on German machines captured during the war, American companies began to market affordable reel-to-reel tape recorders in the late 1940s.  Although they were heavy and bulky, often the size of small suitcases and weighing thirteen to thirty pounds, the new reel-to-reel tape recorders inaugurated a revolution in broadcast journalism by enabling easy splicing and editing without the sound degeneration produced from the dubbing necessary in disc editing.  Post-war producers could for the first time create sophisticated and multi-layered sound documentaries by mixing down from two or more pre-recorded tapes onto a mastering machine.  Armed with the new technology, network journalists for a brief time turned their attention to domestic issues, producing documentaries, such as ABC's Slums  and CBS's The Eagles Brood  on juvenile delinquency, both broadcast in 1947, that were often critical of the inequalities in American life.  The same year witnessed the debut of CBS Is There,  dramatic recreations of events drawn from ancient to modern history that used CBS correspondents as on-the-spot narrators of historical events.  Renamed You Are There in 1948, the program enjoyed a popular three-year run.  Hear It Now, another CBS program produced by Edward R. Murrow and Fred Friendly made perhaps the most significant and ambitious use of the new documentary style.  Using the new analogue tape technology Hear It Now  was able to create "pictures for the ears," bringing the voices of newsmakers into American homes and covering modern history from 1932 to the present.  [19]

NBC entered the documentary field in 1948 with Living, a series of programs dedicated to "showing America to itself," which also made extensive use of taped interviews.  In Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, which ran from May through October of 1951, NBC News and Special Events Department presented "issues out of the past, problems of the present and prospects for the future," including a three-part series on narcotics, a documentary on professional baseball, and a program entitled Country Fair,  in which field engineer George Robinson brought the Bangor, Maine state fair to life via his tape recorder.  Some of the NBC programs also utilized old recordings, such as the August 5, 1951 program built on recordings of famous,  deceased American poets reading their works.   [20]

By the early 1950s an actuality-based radio documentary formula had emerged in the United States, a formula that has undergone comparatively little change from that date to the present.   The emergence of television as the new in-home storytelling medium during the same period had briefly allowed radio documentarians to delve into more controversial and "adult" issues. But network produced public affairs programming did not last long.  Documentary historian A. William Bluem's summary of its brief history is worth quoting at length.

In the six years, then, between the end of the war and the final demise of a national radio service which had dominated the American scene for a quarter of a century, the interaction of various forces within radio, together with technological advances and a constant pressure of example form the documentary film movement, had brought the radio documentary to its most faithful expressions in the dramatic interpretation of reality.  From experience gained in earlier experiments, it had evolved an authentic and dramatic form of journalistic documentary, dealing with the crises of the world as they continued to arise.  It had worked forward from dramatic restatement of fact to drama made with  fact.  It had presented information in a compelling form on numberless major and minor issues and problems confronting the American people.  It had evolved a special combination of drama, journalism, and education in a successful presentation of history. And as it did all these things, it gave a legacy to television which had begun, by the early 1950s to assume radio's role as the dominant mass medium of this nation.  [21]

 Television quickly replaced radio as the nation's primary news and story-telling medium, drawing off the money and creative talent at the same time that reel-to-reel tape was revolutionizing the American audio documentary.  This brief era of reform-minded journalism ground to a halt during the anti-communist hysteria of the Cold War.  Commercial radio's public information programming was quickly restricted to presentation of hourly headline news reports, sandwiched between top-forty music and a dwindling flow of special features to local affiliates and subscribers.  Television, as Bluem noted, had "absorbed" the documentary role of radio. As a result, network-based producers failed to take advantage of the technological breakthroughs that have transformed audio production since the Second World War.  The radio documentary quickly became the "forgotten art." [22]

American Educational Radio and the Early Sound Documentarians

To understand the subsequent history of the radio documentary one must turn from the United States to Canada, Germany, and England, countries whose state-sponsored, public service broadcasting systems were built on the premise that their audiences could be led to "higher" standards of taste and outlook by presenting them a mix of serious and popular programming.  Free to broadcast pre-recorded materials, it was the Europeans who pioneered development of the audio documentary.  German radio producers had begun to think seriously about the potentials of radio as a storytelling medium back in the 1920s.  Hoping to develop an imaginative literature or "radio art" produced expressively for the new medium that would turn the absence of visual stimuli into an aesthetic advantage, Hans Flesch, Hans Bodensteedt, Bertold Brecht, and other young writers and intellectuals challenged "normal" radio conventions by introducing unexpected interruptions, sound effects, and distortions to demonstrate the magical aspects of the new medium and experimented with "sound portraits" of cityscapes.  "We need to fashion not only a new medium, but a new content as well." Flesch, the founding director of the Berlin Radio Hour, wrote in 1929. "Our program cannot be created at a desk."  In accord with Flesch's manifesto, Bertoldt Brecht began to create a series of original works for radio in which he sought to break patterns of passive, "concert" listening by insisting on audience choral recitation and engagement of the radio listening audience in debate about social issues.  The Germans also developed what they called "acoustical films," a plot-oriented radio literature the sophistication of which leapt forward in the 1930s when the acoustic strip on sound films enabled the cutting and manipulating of stored sounds more precisely and predictably than ever before.  Viewing broadcasting as a national asset which should be used for the public good, the BBC in Britain also began to develop a radio documentary tradition, using recordings of events for delayed or repeat broadcast for the first time in 1931.  By the late 1940s BBC radio programming picked up on short wave radios or heard on Canadian stations whose signals carried into the northern United States presented American listeners who could hear it a refreshing alternative to American offerings.  [23]

Inspired by British and Canadian programming, radio documentary producers in the United States survived at small, volunteer-staffed educational radio stations, the preponderance of which were based at the old land-grant colleges and state universities of the Midwest.  (A handful  of these stations, such as WHA and WOSU, were well-funded and professionally staffed.)  Educational radio throughout the middle decades of the twentieth century remained America's "hidden medium."  Envisioning radio as a invaluable tool for universal education, early radio pioneers had allocated certain frequencies for educational stations since the late 1910s.  Despite the grand expectations and predictions, educational radio never became firmly established in the United States.  Plagued by inadequate funding and driven to the ends of the radio dial by the commercial stations which quickly swallowed up most channels, the nation's handful of educational radio stations offered a mix of lectures, practical information, and college courses for credit. 

The Great Depression and defeat of the Wagner-Hatfield Bill in 1934, the last major challenge of the American system of broadcasting, brought about the near collapse of educational radio in the United States.  The Broadcasting Act of 1934 did set aside a small percentage of frequencies for non-profit use, but by 1940 less than thirty stations survived, most broadcasting only during daytime hours on low-power licenses.  Those that did survive formed a loosely affiliated network which operated under the umbrella of the National Association of Educational Broadcasters.  The development of FM during the World War Two gave educational radio a new life.  Faced with growing public opposition to the monopolistic chain broadcasting system dominated by CBS and NBC, the FCC in 1940 forced NBC to divest its "Blue" network, which became ABC, and reserved five channels of the new FM band for non-commercial use.  Pressured by the National Association of Educational Broadcasters (NAEB) and continued public criticism, the FCC in 1945 assigned twenty of 100 frequencies to non-profits, in large part to develop an FM broadcasting system that was still a nonentity and that showed no commercial potential.  Three years later the FCC liberalized its broadcast rules, licensing low-powered 10-watt stations to encourage development of the college FM stations.   In the Midwest some of the land-grant stations thrived on their new FM bands.  The University of Wisconsin’s WHA aired .  programs on science, the arts, music, social sciences, and agriculture, complete with teachers manuals.  Land-grant universities in Ohio, Minnesota, and Illinois and other midwestern states created similar networks.  Here educational radio continued to scatter seeds of knowledge and culture to America’s rural population.  Despite these efforts, however, educational radio throughout the 1940s and 1950s remained marginal, at best.  Surveying the state of educational radio Dorothy F.  Greenwood in 1952 would write of "the depressing history of educational broadcasting," and the "almost universal disregard of the vast educational potentialities of the communications media which have emerged in the past half century."  [24]

Despite the obstacles, educational radio did grow in the post-war period by providing information and entertainment to segments of the American public historically ignored by the networks.  The Wisconsin State Broadcasting System, the nation's largest and best funded educational system, by mid-1965 included with two AM and nine FM stations.  There, and at stations like WHA in Madison, WUOM in Ann Arbor, Michigan, WOSU on Columbus, Ohio, and WOI in Ames, Iowa, financial support was consistent enough to enable a handful of producers to scrape out a living in educational radio and to continue producing audio documentaries, some of them using oral reminiscences.  Aided in the 1950s by a tape distribution service run by the National Association of Educational Broadcasters (NAEB), the quality of productions gradually improved.  University of Minnesota radio station KUOM, alone, received thirty-five broadcasting awards between 1940 and 1952 . [25]

Collectors of Endangered Sounds and Information

The introduction of affordable magnet tape after World War Two not only revolutionized radio production, but also made it possible for people of moderate incomes to record endangered sounds and recollections, thereby democratizing the process of sound collection.  At the same time, historians' expanding use of the new recorders to fill the growing holes in the historical record created by modern communications and transportation technologies lead to the growth of the field of oral history.  Folklorists used the machines to document the music, stories, and games being transformed or driven into extinction by the mass media and a nationalized mass consumer culture.  Radio documentary producers used the technology to create "sound portraits," a new documentary form that abandoned the old "voice of doom" narrator in favor of stories told through sound and a growing array of voices.  From the 1940s through the 1960s, these would all emerge and grow as separate, parallel worlds with little interpenetration.  Not until the late 1970s would these different groups begin to recognize common interests and agendas. 

Perhaps the most important of the American post-war sound documentarians was sound hobbyist Tony Schwartz, whose fascination with history and folk music led him to record urban folklore and soundscapes.  Schwartz bought his first wire recorder in 1946, then switched to tape in 1947.  Armed with a twelve-pound Magnemite recorder and a microphone strapped to his wrist, Schwartz traveled the streets of New York recording street songs, children's games, huckster cries, and other sounds he found of interest. (Schwartz was fortunate to record at a time when many people still made their own music on the streets and in their homes.) In the mid-1950s Schwartz began to produce and release his recordings on the innovative Folkways label,  producing records on children's games, and the experiences of New York's Puerto Rican immigrants.  Approached by WNYC to produce a program built around the question of "What can a person living in, or visiting, New York hear?"  Schwartz spent two months editing and assembling Sounds of My City: The Stories, Music and Sounds of the People of New York, released by Folkways Records in 1956.  [26]

Sounds of My City  reflected Schwartz's fascination with the sounds of everyday life and the music of ordinary people.  On Side 1 he presented "the voice of a city," as he called it, introducing the listener to a broad range of natural and man-made sounds, including songs, snippets of street conversations, the sound of rain and subways, and of people making music, among them Moondog, the great New York street musician and composer who played to the accompaniment of fog horns in New York harbor.  On the second side Schwartz assembled a brief soundscape of the city over a twenty-four-hour period recorded from the window of his apartment that included the sounds children singing play songs, teenagers making music, and a street vender hawking Parker pens.  By bringing the sounds of daily life to the foreground of awareness, Schwartz was able to make listeners appreciate sounds that by reason of their ubiquity had been previously invisible.  Magnetic tape enabled Schwartz to record and re-package these sounds in such as way as to make people hear their rhythm and beauty.  As a plumber Schwartz recorded repairing a sink in his apartment noted, without music there would be no happiness in life.  For drawing attention to this "universal rhythm that pulses throughout the city."  Schwartz was awarded a Prix de Rome in 1956.  [27]

Tony Schwartz was a collector of endangered sounds, not a journalist or oral historian.  (A woman giving a loving description of her favorite cat--which had died in 1929--provides the only segment about memory.) But his work did have relevance to the first generation of tape-recorder-wielding oral historians in how it suggested, early on, the importance of sounds as historical artifacts and the potential of the ear as a significant sensory organ through which to engage in the study of history.  In the aftermath of the World War Two, historians, too, were coming to recognize the potential value of the new reel-to-reel analogue recorders to fill in the growing gaps in the "written" record.  In a story by now familiar to most, if not all oral historians, Allen Nevins recorded his first interview on a wire recorder in January, 1949, and within a short time had switched over to a less cumbersome and more reliable tape recorder.  Coming from a discipline in which "truth" was closely associated with the written word,  Nevins used his tape recorders primarily as dictation machines until audiophile and record collector Dr. Victor Whitten--a friend of Schwartz--finally persuaded him to preserve the recordings.  But with tape expensive, and oral history projects, then as now, poorly funded, the reuse of previously recorded tapes remained a common practice among American oral historians for years to come.  [28]

The first person to seriously bridge the worlds of "oral" and "aural" history was Canadian radio producer Imbert Orchard, who in the early 1960s began to record and preserve “endangered sounds,” and to produce a series of radio documentaries based upon oral reminiscences of western Canadians and Canadian Indians. Much of the best radio documentary work produced during the 1950s and 1960s continued to come out of the government-sponsored British and Canadian broadcasting systems, which put sufficient money into radio to allow their producers to create more ambitious programs than could their American counterparts.  Able to make a living in public radio, some of these producers worked in the medium long enough to develop a "sound," or style of production that made ambitious use of ambiances and sound effects.  One of the most influential of the new radio documentary series to feature the life stories and voices of working-class people was Radio Ballads,  a BBC series of musical radio documentaries produced between 1957 and 1964 by English folklorists Ewan McColl and Peggy Seeger with BBC producer Charles Parker.  Based upon hundreds of hours of interviews, each program interwove storytelling, folk songs, and vernacular speech that featured the rich, natural voices and language of uneducated British workers.  [29]

Orchard continued the tradition of Radio Ballads with his work in "aural history" and what he called the "document in sound."  He began in the early 1960s to record oral histories of rural Canadians and Native Americans throughout British Columbia.  Interweaving recorded sounds and voices with running commentary and historical reenactments, Orchard attempted to create evocative sound pieces that made extensive use of oral histories.  Recognizing the value of his sound recordings as documents of living history worthy of archival preservation, he also helped establish the Aural History Division of the Provincial Archives in Victoria, British Columbia.  Better known among oral historians than radio producers, Orchard's programs still have devoted fans.  I find his documentaries somewhat conventional in voicing and approach.  River of Clouds, for example, which many consider one of his best pieces, follows a traditional radio documentary formula, making extensive use of a formal male narrator and a prose that reads better than it speaks.  Nor does it make particularly creative use of sound to help contextualize or tell the story.  Nonetheless, Orchard did bridge worlds and produced a series of ambitious oral history documentaries that demonstrated to many oral historians the importance of sound and the potentials of radio presentation.  [30]  (CD: Selection 1)

More successful in his search for a form that better utilized the new technology--and better fit a democratizing society--was Chicago journalist Studs Terkel.  After dropping out of law school in the 1930s Terkel had written radio scripts on great artists for the Illinois Writers Project and worked as an actor in radio dramas before embarking on his career as a Chicago journalist.  By the late 1950s he was host on classical radio station WFMT of The Wax Museum,  a morning program that presented interviews, musical and dramatic presentations, and sound documentaries.  A self-professed technophobe who never learned to drive a car, Terkel traveled the world with an old Uher reel-to-reel tape recorder, recording, as one commentator put it, "extraordinary interviews with remarkable people."  From these and interviews conducted live for The Wax Museum,  he produced a series of innovative radio documentaries and best-selling books based on aural reminiscences, including  Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression, the 1970 best-seller that marked Terkel's arrival as a major voice in American oral history.  [31]

One of Terkel's best early radio documentaries was Born to Live, an hour-long program that asks what one should do between the time you are born and the time you die in a world threatened by nuclear annihilation.  Bracketed between a Japanese woman's recollections of the dropping of the bomb on her hometown of Nagasaki, Terkel allowed an illustrious multicultural and interracial cast of scientists, writers, and artists, among them Pete Seeger,  Simone De Beauvoir, James Baldwin, Miriam Makeba, William Sloan Coffin Jr., Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell, and Sean O'Casey, to contemplate the meaning of life, the moral decisions, and the awesome challenges confronting humankind in the nuclear age.  Rather than focusing on dark scenarios of gloom and destruction, their thoughts uplifted and inspired, providing, as a reviewer for the Chicago Daily News put it, "a theme of affirmation for a discouraged modern society."  Determined to keep the listener's focus on the words rather than his informants' celebrity status,  Terkel left each speaker anonymous.  Only in the end credits did he acknowledge the contributors.  Listing the names of speakers, singers, and musicians without comment, he gave equal weight to each's contributions and worth: effectively conveying his own belief in the equality of all.  Released by Folkways five years before publication of Hard Times, Born To Live  demonstrated compellingly how spoken words and poetry, music, and sound effects gave people's words an immediacy and brought their meaning to life in a way that could not be duplicated on the printed page.  And Terkel did this making only very spare but effective use of musical bridges and beds, fade ins and fade outs, and other radio production techniques. [32]

Terkel was one among many radio producers at educational and non-commercial radio stations in the 1950s and 1960s who were experimenting with the new forms of voicing and production made possible by analogue tape.  Few had his skills or extraordinary range of informants. And most of the audio documentary productions of the 1950s and 1960s, broadcast only locally or distributed through a fledging educational radio system, were quickly bulked or dumped in a closet where they were quickly forgotten.  It is clear, however, that a number of radio producers producing programs based upon extensive oral history interviews.  Radio producer Ralph Johnson, for example, working at WUOM in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1966 produced The American Town: A Self Portrait, a series of seven, one-hour programs "drawn entirely from the remembered past" on seven small American towns.  Armed with a Nagra, Johnson spent four to five days in seven different towns in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Kentucky, conducting more than one-hundred extended oral history interviews with elderly residents, and producing a series of audio montages, or "spoken histories" that evoked the life and history of seven communities.  Johnson, like most radio documentary producers at the time was inventing the a sound as he went along.  (Like most radio documentary producers, too, he failed to preserve his original interviews.)  Influenced by Canadian broadcasts and borrowing the technique of montage from film documentaries, Johnson chose to create these pieces without the use of a narrator.  To do so he spent days in the studio experimenting with the layering of sounds and voices using a battery of reel-to-reel playback decks.  Johnson's impatience with the "voice of doom" narrator which dominated America commercial broadcasting and his fascination with the voices of "common" people places him clearly in a collective transatlantic movement. [33]

Pacifica and the Resurgence of the Long-form, Social Documentary

  A second source of innovation emerged during the 1950s on the West Coast.  During the 1960s the most extensive American use of aural reminiscences on radio was taking place at the stations of the Pacifica network, an independently funded, socially progressive radio system with stations in Los Angeles, Berkeley and New York.  Founded by pacifists who had gone to prison during World War Two rather than serve in the U.S. armed forces, Pacifica first went on the air in 1949 over KPFA in Berkeley, California, which received the first non-commercial license in the United States not go to an educational or religious institution.  Joined by KPFK in Los Angeles in 1959 and New York station WBAI in 1960 the Pacifica network became the model for a new kind of socially conscious broadcasting in the United States.  Committed to social justice and relying upon volunteers for most of its staff and producers, Pacifica provided a forum for people and views that would otherwise have been without a broadcast outlet.  [34]

Modeling itself initially on the BBC, the Pacifica stations at first devoted only a small part of their programming to politics and social issues.  Nonetheless,  KPFA during the first decade of the Cold War was broadcasting some of the most provocative programming in the United States.  Pacifica was an unique place.  Staffed by liberals and radicals who wanted to present their listeners in-depth coverage of social problems and the dawning American civil rights movement, its programming was not governed by the time constrictions of commercial radio.  The ideal formats in which to tell these stories were  extended interviews and the long-form documentary, a type of programming rapidly disappearing from commercial radio.  The key figure in the development of the Pacifica documentary sound would be Public Affairs Director Elsa Knight Thompson who had worked for the BBC while helping evacuate children from London during the Second World War.  Knight had returned to the states after the war and finding herself unfit for employment at the networks because of her leftist politics landed at Pacifica where she introduced the politically-oriented long-form documentary.  Following the BBC model, Thompson gave her producers a great deal of freedom in creating their programs, and the air time necessary to present their stories in depth, thereby carrying on the BBC tradition of treating listeners seriously and demanding a great deal from them.  Under McKnight's direction Pacifica developed a cadre of committed documentary producers, who eschewed the voice-of-doom narrative style for a more personal and reportorial form of address. Laboring in relative obscurity during the 1950s, Pacifica would come into its own in the 1960s when its stations provided early and sympathetic coverage of the liberation movements either ignored or misunderstood by the mainstream media.  It was Pacifica that brought many white listeners their first extended exposure to the voices of the Civil Rights movement, broadcasting and distributing interviews with Rosa Parks (1956), James Farmer (1961), and Fannie Lou Hamer (1965); and speeches by Martin Luther King (1957), Malcolm X (1964, 1965)and Eldridge Cleaver (1968). [35]

Pacifica reporters produced a series of extraordinary long-form documentaries on the Civil Rights and anti-war movements, on Birmingham in May 1963,  Mississippi during the summer of 1964,  and from the streets at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in August, 1968.  The Pacifica reporters recorded these events as they unfolded, then used extended actualities to transport the listener in place and time, the narrator cutting back and forth between his on-the-spot narration of what was taking place and the scripted continuity.  Dale Minor's Freedom Now , (1963) an riveting report from Birmingham, Alabama, recorded in the summer of 1963, is wonderful example of the Pacifica long-form documentary.  Covering the five-day period from Monday, May 13, when the Civil Rights leaders and local merchants first reach an accord, through Saturday, May 18,1963, the day after the bombing of the Gaston Motel, Minor built his program on extended cuts with major participants on both sides of the struggle.  We hear CORE organizer Mary Hamilton speaking about her incarceration just after her release from  jail, Martin Luther King exhorting his followers to keep the peace, Birmingham Mayor Haynes railing against Communists and outside agitators, King and Abernathy speaking in the Birmingham pool halls the morning after the bombing calling for calm.  Minor is on the scene, the documentarian as participant observer, providing explanation and description.  We hear the sounds of gunfire, and the events as they unfold. Pacifica's coverage of Birmingham was unique,  devoting the time necessary to just listen, to just be present and hear what was taking place, and to stay with the story long enough for the events not just to come to life, but to sink in and leave an impression. 
Pacifica's long-form documentaries offered unique opportunities for reflection, allowing listeners to think and ruminate about what was taking place, and about their own responses to the events.  They provided unique listening experiences, ideally suited for engaging listeners to ruminate about matters to which they had given insufficient thought, providing the time needed to think through their own prejudices and responses.  In producing these pieces the Pacifica documentarians practiced a form of radio documentary that was unique in American broadcasting history.[36]

The Civil Rights movement and social activism of the 1960s made Pacifica an important source of information for growing numbers of disaffected Americans.  Pacifica stations became seedbeds of innovative programming.  Staffed largely by volunteers, the quality of programming could be radically inconsistent, but the stations won devoted followings of listeners who were drawn by a style of radio they had never before heard.  Pacifica stations broadcast long-form interviews with drug addicts, political radicals, social activists, and others on the margins of American social and political spectrum, some of which, such as Byron Bryant's 1958 interview with social activist Ammon Hennacy, editor of Catholic Worker and author of Autobiography of a Catholic Anarchist, delved extensively into oral history. [37]

The Pacifica stations allowed their volunteers a great deal of latitude to experiment with their documentaries.  "Someone may sit up all night for weeks miking the sounds of people and things and come out with a sound montage that adds a new dimension to our experience of ourselves and each other," recalled documentary Pacifica producer Chris Koch of WBAI in 1965.  "Someone may go out and raise the money to go to Mississippi, or Mexico, or to California's central valley and live with the people there for a while, recording their conversations and their music, and then come back and make beautiful programs out of it."   (Koch would go on to become director of All Things Considered  in the early 1980s.)  Despite their importance at the time, few aural documentaries from the 1950s or 1960s hold up particularly well.  Well into the 1970s most producers still worked in isolation, reinventing the form as they went along.  Shoe-string budgets, lack of training or knowledge of the field,  inferior equipment begged or borrowed that was both bulky and sensitive: all conspired to make programs such as Terkel's Born to Die or Dale Minor's Freedom Summer  quite rare.  Most producers drawn into non-commercial radio before the arrival of National Public Radio (NPR) took their inspiration not from radio documentaries productions, but from Larry Josephson at WBAI in New York,  Studs Terkel in Chicago, nationally syndicated Gene Shepard, and other radio personalities who were reinventing the sound of American radio by breaking down the walls between listener and broadcaster and who were introducing a new form of more spontaneous, experimental, unpredictable, and therefor exciting programming.  [38]

National Public Radio and the Renaissance of the Sound Documentary

The next major step forward in the aural documentary can be traced to the appearance of the audio cassette recorder in the late 1960s and establishment of National Public Radio in 1970.  Recognizing the need for commercial-free television,  Congress passed the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967.   Only as an afterthought--and in response to heavy lobbying by Jerry Sandler, hen head of National Education Radio-- did it add on a provision for the creation of a national educational radio network.  Incorporated in March, 1970, with a mandate to provide national programming, National Public Radio went on the air in April, 1971, with live broadcasts of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings to end the Vietnam War.  All Things Considered  (ATC) debuted two weeks later, airing live coverage of anti-war demonstrations in Washington D.C.  (Another innovation of the NPR system was the interconnection of member stations through phone lines. Before then, educational radio had been a tape network.)  [39]

Under the direction of William Siemering, former station manager of WBFO in Buffalo, New York, NPR embraced both the social idealism of the 1960s and the premise pioneered in non-commercial radio during the previous decade that the sound should help tell the story.  Raised in Wisconsin,  Siemering had grown up listening to the CBC and American educational radio. Siemering had worked as a high-school English and history teacher before being draw to radio.  Working at WBFO in Buffalo during the mid-1960s, he became interested in oral history while producing The Nation Within a Nation, a radio series on Iroquois in upstate New York.  Siemering soon became more and more enamored of the ability of sound to tell a story, especially after BFO coverage of student anti-war activism.  Convinced that radio could be exciting, live, and spontaneous, he began production of This is Radio,  a public affairs program that included recordings from Buffalo city council meetings.  [40]

Based on the programming innovations at WBFO, Siemering outlined the concept for an ambitious new approach to public affairs radio at a station managers' meeting in 1969.  A year later he was hired to bring the concept to life in the NPR's new flagship program, All Things Considered .   Congress created NPR with a mandate to reflect American regionalism and provide for as much participation of member stations in production as possible.  Siemering's first mission statement for ATC was imbued with the social idealism of the era.  The program was to get its inspiration from grassroots America, and to "promote personal growth rather than corporate gain."  It was to give the theater, arts, and music equal emphasis with the news,  emphasize live coverage, and "not only call attention to a problem, but be an active agent in seeking solution."  ATC was to be different from that which had gone before.  To help give it this new sound, Siemering wanted to replace the impersonal March of Time  narrative voice with a natural conversational style of address, wanted to slow the pace of the newscasts, and to allow, as much as possible, the sound to tell the story, which would receive enough time to be told in depth.  Integrating innovations pioneered in educational radio stations of the Midwest and the Pacifica stations, All Things Considered   became the first nationally syndicated program committed to telling stories and presenting news through the use of sound.  In the process, NPR began to attract or hire away from its own and the Pacifica stations many of the best young producers in the country, bringing an actuality-based approach to radio broadcast journalism to a growing national audience, and initiating a renaissance for the audio documentary.  [41]

The NPR revolution was also built upon a new recording technology. The use of sound to tell a story had been made easier in the late 1960s with the introduction of inexpensive, lightweight, portable, broadcast-quality cassette field recorders, which could record anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour on each side of a small, self-enclosed, and inexpensive "cassette."  The cassette recorder gave producers and news gatherers unprecedented flexibility in recording in the field.  Once back in the studio, they could dub their actualities and ambiances onto reel-to-reel tapes, which could then be mixed together with narration and music from different sources onto a mastering deck.  Once a producer had mastered the basic production techniques of segue, cross-fade, and layering,  skillfully mixed segments could then be edited together into seamless sound pieces. 

Working on a shoe-string budget,  NPR quickly attracted a dedicated staff of young reporters, producers and engineers who believed in the new network's mission.  Relying heavily on pieces supplied by member stations and independent producers, NPR's programming may have suffered from uneven quality, but was varied and exciting, and at times riveting. Unrestricted by the old radio documentary and news report formulas, young producers such as Joe Frank, Josh Darsa, and Robert Montiegal extended the ATC emphasis on sound.  One of the first producers to abandon altogether any third-person narration was independent producer Keith Talbot, who in 1972 began producing a series of pieces he called "Sound Portraits," the only outside features ATC awarded a regular time period.  Talbot had been drawn to radio through listening to WBAI during the late 1960s.  Determined to put "ordinary" people on radio and to push the emphasis on sound already present at NPR, Talbot recorded people  talking about their lives right where they lived and worked, then produced a series of short, five-minute audio montages that let them speak for themselves.  Talbot approached his pieces as a storyteller, attempting to give individual lives a dramatic form by fashioning audio portraits from monologues. Mara O'Carty,  an early piece on a woman contemplating suicide first aired in December 1972, demonstrates his approach.  [42](CD: Selection 2)

The piece is built around O'Carty's reflections on her own upbringing and the upbringing of her children, which leads to her contemplation of suicide.  Talbot's spare use of sound mirrors O'Carty's geographically isolated life in upstate New York and her psychological isolation.  Each sound in the piece, from the ticking clock heard briefly at the beginning and end to O'Carty's own sighs and sniffles, complement and contextualize her story, bringing her words to life and providing the listener invaluable and essential audio clues about her state of mind.  Matching the austere, isolated mental state of the monologist, the sounds also draw the listener into her world.  In an earlier sound portrait recorded in September, 1972, Talbot had made a similar use of sound to help tell the story of black street vendor Mark Johnson.  Johnson's love of the bustle and activity of ballpark crowds and of rush-hour traffic and pedestrians is reflected in the traffic noise and humming of voices that fill the piece. 

Talbot's sound portraits are representative of the many experiments undertaken by  documentary producers in the 1970s searching to discover the unique qualities and strengths of radio.   And it was the sound documentaries and sound pieces that gave NPR much of its excitement and that provided those rare moments that kept listeners tuning in.  Pieces like Father Cares: The Last of Jonestown, a ninety-minute documentary on the last days of the Jonestown commune in Guyana that included riveting tape of recorded during the last few moths before the mass suicide.    Each of these pieces were special in how they opened people's ears.  Their producers discovered or chanced upon ways to tell stories in ways that  could not be told in any other medium.  It may well be the difference between description and exhibition.  Here were the seeds of a truly audio aesthetic.  Unfortunately, from the point of the view of the aural historian, there were never enough people thinking in sound to make an impact on the NPR news services, which remained dominated by journalists coming from print backgrounds.

 Anchored by NPR, public radio underwent extraordinary growth in the 1970s.  Most of the nation's 296 educational radio stations in 1967 had operated on annual budgets of less than $25,000.  By 1978 nearly 200 stations boasting annual average budgets of $225,000 had qualified for CPB certification and now reached 4.3 million people each week.  Expanding listener pledges and moneys flowing into the system from the national and state arts and humanities endowments, private foundations, and corporations had increased funding to $450m a year.   NPR's original mission statement had included a mandate to open the airwaves to groups under-represented in the commercial media; especially minorities, women, and people residing in regions outside of the major metropolitan areas.  Part of this mission had been accomplished through the acquisition of programs and reports from producers based at stations throughout the growing NPR network.  By 1976 PBS and NPR were distributing nearly 2,000 hours of programming, a significant portion coming from both independent and station-based producers.  This diversity helped give NPR its wonderful and unique sound; hard news mixed with feature pieces that democratized the airwaves and gave voices to a broad cross section of Americans who would otherwise have remained unheard.  In this one can recognize NPR as an expression of the same social forces that were fueling the new social history, the new community history, and expanding mission of oral history as a tool for documenting the worlds of those previously excluded from the historical record.

As the flagship of the public radio system, the NPR set the standard for most documentary producers working in the field.  The NPR-style documentary provided a quality model that built on the old continuity/actuality/sound bridge formula.  ATC and NPR's special programs series also became the forum for producers who were breaking away from the traditional formula and experimenting with new forms.  Independent producers carried the sound portrait forward, some of them making sophisticated and sensitive use of oral histories and archival recordings.  One of the most successful of the new generation of sound pieces utilizing oral histories was the Kitchen Sister's (Davia Nelson and Nicki Silva) World War 2 on the Homefront,  broadcast in May, 1982.   (CD: Selection 3)

An audio remembrance on life at home during the war, World War 2 on the Homefront makes superb use of oral histories combined with popular music, new reports, and movie clips of the time.  Opening with a sound clip from a Hollywood romance used to mobilize popular support for the war, the piece goes on to demonstrate how many relationships were permanently changed by the separation of the war,  and how others, and indeed, how whole lives were put on hold.  Separation, loneliness, and stoicism are the themes Silva and Nelson use to characterize war life on the homefront.  If there is a central motif it is that of waiting.  What really brings it all to life is their incorporation of record letters from the 1940s; recordings made by wives and girlfriends to their loved ones overseas, and by GIs to loved ones back home.  Deeply personal and private documents, these records were never meant for public broadcast.  Moving back and forth between past and present, between private, first-person experiences and the romanticized vision of the war presented in motion pictures and the popular music of the day, the Kitchen Sisters were able to fashion a powerful commentary on the dynamics of public propaganda and private existence. Produced without narration, the piece is absolutely gripping.  Focusing on the thoughts and emotions of the participants, this is truly a story better told in sound than any other medium.

 

By the late 1970s, many stations and independent producers were complaining that public radio had become too highly centralized.  NPR was simply unable to handle the explosion in independent and station-based productions, many of which did not fit a distinctive NPR "sound."  Criticism was mounting that as NPR needed to become more inclusive and multicultural both in its producers and programming.  Non-commercial radio was becoming a major forum for multicultural America, and pressures mounting from constituents and Congress to fulfill this mandate.  Three key developments in the late 1970s would further democratize the non-commercial airwaves and fuel an expanding crossover of oral historians into public radio: the collapse of the academic job market, the growth of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, and the expanding multicultural mandate of NPR and inauguration of its Satellite Program Development Fund.   

The archaic tape distribution systems of the 1970s remained a major roadblock between the growing number of producers and audiences.  Still conducted via the mails through a handful of small underfunded tape distribution services or over phone lines from NPR to member stations,  tape distribution was awkward and inefficient.  At the same time, non-commercial, community-based radio stations were experiencing enormous growth in the 1970s.  More than 200 of these small,  community-based radio stations affiliated under the National Federation of Community Broadcasters (NFCB), which offered a third non-commercial radio system. NFCB's tape distribution service quickly became an important alternative to NPR and Pacifica, providing independent producers and stations a new means of distributing their programs to both NPR stations and to the growing number of non-commercial stations not hooked into the NPR system.  many of the featured offerings were oral history based documentaries.  [43]

When the Public Radio Satellite System went on line in 1980 producers for the first time had an inexpensive,  simple, and efficient means of program distribution.  Recognizing the need to encourage independent producers and bring new people into the system, CPB, at the prompting of NPR, also set up a special Satellite Program Development Fund (SPDF) to provide an accessible funding source for women and minorities, to facilitate better promotion, marketing and production skills, to enable producers and stations to upgrade local programs for regional or national distribution, and to fund pilots programs for ongoing series: in other words, to create new programming to fill the new channels.  Excluding grants to NPR itself, the Fund represented a major federal commitment to diversity,  and it's supporters were serious enough about that commitment to allocate funding for station-based and independent producers to improve their mastery of their craft.  SPDF was, in retrospect, remarkably success, underwriting a wonderful range and variety of programs. Many of these programs utilized oral histories and focused on the experiences of American women and minorities.  One of the best of these programs,  produced during the first year of SPDF funding was Judy Moore Smith's Never a Man Spake Like This, a superb, one -hour, stereo documentary on the art of traditional black preaching. [44]   (CD: Selection 4)

Despite the valiant efforts to break free for the old March of Time  documentary formula, most radio documentary producers still relied upon the old, authoritative voice-of-doom narrator, a method of voicing particularly troublesome and inappropriate when used in programs devoted to women and minorities.  Smith confronted the issue of voicing head on.  Rather than use a narrative voice imposed upon the program from the another culture, she fashioned what she has called a "docu-sermon." Using traditional black preacher Dr. Robert Pruitt as her narrator, Smith wrote her continuity and designed the piece in such a way as to match the design of a sermon in the traditional black church.  Her sermon documentary, structured on the call of Dr. Pruitt's continuity and response of her actualities of other black preachers and commentators works brilliantly.  Painting pictures with words, Pruitt leads the listener through segments on call-and-response, motivation, storytelling--using the "ordinary" to get to the "extraordinary" as he puts it--timing and movement, musicality, and the poetry of the traditional black sermon, concluding with an extended five-preacher montage of sermonizing that recapitulates these basic characteristics of the traditional black preaching style.  Pruitt's narration is colloquial and eloquent, periodically recapitulating what has been learned to date, drawing in the listener, and fitting almost seemlessly with the documentary material. "We black preachers" Pruitt notes, "like spiritual conductors, send God's word beautifully. In a manner you can participate.  Watch me.  I might say it, shout it, celebrate the word."  Which he does, to wonderful effect.   Smith's program makes clear how radio is the perfect medium in which to present this story.  Documenting a tradition of aural performance clearly works better in sound than on the printed page, as the absence of potentially distracting visual information focuses the audiences' attention squarely on Pruitt's "words of God."  [45]

The opening in the 1970s of the airwaves to groups traditionally excluded from the mass media coincided with the revolution in historical studies already sweeping American higher education.  Public radio was an obvious and affordable medium for the dissemination of the new social history.  Expanding funding bases,  new outlets brought about by the rapid expansion of three non-commercial radio systems, and NPR's utilization of independently produced works drew increasing numbers of independent producers into public radio, many of whom undertook ambitious projects.  Freed from pressures of quick deadlines, producers were able devote more time to their programs and to work in the medium long enough to master basic production skills and develop a distinctive sound.  The expanding national system of public and community radio stations created the outlets for documentaries produced by both station-based and independent producers, a number of whom were drawn quite naturally to the use of oral histories. 

Public radio and the new social history were made for each other.  The late 1970s and early 1980s witnessed the broadcast of a series of oral history documentaries produced collaboratively by historians and radio producers.  Stud's Terkel's Hard Times had debuted on WFMT in 1970.  Historian Ann Banks teamed with WGBH in Boston to produce First Person America, a six-part series based on dramatic readings of life histories collected by the Federal Writers Project back in the 1930s. (•date)  Historians with the Oral History of the American Left program at New York University's Tamiment Institute Library teamed with radio documentarians Charles Potter and Beth Friend to produce Grandmother was an Activist: A Radio Series on Radical Women in the 1930s,  (1983?) six, half-hour documentaries produced for Pacifica station WBAI-FM.  Producer Louise Cleveland worked with a team of historians in producing The Golden Cradle, an NEH funded series of thirteen half-hour oral history documentaries on immigration women in America from the 1840s to the present, which NPR broadcast in 1983. 

Historians Move from Type to Tape

Non-commercial radio enabled scholars and social activists excluded from television and film by either lack of funds or political persuasion to reach new, and often sympathetic audiences.   A small number of young academics also began to produce their own programs.  Graduate student David Dunaway began to work at KPFA while at the University of California at Berkeley in the early 1970s, winning a • award for his radio documentary on The Weavers in •.  While a graduate student at the University of Buffalo, Jo Blatti received an assistantship at the university affiliated radio station WBFO.   Attracted to radio as a forum for the presentation of the new social history, Blatti received an NEH grant to produce the Buffalo Social History Project.   Over the next year she produced twelve, three-hour magazine-format programs that combined live interviews with highly produced feature pieces, many of them utilizing oral histories.  This she followed by American Dreams, (1977-1978) a spin-off of twelve one-hour historical documentaries that also utilized oral histories, and a third series, and The Live Long Day, in 198•.   Debra Bernhardt, oral history project planner at the Wagner Labor Archives in New York in 1981 produced New Yorkers at Work: Oral Histories of Life, Labor and Industry, eight, half-hour programs on New York City's labor history, from more than 200 interviews.  [46]

The glutted academic job market of the late 1970s drew a handful of young historians into audio documentary production, me among them.  An ABD in American cultural history at Temple University, I began working at WUHY-FM Public Radio in Philadelphia in 1978 under a CETA grant modeled on the old WPA Writer's Project-- the stated purpose was to "retool" young ABDs so that they could become productive members of society.  Tutored under William Siemering, who had taken over the job of station manager at WUHY in 1978,  I was soon producing programs for Fresh Air, at the time a local radio magazine filling fifteen hours of air time each week, and in 1983 produced I Remember When: Times Gone But Not Forgotten,  a series of thirteen, half-hour oral history documentaries on the lives of working-class Philadelphians.  I next produced Goin' North: Tales of the Great Migration,  five, half-hour oral history documentaries on black migration to Philadelphia during the early decades of the twentieth century which aired by Philadelphia's WHYY-FM in 1985.  Part of a broader-based public history project administered by Philadelphia's Atwater Kent Museum,  broadcast of the series was coordinated with the release of print supplements.  The Philadelphia Daily News sold 22,000 educational supplements, including full transcriptions of the programs, historical photographs, photos of interviewees, and "how to" sections on collecting old photos and conducting oral histories, to area high schools and colleges. [47]

Perhaps the most ambitious and successful of the new oral history radio series was Living Atlanta,  a series of fifty oral history documentaries produced at Atlanta community radio station WRFG.  Living Atlanta  was the brain child of sociologist Harlon Joye, a volunteer at WFRG's "Radio Free Georgia," who in 1977 received an NEH grant to produce a pilot series of five, one-half hour documentaries on history of Atlanta. The next year NEH awarded a second larger grant to produce forty-five additional programs.  Joy hired history graduate students Cliff Kuhn and Bernard West. Using local historians to help develop outlines, suggest areas of study, and identify informants, the producers recorded close to 200 separate interviews.  The expanded series debuted locally in November, 1979.  Distributed by tape through the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, six of its programs were also picked up by NPA.  Its producers later converted the radio programs into a book,  Living Atlanta: An Oral History of the City, 1914-1948, (Clifford Kuhn, Harlon E. Joye, and E. Bernard West), published by the University of Georgia Press in 1990.  Close to fifteen years after broadcast of the radio series, the Living Atlanta oral history collection remains the Atlanta Historical Society's most widely used collection.  [48]

Joye, West, and Kuhn would go on to produce or co-produce a succession of oral history radio documentaries. Kuhn would be the most prolific,  producing or co-producing oral history-based programs on the Leo Frank case, popular protest and social movements, and civil rights' pioneer Arthur Raper.  In 1984 he teamed up with Brenda McCallum at the University of Alabama's Archive of American Minority Cultures to produce Working Lives,  an NEH-funded series of thirteen half-hour documentaries on black working-class history and culture in the early twentieth-century Alabama.  Like the series produced by Bernhardt, myself, and others, the oral history interviews completed for the series were placed on permanent deposit.  [49]

Many of the oral history radio series produced since the mid-1970s are actually quite good, and have held up well over time.  Most, however, have not held up well.  The vast majority tend to follow an outmoded documentary formula--talking head interviews contextualized by historical recordings, dramatic recreations, and sound effects--and to suffer from poor production values.  They tend, in other words, to be better history than radio because of their producers failure to master the craft of audio documentary production; a craft that became more complex and exciting with the arrival of affordable stereo recorders and multi-track production facilities.  Recorded and produced monaurally, they fail to make use of the ability that stereo has to open the acoustic space and bring the world being documented to life through sound placement and movement.  While record companies and FM radio began to using stereo extensively in the 1960s, most radio documentary producers did not embrace it until twenty years later, in part because of the cost of stereo equipment and in part because of a lack of vision.  It was radio producers such as the Kitchen Sisters, Judy Moore Smith, and Chris Koch, who made the most effective use of oral histories and archival recordings as sound, because of their love of sound and their desire to place voices in their sonic context.   (•Here on Koch's Summer of Love.) 

SOUNDPRINT: The Audio Equivalent of Photojournalism

The radio renaissance that took off in 1971 slowed considerably after the early 1980s.  By the mid-1970s NPR had become locked in an ongoing battle between the broadcast news journalists and those who continued to view the program whose unique strengths lay in its coverage of a broader range of issues, perspectives, and sounds.  Under the direction of Frank Mankiewicz, who arrived in 1977, NPR expanded rapidly.  Drawing new talent from Pacifica and elsewhere NPR broadcast some of its most memorable documentaries, including Father Cares: The Last of Jonestown, a ninety-minute documentary on the last days of the Jonestown commune in Guyana that included riveting tape recorded during the last few months before the mass suicide. 

Soon, however, the dream turned sour.  The new Reagan administration stung NPR with repeated funding cuts.  Banking on income from satellite use that never materialized, NPR in 1983 confronted a disastrous financial crisis which led to a reshuffling of leadership and on-air talent. Under constant pressure for its presumed liberal biases--California Congressman William Danemeyer would call it a "Washington-based nest of trendies and leftists"--at the same time that it was gaining prestige and status for its in-depth coverage of hard news, NPR  grew more conservative and news oriented.  The Satellite Program Development Fund ceased operations in 1985.  It's  successor, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting Fund, in 1987 began a new grants program that allocated larger amounts for support of ongoing services and large documentary series.  Providing higher levels of support to reward proven producers and help keep them in the system, the new CPB Fund has carried on the SPBF tradition of funding minority-based programming.  (Some independent producers and critics also accused it of elitism, and a bottom-line mentality that discouraged innovation and diversity.) 

To its credit, the CPB remained committed to broadening public radio's listener and producer base.  By 1994, CPB had dedicated more than $12m to programs produced by independent minority producers--more than forty percent of its total spending.  Termination of SPDF did, however,  close off a significant source of funding for newcomers to the system. The desire to become more mainstream coupled with pressures from the right also transformed NPR, which became more oriented towards hard news.  As salaries increased, staff grew older, and air time became more precious, programming became more consistent and NPR moved from an alternative news service into the mainstream. In the process it lost some of its excitement and surprise.  [50]

The transformation of National Public Radio during the 1980s has been well-documented elsewhere.  What is important from the perspective of the history of the audio documentary is that NPR and the public radio system was drying up as a market for independently produced, radio documentary series.  Even during the boom years of the 1970s public radio had never been large enough to support more than a handful of producers.  The money just wasn't there.  The economics of public radio were such that few documentary producers had the drive, commitment, or other sources of income to produce full-time.  The turn-over rate among producers was extremely high.  Radio documentary production has tended to be a step on the road to other careers or avocation supported by other more lucrative ways of paying the bills.  Unable to make a living as radio documentary producers, the handful of oral historians working in public and community radio sought employment elsewhere.  Some of the more talented independent radio producers were also driven from the field; the rest confronted the difficulty of getting funding and the contraction of markets.  The weekend programs at NPR still continued their interest in telling stories through sound.  But the feeling was widespread among many public radio veterans that an era had ended, just as new breakthroughs in audio technology promised once again to revolutionize audio production.  [51]

By the mid-1980s the established independent producers were feeling the crunch of budget cutbacks and NPR's movement towards hard news.  In addition, stations that had once welcomed limited series were now inundated with offerings of highly uneven quality and were increasingly reluctant to broadcast special programs or series that created logistical headaches in scheduling and promotion, and that did not fit into their "sound."  Paying more attention to "market share" and the bottom line, stations were becoming more conservative and set in their ways; not just politically but aesthetically as well.  Even the use of sound that had helped give public radio its distinctive character in the 1970s was increasingly out of place in the news/ interview/music formats of the 1980s. 

Fearing that the audio documentary was becoming an endangered species, independent producers Jay Allison, Larry Masett, and WJHU General Manager David Creagh came up with the idea of creating a weekly, half-hour, non-fiction documentary series that would provide a "predictable umbrella" for distribution of independently produced sound documentaries.  A weekly show would simplify programmers' lives, guaranteeing them a high-quality, easy to program series.  Committed to the belief that the radio documentary is a unique medium for the expression of ideas, the series would also provide a vehicle by which to continue and advance the American documentary tradition by encouraging the creative and inventive use of sound.  To do so, the planners recognized that the program would need to provide substantial acquisition fees. [52]

Funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Endowment for the Arts, and the American Radio Program Fund, SOUNDPRINT went on the air in January, 1988.  ATC creator William Siemering came on as executive producer and helped focus the series.  Modeling SOUNDPRINT on Life Magazine, "the aural equivalent of photojournalism," as he would put it, Siemering envisioned SOUNDPRINT as a showcase for the finest works of radio journalism that told their stories through sound, that set new standards and stretched the limits of the medium.  For the past seven years SOUNDPRINT has provided the most important forum for interesting, and skillfully produced radio documentaries, many of them utilizing oral reminiscences.  The ideal of an aural equivalent of photojournalism, has been advanced during the 1980s by the use of stereo and the availability of affordable 8-track production, a two-step process in which each sound element is laid exactly in place on separate channels, then mixed down to mono or stereo.  Enabling complete control in the placement and mix of sounds, multi-track production has extended producer's abilities to make creative use of sound.

Of all the documentaries produced for SOUNDPRINT, perhaps none is of greater interest to oral historians than independent radio producer Dee Roberts' Mei Mei: A Daughter's Story, the story of Robert's attempt to understand herself by learning about her mother and making peace with her, told through a sophisticated and engaging use of recurring motifs and storytelling techniques, including oral history, interior monologues, and mise-en-scene actualities.

Mei Mei: A Daughter's Story  relates Robert's attempt to understand her own life, through understanding and make peace with her Chinese mother.  Theirs was a love-hate relationship common many parents and children, but exacerbated by the fact that the two were products of differ cultures. (Robert's father was an American).   It is a story fraught with dramatic possibilities: a daughter ashamed of her old-world mother and mother disappointed in her American daughter, each carrying the psychological scars and burdens of a lifetime.  In  addition,  Robert's mother had grown up in war-torn China during 1930s and 1940s and had twice, as a child, been sold by her parents.  Here were the makings of a fascinating story, both deeply personal and of epic historical sweep that could touch upon family history, modern Chinese history, the American immigrant experience, the conflict between old-world parents and their Americanized children, and the universal story of the relationship between a mother and a daughter.

Oral history was Roberts' primary source of information about her mother's past, but she was working with a reluctant informant.  When interviewed her mother spoke without feeling of her own early life,  giving information only reluctantly and in small bits and pieces.  In addition, Roberts' effort was inhibited by a language barrier: her mother's limited grasp of English and her own weak grasp of Chinese.  What this meant for the documentary was that she could not rely on oral history actualities to carry the program.  These problems, then, forced Roberts to be creative in presenting her mother's story.  She chose to use only brief oral history segments with her mother as referents and starting points, a spare use that makes those segments that are presented all the more powerful and meaningful.  Roberts then used her own first-person narration to fill in the biographical details, contextualize and frame her mother's story, and to explain the significance of these autobiographical fragments to her own search for an understanding of her mother and herself.  The problem of how she would present her mother's voice still remained.  Roberts solved this problem by dramatizing her mother's oral testimony in the voice of a young Chinese-American woman.  At times the listener is drawn into the past, listening in through the dramatization at some critical moment in her life.  At other times, we hear her mother's actual retrospective narration.  This mixed voicing works extremely well, uprooting the story from its time-boundedness, and helping to shift the story from the historical to the universal. It is a very effective documentary technique. 

Sound documentaries allow the writer/producer to convey information by non-verbal means.  The dynamic tension between intimacy and distancing is furthered by Robert's skillful creation of a dream-like atmosphere through the use of ethereal Chinese music, reverb, and the hypnotic repetition of key words and phrases which explain the source of her mother's world view and states of mind and drive home their significance.  The use of reverb, music, and voice distortions can effectively  convey emotive states that might require paragraphs of skillful prose.  The thickness of her mother's Chinese accent serves as a metaphor of the wall between mother and daughter.  Through revoicing and dramatizing her mother's account, Roberts is able to overcome the difficulty she has had in relating to her mother.  The dramatization also enables the listener to be drawn into her mother's story as both participants and observers.  All these techniques, then, help to overcome the distance of time and race and culture--the differences of appearances.

Rather than present the listener with a novelistically--or historically--full recapitulation, Roberts presents her mother's story in a fashion that mimics and recreates how she learned about it herself;  in tantalizing, veiled, and disconnected fragments that she would have to piece together. The barrier of language is exacerbated by her mother's reluctance to free ghosts from the cemetery of her own memories that might yet come back and harm her. From these bits and pieces we learn what we need to know to make sense of her mother's life and hear enough biography to ground her life story historically.  Robert's dual focus, as she states at the beginning of the program, is both about her mother and "growing up with her ." [italics are mine].  Through the course of her mother's fragmentary recollections, Robert's recognizes what she believes to be the pivotal moments of her life.  Sold as a child by her parents and forced to work as a servant in the midst of the Japanese occupation and then the Second World War, she attempted three times at the age of thirteen or fourteen to commit suicide. Each time the Buddha came to her and told her that it was not yet her time. 

Rather than just recount these pivotal events, Dee presents the interview segments in which her mother actually told her about her attempted suicides, and then dramatizes the experience by telescoping the three attempts into a single episode, creating an audio dreamscape that represents what was taking place in her mother's mind during her near-death experience: her interior dialogue with the female Buddha, Kuan Nim Posa.  (CD, Selection 5)

     [Actuality] Kuan Nim Posa that's her whole name. We talk to Taiwanese. You don't understand. We talk to Chinese.  You don't understand....I was hanging and Buddha stopped me. Buddha gave me power. She said "Its not your time yet.  I was thirteen and fourteen I tried suicide three times.  How?

Through hanging.

You tried to hang yourself?

Yeah.

Three times? 

Yeah. 

How come?

Because I didn't want to live, that's how come.  Don't think of it as happy to live for, no?

No. That's terrible. That's a terrible thing to do to yourself  

And Buddha has to come stop me. So Buddha gave me power.

How did she stop you?

I don't know how to explain it. She come down here.

But did you actually tie a rope up? 

Yeah. But Buddha come down and turned me loose.

You were hanging? 

Yeah.

And she turned you loose?

And come down and stopped me.

Did she say anything or do anything?

Yeah.

What did she say?

[???] Going be a long way to go. That's why I got power from Buddha, Kuan Nim Posa.

[Recreation]  "The first time I tried to kill myself I was thirteen years old. I tied a sheet to the ceiling in a circle I put my head in a circle. I was hanging and Buddha stopped me. I was hanging and Buddha stopped me. Buddha gave me power. She said "Its not your time yet. Though my life was terrible. I tried to hang myself three times and each time Buddha stopped me. Then I would fall asleep and dream of her. Kuan Nim Posa.  [Reverb. English translation over actuality spoken in Chinese] So beautiful.   She took me to heaven I flew up and up. My feet never touched the ground.  Her feet never touched the ground.  And I saw heaven. So beautiful. So beautiful. All different colors of people. No houses, no trees. Just beautiful clouds. I didn't want to go back. I didn't want to go back. But she said I had to. I didn't want to go back. But she said It wasn't my time yet. "

Roberts returns to this scene two or three times during the course of the program, for here she finds that critical event which explains her mother's existence.  In this use of incremental repetition and the condensation of multiple events into a single story, the documentary again mirrors the nature of the oral history interview and autobiographical reminiscence.  Because audio, like speech itself, is an oral medium, repetition is a natural and valuable technique for the presentation of information.

Robert's split focus on her mother and growing up with her mother also makes explicit the dual focus and relationship between interviewer and interviewee.  Clearly, Robert's relationship to her mother is much more intimate than that of the typical oral historian or journalist and interviewee.  But by foregrounding the double focus she achieves the self-reflexivity so valued by many contemporary scholars: not just to acknowledge the interviewer’s role in the process, but to incorporate oneself into the interpretation as a co-subject, if not of the history, then of the creation of the historical document.  Again, Robert's motives are clear and compelling.  Her objective is to find out who she is, and why her mother is the way she is.  And as shared traits appear in the course of the story she notes for us those continuities and inheritances from her mother.

Roberts open acknowledgment of purpose may prove difficult for scholars and journalists whose training in the "objective" method has taught them to conceal their motives, not just from others, but from themselves as well.  This self-reflective approach may not be appropriate for everyone.  But Roberts does provide a valuable model of how this dual focus can bring the shared creation of oral history into the mix in a manner that may be in certain ways more honest, more personal, and therefor more interesting to listen to--and to read. 

The second pivotal episode in Mei Mei and final resolution to the story comes in the form of a transformative moment shared by mother and daughter on a trip to Taiwan.  Early in the piece Roberts tells us how the time they were spending together in order for Dee to do this piece had led to a renewal of the vicious bickering of her childhood.  Indeed, how it had reached the point that they had stopped speaking to each other.  Nonetheless, mother and daughter embarked together on a trip back to Taiwan, for her mother to renew old ties and Dee to meet unknown family members and better understand herself.  Being the good documentary producer, Roberts had her field recorder running constantly.  In an exchange recorded on their trip, we hear her mother burst into laughter at Roberts' attempt to speak in broken Chinese.  And with this laughter comes atonement. "The laughter,” Roberts tells her listeners, “lasts longer than any memory I had held onto."  And so the program, and Robert's exercise in family oral history reaches its resolution.  Mother and daughter succeed in overcoming a gap of generations, cultures, and continents.  The anger and separation of a Chinese mother and her Chinese-American daughter is replaced, however briefly, by a moment of sharing.  With this resolution, Mei Mei: A Daughter's Story  takes the form of a mythic journey or saga.  With a crossing of the ocean comes atonement, and the passage from childhood to maturity.  Here, too, the therapeutic capacities of family/oral history are made real, not through presentation of a re-edited dialogue, but through Robert's account of her own transformation.  So there is a resolution and a moral in the momentary recognition of union, of identity,  that can cleanse a lifetime of hurts and misunderstandings. 

SOUNDPRINT continues to serve as a major forum for the presentation of innovative, sophisticated, and consistently interesting audio documentaries. The series must constantly straddle that thin line between innovation and market share, for in the contemporary world of American public radio, a program must build and hold a sufficiently large audience to justify its existence to underwriters.  As a result SOUNDPRINT documentaries educate and push listeners, but cannot afford to deviate too far from what has become an identifiable SOUNDPRINT "sound" or formula.  To fully explore the potentials of the use of sound for aural history, then, one needs to turn to other venues and producers not confined by the market imperatives of public broadcasting. 

Reconceptualizing the Documentary on Musical Models

Works by Keith Talbot, Judy Moore Smith, Dee Roberts and other producers suggest some of ways in which presenting history in sound differs from its presentation in print.  Historians and journalists authoring in sound, too, shall be forced to contemplate what, indeed, are the specific strengths and weaknesses of these different media, and to determine which audio documentaries provide the best models for their own forays into sound and multimedia presentations?

Of the many radio documentaries produced from oral histories in the 1970s and 1980s, few, I suspect, shall survive the test of time. Public radio has always been a shoe-string operation.  Almost all independently-funded oral history documentary series suffered from problems endemic to public radio: tight budgets and inadequate training, poor field recording and studio equipment, and a shortage of time.  Low salaries and the increasing difficulty of obtaining funding continue to drive talented people from the field.  Few stay in the field long enough to develop the technical skills or the artistic hearing needed to produce quality work.  In analyzing the models available to the oral historian, one must examine the range of audio documentary modes of presentation, and then suggest a series of models the aural historian might follow.  So what rules, then,  have structured the audio documentary for the past fifty years? 

When radio in the 1950s became a medium primarily for music and transmission of brief news reports, radio journalism and documentaries solidified into standardized forms.  The formula that emerged by the late 1940s is structured by a linear storyline that impels the story forward and a sonically elementary production style that makes more sense visually than auditorally. Basic rules taught to almost all radio journalists and producers--those who receive any instruction at all--are that only one person should be hear at a time that each person heard should be identified, that all musical beds should be kept low so as not to "compete" or interfere with the listeners ability to hear the featured speaker, and that to avoid drawing the listener's attention, it is best that musical beds be instrumentals. The whole formula is premised upon the assumption that the listener must be able to get all there is to hear in a single listening.  Programs should be quickly paced, easy to listen to... and disposable. 

Weak prose is another shortcoming of many documentaries, a feature shared by much historical writing.  To convince readers and each other that their interpretations were "objective" and timeless, many historians and mainstream journalists developed a style of writing designed to reinforce an aura --or illusion--of objectivity.  This desiccated prose plagues historical writing especially, and may go a long way in explaining why so many students consider "History" one of the most boring of all subjects.  The historian's penchant for stale language coupled with the "news" or journalistic aesthetic is a deadly combination.  It may be appropriate for hard news reporting,  but unless the voices are very compelling and the scripting excellent, such programs constantly flirt with mono-tony, that worrisome sameness that quickly leads to wandering attention and the uncontrollable desire to change the channel. 

That is not to say that we have nothing to learn from even conventional radio documentaries.  Perhaps the most basic and important of all lessons that radio producers learned long ago was how to use ambiances and sound effects to bring a story to life.  Once authors make the leap from type to tape they are obliged not just to record the voice but also the sound environment of their interviewees, be it a workplace, home, club, or street corner.  But there may be other, unique dimensions to aural history to we have yet to explore and develop.

Glenn Gould and "Contrapuntal Radio"

Few have challenged the audio documentary formula or attempted to find alternative aural form of presentation more seriously than Canadian pianist Glenn Gould.  Perhaps it is appropriate that one of the great innovators would not be a journalist, radio producer, or historian, but a classically trained musician.  Gould's life-long fascination with the Canadian North convinced him in 1966 to accept a commission from the CBC Public Affairs Radio unit to produce a sound piece for the Canadian Centennial.  He used this commission as an opportunity to examine his own romantic, "quasi-allegorical attitude towards the north,"  and that condition of solitude many Canadians associated with the journey into the northern wilderness.  [53]

Gould built his hour-long "oral tone poem," or documentary "which thinks of itself as a drama," on five, carefully selected interviews with a geographer, anthropologist, nurse, government administrator, and retired surveyor whose different perspectives on the meaning of the North covered what Gould considered a full range of Canadian responses to the north: that of the enthusiast, the cynic, the government budget-watcher, and one whose limitless expectation and limitless capacity for disillusionment inevitably affects the questing spirit of those who go north seeking their future.  As narrator and guide, Gould selected Wally McLean, a former surveyor and raconteur whose views Gould felt effectively encompassed all four perspectives.  Weeks of marathon eighteen-hour sessions spent in the studio resulted in The Idea of North,  a brilliant one-hour documentary that explored the meaning of the North as both dream and reality, and the role that this vast untamed land had played in the imaginative lives of Canadians. 

Coming from a musical, rather than a print background, Gould's search for auditory solutions to the presentation of his meditation led him to music rather than the printed word or motion pictures.  All audio documentary producers face the challenge of how to condense essential information that is excessively time-consuming or dull into short segments.  Gould's solution was to layer and overlap voices on a fashion he called "contrapuntal radio."  He became fascinated with the degree to which one could listen simultaneously to more than one conversation or vocal impression.  Gould recognized that such multi-vocal montages would test listener patience and tolerance, but drawing on musical analogies, he also knew that such concerns had done little to deter composers and librettists from utilizing vocal trios, quartets, or quintets in both operas and concert music.  A greater concern with the totality of the structure and the play of consonance and dissonance between the voices suggested to Gould that "these scenes can be listened to in much the same way that you attend the Falstaff fugue."  [54]

Confident in the formulas of western classical music, Gould built his documentary on a musical, symphonic model.  The sound of a railroad train speeding North forms a constant soundbed and serves forms as his basso continuo.  The piece begins with an extended multi-vocal montage. He uses this prologue --Gould calls it a "trio-sonata"--not only to present contextual information that might otherwise be dull in an aesthetically pleasing manner, but also to open up the listener's ears and mind.  (CD Selection 6)  Teasing, foreshadowing, and intimating, its serves as a hearing exercise that prepares the listener for that which follows.  A second multi-voice montage placed a bit more than half way through the piece is devoted to the subject of the Eskimo.  Gould again uses his contrapuntal technique to convey a great deal of information in a short amount of time.  Fashioned with incredible skill and sensitivity, the montage draws in and leads the listener through the scan.  Thirty years before MTV,  Gould had invented a technique that allowed a listener to scan through a montage of voices.  Here at long last was an audio documentary that integrated a musical, audio aesthetic. 

Gould was wise enough not to overuse the technique, limiting it to just two montages.  When in 1977 he produced The Quiet in the Land,  his last piece in The Solitude Trilogy, the use of stereo enabled him to push his contra-puntal radio to new heights.  Fascinated by what would become of a small group of Canadian Mennonites as they moved from the country to the city, Gould focused on their unique relationship to the world: that of being "in the world, but not of it."  In an extended, ten-minute, multi-voice montage that begins about three-fifths of the way through the piece, Gould explores this dynamic tension by juxtaposing voices on both channels simultaneously.  Introduced by a reiteration of the Mennonite creed of being in this world but not of it, the montage begins at 32:33 with a sermon on the right channel and monologue on the left at equal volume.  At 33:31 a third voice comes in and it becomes impossible to follow any individual voice.  At 33:50 more voices.  At 34:00 a woman and different man's voice emerge on separate channels.  At 34:20 two women's voices.  At 35:00 an older man on the left, then a young man on both channels.  One can feel Gould experimenting with pacing and content as he orchestrates a succession of overlapping voices.  Soon one's ear begins to gravitate to each new voice as it comes in.  Gould leads the listener through waves of focused single voice listening into multi-vocal confusion and cacophony.  Each new overlap causes one to lose track and wait for the appearance of the next new voice to again provide a single focus.  Soon, however, one begins to follow the rhythm of spoken words and music of the voices, the ebb and flow of impressions, rather than the completed thoughts.  A wonderful syncopation emerges.  Some may stop listening to the words at all, allowing the mind to refocus on the lives constructed of competing voices that surround us.  

Gould is quite consciously challenging the listener.  This is clearly his most challenging piece of contrapuntal radio yet, and he sustains it long enough to enable the listener to move from frustration to meditation.  After a while it becomes clear that the objective in listening is not to attach to any one voice as they flow in and out, but rather to be in this world but not of it!   So here Gould has created a form that mirrors the subject of his meditation.  To listen to this documentary one must let go of individual voices, single ideas, linear, and narrative strands of thought: all the talk about what it means to be a Mennonite.  Surrendering to the contrapuntal presentation is like stepping through a door into a world in which time is suspended and one experiences how there is no single "Mennonite" belief, but many.  It works!  At 42:16 Gould finally leads us out of the montage into a single voice and the concluding section of his piece. 

As mass consumers in a marketplace of competing ideas, we have all been socialized to listen for information that offers no challenges to our comprehension and that we can obtain from a single reading or listening, be it one line or one voice at a time.  Glen Gould between 1967 and 1977 produced a series of  pieces that required the listener to scan among competing elements, to let go of the mono-tonous story-line, and instead listen in stereo.  None of the programs in his Solitude Trilogy  are one-time listening experiences.  These are not disposable information.  Gould invited his listeners into a new aesthetic, a new auditory space and world in which old expectations and objectives must be set aside.  Most people refuse to listen to pieces that present such aesthetic or conceptual challenges, turning off the radio or CD before they have spent enough time listening to cross over the perceptual threshold from monotony to polyphony.  (The experience is very much like trying to unfocus one’s eyes to see the 3-dimensional pictures buried inside 2-dimensional images.  Only after you are able to let go of the flat surface can you discover the pictures that have depth as well as outline.)  In retrospect, Gould's experiments replicate meditations in which interior voices ebb and flow, appear and disappear with no apparent reason or context.  But Gould's were guided meditations, carefully and skillfully constructed.  Once the listener lets go of the monovocal narrative thread and becomes an observer of the passing ebb and flow of voices and stories, hears the rhythms, and experiences the polyphony of thought, a feeling of great calm and knowing takes over; a retreat into the self that enables a much more dispassionate and perhaps "objective" relationship to the history.  Here, then, is how contrapuntal radio may have relevance to the practice and presentation of oral history.

Oral history, as we know, is a dialogue and joint creation.  Biographies and other histories based on oral history interviews in certain ways falsify the nature of both memory and the oral history interview by creating the illusion of sequentiality and a single point of view.  To pursue a musical metaphor, traditional historical writing may be analogous to the breaking down of the musical composition of one's life into single instrumental lines which are then examined one voice at a time.  This may enable us to hear and understand certain voices, but no matter how many of these separate elements we listen to we will never be able to experience or understand the music--or our lives--until we reassemble them back into the whole.  All of the segmentation and division and compartmentalization and dissection necessary for historical analysis is essential to our understanding of the past.  But synthesis is also required to bring the history back to life.  The articulation of thought and memory are first aural, not visual processes.  It would seem logical, then, that at some point aural historians must learn to think and create aurally.  To do this we must overcome a lifetime of arduous, formal, typographically-based educations and recognize that this education has closed our ears as much as it has opened our eyes. 

It has been my experience that students tend to have less of a problem with this than adults.  To many of them written communication is the foreign language.  Brought up in a world of sight and sound and information overload, they are quite naturally information scanners.  Although this is by now common knowledge, if not cliché, in contemporary academic circles,  most historians have not yet figured out what to do about it.  Marshall McLuhan, for all of the nonsense that accompanied many of his insights, was one of the first to recognize the profound perceptual shift brought about the electronic mass media.  Pioneer audio documentarian Tony Schwartz also understood McLuhan's insights not as a theoretical abstraction, but experientially, coming to them from years spent working in sound.  Speaking about the lack of understanding of sound among educators, Schwartz in 1981 would write:

Where we would expect to find the most imaginative use of the new tape technology, we find the most stodgy and dated approach.  Schools use tape and cassette programs that are not creatively constructed originals, but merely a copy of another environment.  Tapes and cassettes are misused as containers for older media: print and lectures.  These programs make little use of the temporal and spatial potential of tape. "   [55]

Those who would author in sound, too, must learn to "think” in sound;  to free themselves from the perceptual prisons that cut them off from aural history, from many of their less well-educated informants, from their students, from general audiences, and from the worlds that they devote their lifetimes to collecting and interpreting. 

As this brief history indicates, dissatisfaction with the conventions of the American sound documentary dates back to the earliest days of radio broadcast.  Efforts by isolated pockets of musicians, radio producers, and artists to forge a new audio aesthetic, like all experiments, were often more important for the questions they raised than their successes as fully realized,  historically or aesthetically satisfying productions.  As one might expect, it took a musician to break out of the print-based presentational paradigm and to reconceptualize presentation of the spoken word musically.  To date, few have chosen to follow in Gould's footsteps and his pieces remain little known except among a small handful of audio artists and older radio producers. 

Sound programming in the 1990s:

OPPORTUNITIES IN  SOUND

As this brief history of the audio documentary has indicated, public radio is a cruel master.  Sound documentary projects are chronically underfunded and constantly struggling for air time in a system driven by the same market imperatives that shape the commercial mass media.  Months, if not years of effort put into a single production can result in only one or perhaps two broadcasts before permanent shelving.  Fortunately, new technologies are eliminating the aural historian and audio documentary producer's dependence upon radio broadcast.  Today the real opportunities lie in what are known in the public radio biz as "ancillary" markets, including museum installations, cassette distribution, books on tape, audio walking and driving tours, and multi-media. 

Multiple media publications enable authors to use sound, still and moving images, and print in a complementary fashion, allowing each media to do that which it does best.  Edited interviews or sound documentaries can present the authentic voices and sound artifacts that bring a story to life.  The accompanying print component can include the contextualization and analysis that can be so deadly on tape, but most effective in print, as well as archival and current images and photographs of the persons heard and the events being described.

In Media the Second God, Tony Schwartz provided a compelling example of the complementary strengths of sound and print.  Listening years ago to a tape produced by a manufacturer of medical supplies, Schwartz was struck by the difference between the use of sound to exhibit rather than describe.  The tape opened with a one-minute cut of a manic depressive speaking, obviously, to set the stage for a doctor, who then spoke at length on manic depression and the palliative effects of some new drug.  "The only unique thing that the cassette could offer," Schwartz observed, " the only thing that could not be heard in any other way, was the voice of the manic depressive who, had she talked for the entire length of the tape, might have made the audience aware of the special qualities and mode of communication associated with this ailment.  That would have provided listeners with a learning experience that only a tape or face-to-face encounter could offer."  It might have been better, then,  for the author to have built the audio around the manic depressive and to have used a print supplement to carry the weight of the doctor's analysis and description of the new drug’s efficacy.  [56]

The leap from print to sound and multimedia is not just a gimmick or diversion.  Nor does it require the dumbing down of one's scholarship.  Authoring in sound, multimedia, and hypertext can bring about not only a significant expansion of audience, but enhance our ability to think, experience, and communicate in media that complement and enhance the printed word.  The sound and video documentary communities have a wealth of information and skills into which aspiring authors can tap.  Radio and film documentary producers are already exploring multiple and multimedia publishing,  forging relationships with book, record, and multimedia publishers, and hammering out the new producer rights agreements that protect their work. 

Audio documentary producers are also paving the way for aural historians in multiple and multimedia publishing.  They are aggressively exploring ways to sell their work in different media,  forging relationships with book, record and multimedia publishers,  and hammering out the new producer rights' agreements that protect their work.  One person leading the way is audio documentarian David Isay, who has produced radio documentaries using oral reminiscences on the Stonewall rebellion of 1979, snake handlers in rural West Virginia, and the lives of elderly prisoners at the Angola State Penitentiary in Louisiana.  In 1992, Isay armed two eight graders with tape recorders and microphones to document what it was like to grow up near the Ida B. Wells Housing Development on the South Side of Chicago.  The result, Ghetto Life 101,  which aired on NPR in June 1993, was one of most heralded and controversial radio documentaries of the past decade.  The program included interviews the boys' principal, Lloyd's alcoholic father, and LeAlan's sister, a high school drop out and unwed mother who acknowledges on tape that she knows the names of the murderers of some of her friends.  These candid interviews helped Ghetto Life 101  win a bevy of awards and generated concern among critics who not only found the program exploitative but also feared that it endangered LeAlan's sister.   46

Overlooked in much of this controversy was the remarkably collaborative nature of the project.  Recognizing that what many of his programs do is allow NPR listeners, an audience that despite NPR disclaimers is predominantly white and middle-class, to hear the human side of people whom the mass media usually  portray as stereotypes, Isay involves his informants as collaborators and co-recipients of proceeds.   For Ghetto Life 101, Isay, who produced the program in New York, involved LeAlan and Lloyd in each stage of production,  playing sections for the boys to listen to and approve over the phone.  They also helped write and recorded their own narration. In 1996, Isay and the boys produced a second documentary on the 1994 murder of five-year-old Eric Morse by two minors in the Ida. B. Wells apartments.  Broadcast of Remorse: The 14 stories of Eric Morse  on NPR in March of 1996 yielded sales of 1,200 cassettes and CDs, and indicates the growing ancillary markets for sound works that are broadcast.   

Isay hopes to soon produce a book from his collaborations with Lloyd and LeAlan, which will be accompanied by a CD of the two sound documentaries.  Another of his projects provides a useful model for how oral historians ca get the most out of their own projects.  For three years Isay's American Folklife Radio Project presented public radio listeners sound portraits of a fascinating array of American dreamers, eccentrics, visionaries and believers on NPR's All Things Considered, and Morning Edition.  In Spring, 1995, NPR released four half-hour compilations of the best of these Peabody award-winning portraits in conjunction with publication of a book, Holding On: Dreamers, Visionaries, Eccentrics and Other American Heroes. (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1996), based on the same interviews, and release of a traveling museum exhibit of photographs by collaborator Harvey Wang.  In addition, Shanachie Entertainment Corp. released a shorter compilation on CD, (Holding On, Shanachie 6015, 1995).

Isay's use of community members as interviewers, shared authority in project design and interpretation,  and equitable division of proceeds also demonstrates some of the synchronicities between the audio documentary and community oral history movements.  Ghetto Life 101 also demonstrated the democratizing potential of new technologies.  The ability of a thirteen and fourteen-year-old kid from the south side of Chicago to record compelling broadcast-quality interviews and to help produce a fascinating, award-winning sound documentary, has inspired others to place tape recorders and microphones into others’ hands.  (Here on Radio Diaries). 

Media Convergence and Collaboration across disciplines

Despite occasional cooperative projects sound documentary producers, journalists, and academics continue, by and large, to live in separate worlds, knowing little about each others’ skills and expertise even when it is clear that they have much to learn from and to offer each other. Documentary producers can teach oral historians, for example, how to use their equipment,  think in sound, and share their work with expanded audiences.  Oral historians can teach radio producers how to ask a broader range of questions, think in archival terms of tape deposit and storage, and direct them to share the oral historian’s concern for those who will use the interviews long after their creators are gone.

Thinking, then,  in terms of future uses,  the aural historian should be recording the sound documents that authors working in sound and hypertext will need to author the history of the late twentieth century.  Again, sounds, too, have a history.  Only when we start to think in sound, will we record and preserve the sound documents of our world.

At this point I suspect that many of you who are just learning the basics of sound field recording, may be throwing up your hands in abject distress.  Again,  I would assert that this expanded mandate should be viewed as an opportunity and not a burden; and that the rewards more than justify the effort required to become equipment and media literate.  Good audio documentary producers live all over the country and can be located through one's local public radio station, NPR, or through the Association of Independents in Radio (AIR), the national association of independent radio producers.  AIR's bi-monthly newsletter, Airspace, is a wonderful source of information on issues related to sound documentary production, training opportunities, and ongoing projects.   Subscription to the WELL, AIR's computer bulletin board service, is a wonderful forum to engage radio producers in an ongong dialogue about mutual concerns and issues. National Public Radio's training tapes offer another excellent source of instruction and suggestions on a broad range of issues.  The Training Channel Tape Catalogue has tapes on field recording with digital technology, basic and advanced field recording techniques,  documentary production, writing for radio,  and other issues of interest to the aural historian.  [57]

The creative search for solutions offered to the presentation of history are all partial steps in the continuing search for an aural aesthetic and formula that understands and uses the full potential of sound to tell a story—for the aural historian to use sound as a medium complementary to print for the study and presentation of history.  Today the ongoing revolution in electronic media, and the new computer-based and digital technologies offers unprecedented opportunities and challenges to the oral historian.  In Studs Terkel's Born to Live, on life under the threat of nuclear annihilation, Arthur C. Clarke turned the old Chinese proverb about the curse of living in interesting times on its head, insisting that rather than a curse it is a great "privilege."  This is an attitude that we all might do well to take to heart when making the leap from type to tape, or disc, or hard drive.



[1]  Series I produced included Charles Hardy's Popular Culture Show , 34 programs, 1/2 - 1 hr.,  on the study of American popular culture, broadcast on FRESH AIR,  WUHY-FM in Philadelphia (Public Radio), 1980-84; I Remember When: Times Gone But Not Forgotten , 13, 1/2 hr. radio documentaries on the history of working-class Philadelphians, produced from oral histories and archival recordings.  (Ninety-six oral history interviews in possession of producer), WHYY-FM in Philadelphia (Public Radio), 1982-83;  Goin' North: Tales of the Great Migration , 5, 1/2 hr. oral history radio documentaries and publication.  Atwater Kent Museum,  (Eighty oral history interviews on deposit at the Atwater Kent Museum), 1984-85. (National distribution by American Public Radio, 122 stations, 1994); and Crossroads, (Producer) a weekly, 1/2 hr. radio news magazine on multicultural affairs, heard on 123 public radio stations nationwide. Earmark, Inc., 1987.  My forays into audio art included Mordecai Mordant's Celebrated Audio Ephemera ,  8, 5-8 min. sound montages produced from oral history interviews and archival voice, sound effects, and musical recordings, 1986; This Car to the Ballpark , an 18 min., quadraphonic audio arcade produced from oral histories, archival recordings, and sound manipulations, 1988. (Concluding piece in "Earfest: The Theatre of Sound," a national juried festival of audio soundworks, 1989); and The Attic Closet , ( with Gerald Kolpan), a humorous 19 min. mixed audio and video montage on the role that closets play in the imaginative lives of children. The piece, which takes place in a 6'/ 6'/ 7' free-standing closet, was produced for LOST PLACES/LAST THINGS, a series of  six collaborations between audio and visual artists, 1990.

[2] Quotation comes from Lost and Sound brochure, 1998). (For more information see www.lostandfoundsound.com).

[3] The literature on the cognitive revolution brought about by the mass media is, of course, quite large.  Neil Postman's, Amusing Ourselves to Death (New York: Penguin Books, 1985) is a very accessible and thought provoking, if highly biased introduction.  Broader studies include Harold Innis,  Empire and Communications (1950)• and  The Bias of Communication, 1951•;  Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1962) and Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964); and Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word, (New York: Methuen, 1982.)

[4] The radio programs in these mutliple-media publications are of uneven quality.  For a review of Writing the Southwest see Charles Hardy, The Public Historian (Spring 1997): 143-144.

[5] The Collection and Storage of Historically Significant Sound Documents.

Since Edison’s invention of the phonograph, most radio journalists, oral historians and amateur field recordists had sought out what in film or video parlance is known as "talking heads.” (Folklorists tended to be a bit more open-eared.)  This was quite natural for those whose objective was--and is-- to convert print to voice, or voice to print.  Once the commitment has been made to the primacy of the sound document, however, the interests of any field recordist broadens to include the sound environment in which that person lives and works: sounds of the natural and man-made world, and the supporting sound artifacts created during the period of events covered in an interviewee’s recollections.  Until recently the recording of such ambiances, sound effects, and soundscapes required costly equipment.  Few field recordists could afford the Nagras and expensive microphones used by film documentary producers.  Affordable recordable digital field recorders now provide field recordists the tools to record not just voices but the sound documents that accurately replicate the original sound events.  Digital technologies are also accelerating interest in the collection and preservation of our sonic history. 

Those who would author the history of the twentieth century in sound and multimedia, must sooner or later find their way to recorded sound collections. Working in the electronic media,  one soon begins to learn about the whole world of sound artifacts and archives.  Tens of thousands of phonographic recordings documenting our sonic heritage date back to the 1880s.  Private and commercial recordings of spoken words, sound effects, and music are complemented by soundtracks from films, radio transcriptions of live broadcasts,  and amateur, "home mode" recordings. The sonic record exploded in volume in the mid-twentieth century with the appearance of magnetic tape and the soundtracks from the new video technologies.  These, too, can be broken down into categories of professional and home-mode recordings in each media.  The sounds of living history, both recorded and live, compose another major category of sonic artifacts.  Recordings of historically important sound documents of both the human voice and man-made world range from huckster cries and folk tales to industrial workplaces, trolley cars, and Stanley Steamers.  The last decade has also witnessed a growing interest in the recording of "endangered"  sounds,  one of the most important of which are soundscapes of the natural world minus human presence; soundscapes today practically extinct in the continental United States.

The aural historian and sound curator must have an expert knowledge of historical sound documents; know how to access and care for them, and how to make them presentable for public presentation and display.  The last few decades have witnessed a growing awareness of the importance of collecting and preserving the nation's sonic and audio-visual heritage.  The Association of Recorded Sound Collectors (ARSC) has since 1966 served as the organizational umbrella for a national network of private record and tape collectors who hold an encyclopedic knowledge of the nation's sonic history.  ARCS's mission is "to promote the preservation and study of historic recordings in all fields of music and speech.  Public and private sound archives continue to grow in numbers. 

    Sound archives also came of age in the 1990s.  The Society of American Archivists now has well-organized and active sound archivists subgroup, which organizes sessions and roundtables at annual meetings.  The Museum of Radio and Television in New York actively collected radio dramas and documentaries from both commercial and non-commercial networks and stations. A fascinating introduction to systems of acoustic communication and both natural and man-made soundscapes can be found in Barry Truax, Acoustic Communications, (Norwood NJ: Ablex Pub. Co. 1985).  An interest in natural sound environments has also spawned a devoted and growing community of sound recordists who are forming their own organizations.  The International Conference on Acoustic Ecology held in Bandd, Alberta, Canada in August, 1993, explored the relationship between sound and the environment.   An annotated listing of sound collections can be found in Jim Farrington, ed.,  ARSC Membership Directory, 1993-1994, (Kansas City: Lowell Press, 1993).

[6] Roy Rosenzweig, Steve Brier and John Brown, Who Built America? From the Centennial Celebration of 1876 to the Great War of 1914.  (American Social History Productions Inc., New York: The Voyager Company, 1993). For more on Who Built America see Roy Rosenzweig and Steve Brier, "Historians and Hypertext: Is It More Than Hype?" AHA Perspectives  vol.32:3 (March 1994), 3-6.  For a good review of history CD-ROMs see Roy Rosenzweig, "'So, What's Next for Clio?' CD-ROM and Historians," The Journal of American History (March 1995), 1621-1640.  The review was in the (September 9, 1983 issue of the Wall Street Journal.

 

[7] .  William S. Schneider, "Blazing an Interactive Trail to Record and Preserve Alaska History," AHA Newsletter, vol. 22:2 (May 1994), pp. 3-5. For more examples of the potental that digital media to reshape historical scholarship see Peter Read, “Presenting Voices in Different Media: Print, Radio., and CD-ROM,” in The Oral History Reader, ed., Robert Perks and Alistair Thomson, London: Routledge, 1998.pp. 414-420;  Michael O’Malley and Roy Rosenzweig, “Brave New World or Blind Alley? American History on the World Wide Web,” Journal of American History (June 1997), 132-155. (Also available on website); and Stanley Chodorow, “The Medieval Future of Intellectual Culture: Scholars and Librarians in the Age of the Electron,” ARL: A Bimonthly Newsletter of Research Library Issues and Actions, (December 1996).

 

[8] Using parabolic speakers that isolate sound, and new digital technologies, museums in the 1990s began to make innovative useof sound progamming.  At Ellis Island one may now dial up and listen to excerpts from hundreds of oral interviews conducted with men and women who entered the Unites States through the nation’s most important port of entry.

 

[10] Paul Worthington, "Hearing in All Dimensions," Multimedia World, November 1994, pp. 99-104. On attention being devoted to sound in multimedia world.  "The Basics of Sound," in the Higher Education Product Companion,  vol. 3:1 (September 1993): 24-29.

[11] Some museums have already begun to make innovative use of sound in their exhibits.  The Civil Rights Museum in Birmingham, Alabama, makes very effective use of sound stations.  Visitors can listen through a cracked door and shuttered window to a dramatic recreation of black families in 1963 talking in hushed tones about the turmoil taking place outside.  A gallery early in the exhibit contains a series of figures outlined in glass suspended from the ceiling, whose voices fill the gallery from different locations, representing the wide variety of opinions about race relations held by Alabamans during the early years of the Civil Rights movement.

[12] An example of the different imperatives of print and tape can be found in J. A. Progler, "Choices in Editing Oral History: The Distillation of Dr. Hiller," Oral History Review vol.19:1-2 (Spring-Fall, 1991), 1-16.   Few Radio, Television Film programs provide more than the most cursory inrodution to radio, focusing in how to write stories for commercial radio news broadcast, rather than on sound documentary production.  Even in the world of publc radio there are few trianing opportunitie comparable to Midwest Radio Theater’s  annual workshops in radio drama.  (The Columbia School of Journalism and SUNY at Albany are among the few schools that do offer radio production courses.) 

[13] See Eric Barnouw, The Sponsor: Notes on a Modern Potentate.  (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978).  

[14]   On early utopian visions of radio's educational powers see Frank Biocca, "The Pursuit of Sound: Radio, Perception, and Utopia in the Early Twentieth Century," Media, Culture and Society 10(1988), 61-79; and  Clayton R. Koppes, "The Social Destiny of Radio," The South Atlantic Quarterly 68 (Summer 1969), 363-76.

[15]  On the early radio broadcast of oral reminiscences see Michael J. Biel, "The Making and Use of Recordings in Broadcast Before 1936," (Ph.D. dissertation Northwestern University 1977), 435-38.

[16] Documentary films and shorts of the 1920s and early 1930s were rarely seen by mass audiences in America.   As far as mass theatrical audiences are concerned The March of Time also represented  the beginning of the documentary film movement in the United States.  See Lawrence Lichty and Thomas Bohn, "Radio's 'March of Time': Dramatized News," Journalism Quarterly 51(Autumn 1974). 458-62. reprinted in American Broadcasting, ed. Lichty and Topping (New York: Hastings, 1975); and Erik Barnouw, A Tower in Babel: A History of Broadcasting in the United States vol.1. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1966), 277-78.  A spin-off, March of the Years (1933) re-created historical events including famous or infamous people.   On the early history of the radio documentary see A. William Bluem, "Radio: The Forgotten Art," in Documentary in American Television, (Hasting House, 1965), 60-72; Erik Barnouw, The Sponsor: Notes on a Modern Potentate. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978),  28-37; and A Fred McDonald, Don't Touch That Dial: Radio Programming in American Life from 1920 to 1960, (Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1979), 281-325.  

[17]  Bluem, 63. On the commercial takeover of American broadcasting see Robert W. McChesney, Telecommunications, Mass Media, and Democracy: The Battle for the Control of U. S. Broadcasting, 1928-1935. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

[18]   Bluem, 63-66; Biel, 1030-1045. "The noise that you hear at this moment is the sound of the air raid siren." Murrow told listeners in August 1940 broadcast of London After Dark.  Using a microphone to pick up soundscapes that would bring his stories to life, Murrow’s broadcasts from Europe became a "national habit" according to A. M. Sperber, and gave sound new, historical meaning.  According to author Mary Collins, D.C. Bliss, professor of Broadcast Journalism at American University passed on Murrow’s gospel for good radio to his students, including whole generation of future NPR staffers. See Mary Collins, National Public Radio: The Cast of Characters, Washington D.C.: Seven locks Press, 1993. p.18. and  A.M. Sperber, Murrow: His Life and Times (••).

[19] Bluem, 66-72.  For a brief history of tape recorders see Robert & Celia Dearling, "Tape Recording" in  The Guinness Book of Recorded Sound, (London: Guinness Books, 1984),  97-107.  On the early use of the tape recorder in radio broadcasting see "The Radio Station That Dares to be Different," Changing Times (November 1950), 32-33, reprinted in Television and Radio in American Life. ed. Herbert L. Marx, Jr. (New York: The H. W. Wilson Co., 1953), 85-88; and Erik Barnouw, The Golden Web: A History of Broadcasting in the United States vol. 2 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1968), 237-38.   On "You Are There," see Daniel Lieb "See it Now: A Legend Reassessed," in American History/American Television, ed. John E. O'Connor, (New York: Frederick Unger Pub. Co., 1983), 5-7.  For a brilliant analysis of the impact of the phonograph and tape on American popular music see Evan Eisenberg, The Recording Angel: Explorations in Phonography, (New York: McGraw Hill, 1987).

 

[20] NBC Program cards, Central file, "Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,"  (May 20-Oct. 21, 1951),  The Museum of Television and Radio.

[21] Bluem, 71.

[22] ibid., 71-72.  On the impact of the Cold War on radio journalism and documentaries see McDonald, 315-325. For a brief popular history of radio after the arrival of television see Peter Fortnatale and Joshua Mills, Radio In the Television Age. (Woodstock NY: The Overlook Press, 1980).

[23]  Very little has been written on the relationship between sound and radio. The best two works, to date, are Barry Truax, Acoustic Communications, (Norwood NJ: Ablex Pub. Co. 1985), and Douglas Kahn and Gregory Whitehead eds. Wireless Imagination: Sound, Radio, and the Avant-Garde, (Cambridge: the MIT Press, 1992), especially Mark E. Cory, "Soundplay: The Polyphonous Tradition of the German Radio Art," 331-372.  On the history of the CBC and BBC see Charles A. Siepmann, Radio, Television and Society, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1950), 111-167.  After 1957 CBC and BBC programs could also be heard on American stations which subscribed to the Broadcasting Foundation of America tape service.  By 1959 the BFA was making available almost eighteen hours a week of foreign programs to commercial and educational radio stations in the U. S. 

[24] On the history of educational radio see Robert J. Blakely, To Serve the Public Interest: Educational Broadcasting in  the United States, (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1979).   Dorothy F. Greenwood, "Education for Adults on the U. S. Airwaves," Food for Thought. 12 (May 1952),9-15,  reprinted in Television and Radio in American Life. ed. Herbert L. Marx, Jr. (New York: The H. W. Wilson Co., 1953), 147-52.

[25] Robert J. Blakely, To Serve the Public Interest: Educational Broadcasting in  the United States. •

[26] . Tony Schwartz, 1,2, and 3, and a Zing, Zing, Zing. • Folkways.   Schwartz's Puerto Ricans in Nueva York,  Folkways Fpm 58/2. 1955, the first documentary in the Folkways collection, was inspired by his father's stories of Tony's grandparents immigration experience.  Tony Schwartz,  Sounds of My City: The Stories, Music and Sounds of the People of New York, Folkways Records and Service Corp. FC 741. 1956. Information on Schwartz comes from Jeanne Lowe ,"Tony Schwartz: Master Tape Recordist," (liner notes to Sounds of My City.) 

[27] Lowe.  Schwartz remains one of the most insightful writers about the impact of radio and the new mass media on American culture.  See Tony Schwartz,  The Responsive Chord, (New York: Anchor Press, Doubleday, 1973) and Media: The Second God, (New York: Random House, 1981).

[28] Schwartz, Media: The Second God, 168-69.

[29]  Truax, 190-192.

[30]  ibid. 192-193. An introduction to Orchard's thoughts can be found in "Aural History and the New Soundscape Project," Sound Heritage 3 (October 1974),1-9, reprinted as "Soundscape" in Dunaway and Baum's Oral History: An Interdisciplinary Anthology. 1984.

[31] Studs Terkel, Talking to Myself: A Memoir of My Times, (New York: Pantheon Books, 1973).

[32] Terkel released several of his interviews and roundtable discussions as commercial recordings.  Terkel's Eulogy for Three Non-Adjusted Men (1959) was the U. S. radio documentary entry for the Prix Italia. Born to Live won the documentary award at the 14th annual international competition in 1962.  Studs Terkel, Born to Live: Hiroshima. Folkways Records, #FD5525, 1965.  The album includes brief liner notes and a complete transcription of the program.  Hard Times (Caedmon TC 20481971) is basically a series of interview excerpts, one following the other.

[33] 28.  Phone interview with Ralph Johnson, 27 October 1993;  Promotional flyer for The American Town: A Self-Portrait, The University of Michigan Broadcasting Service for National Education Radio, 1966. (Other documentary series of the 1950s and 1960s using oral reminscences included the University of Alabama station WVOA eight-part series Deep South, (1954), and University of South Dakota station KUSD’s Ruffled Feathers: The Dakota Soiux. 

[34] For a brief history of Pacifica see "Pacifica: Radio with Vision Since 1949," Pacific Radio Foundation, 1989.  28pp; and Eleanor McKinney, ed. The Exacting Ear: The Story of Listener-Sponsored Radio, and an Anthology of Programs from  KPFA, KPFK, & WBAI, (New York: Pantheon Books, 1966).

[35] Phone interview with Chris Koch, 20 January 1994.  These tapes and many others are available through the Pacifica Radio Archive.  P.O. Box 8092, Department B, Universal City, CA 91608-0092.  (1-800-735-0230).

[36] Dale Minor, Freedom Now,  (1963), Pacifica Radio Archive.

[37] 32.  The Ammon Hennacy interview by Byron Bryant is fully transcribed in McKinney,  43-61.

[38] On Pacifica documentary productions see Chris Koch, "On Working at Pacifica," (November 1965), in McKinney, 35-43, 163-185. The Pacifica network of five stations,  its funding always dependent primarily upon listener support, has always been a shoe-string operation.  On Pacifica in the 1980s see Mother Jones (May 1989), 50-51. Low pay, internal warfare, and grungy working conditions drove dozens of Pacifica staffers and producers to NPR starting in the 1970s.  "The NPR monster was eating our news people" noted WBAI veteran Steve Post.  After going into a decline during the 1970s and 1980s, Pacifica stations have been experiencing a resurgence.  Pacifica producers continue to produce documentaries on subjects that might not be produced at an increasingly conservative NPR, such as an extended historical analysis on the rise of corporate propaganda and David Isay's Remembering Stonewall: A Radio Documentary of the Birth of a Movement. (date?•)  A half-hour documentary based upon oral histories, Remembering Stonewall  retells the story of the Stonewall riot of 1969 and of the impact that it had upon the lives of gay men and women.

[39] On the early history of NPR see John Witherspoon and Roselle Kovitz, The History of Public Broadcasting, (Washington D. C.: Current, 1987) and  Erik Barnouw, The Sponsor: Notes on a Modern Potentate, 57-68.

[40] Phone interview with William Siemering, 25 October 1993.  According to Siemering TV’s failure to support public radio remained a sore point among radio people. •( Here need to quote from orig mission statement).

[41]   Phone interview with Keith Talbot, 5 October 1993.  By the mid-1970s Talbot was producing long-form pieces for NPR's OPTIONS series, some of which dealt with public policy, others of which continued his interest in recording as Talbot has put it, "the 'personal truths' of people who didn't have books to plug or policies to defend."  Another series using oral reminiscences was Attic Balance •, in which Talbot would have people go into their attics or cellars, pick up an object,  hold it in their hand and tell its story.

[42] Blakeley, 192-93.  Historical programming received a financial boost on National Public Radio's daily news programs when the Pew Charitable Trusts set up a separate fund for historical programming in 198•.

[43] The NFCB tape service would continue to provide an alternative distribution network to stations without satellite uplinks.  NFCB's quarterly program listing,  Soundchoice, included annotated listings of documentaries as well radio dramas and special features.

[44] "Satellite Program Development Fund"  Application (Washington DC:  Satellite Program Development Fund 1985).  For an annotated list of programs funded by SPDF between 1980 and 1986  see "SPDF Program Catalogue," (Washington D.C.: SPDF, National Public Radio, Spring 1986.)

[45] Phone interview: Judy Moore Latta, 26 October 1993

[46] Soundchoice, Phone interviews with Jo Blatti, 29 August 1994.

[47] In 1991, the Philadlephia Schools Collaborative reprinted this supplement for use by Philadelphia highschools participating in a innovative retooled humanities curriculum designed to teach students history by starting at the local, community level.  The series was distributed nationally by American Public Radio in 1994.

[48]Interview with Cliff Kuhn, 6 November 1993;  Clifford Kuhn, Harlon E. Joye, and E. Bernard West, Living Atlanta: An Oral History of the City, 1914-1948,  (Athens GA: The University of Georgia Press, 1990), xiii-xix.

[49] Cliff Kuhn, Democratic Moments, four, 1/2 hr programs on social movements produced for ACORN and the Institute for Social Justice in 1984?; Harlon Joye and Bernard West, All Hell Broke Loose in Orangesburg, three, 59min. documentaries on the Civil Rights movement in Orangesburg SC from the early 1950s through the 1970s.

[50]  Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Memorandum,  March 9, 1994. 

[51]   For a critical analysis of the direction NPR was taking by the mid-1980s see Laurence Zimmerman, "Has Success Spoiled NPR?"  Mother Jones  (June/July 1987), 32-45; Bruce Porter, "Has Success Spoiled NPR?" Columbia Journalism Review 29:3(September/October 1990), 26-32; Marc Fisher, "NPR Considered: From Radical Radio to Washington Institution," The Washington Post Magazine, (October 22, 1989),16-23, 37-42; and Nichols Fox, "NPR Grows Up: If It Ain't What it Used to Be, Maybe It's Better," Washington Journalism Review 13:7 (September 1991), 30-.  Jo Blatti, Cliff Kuhn, Charles Hardy all stopped producing in the 1980s.  In retrospect one could argue that public radio served its purpose.  The real opportunities of the 1990s for aural historians working in sound lay not in radio broadcast but in what NPR calls "ancillary markets;" non-broadcast uses of sound made possible by the ongoing  revolution in sound based upon new digital technologies.

[52]  On Soundprint see Soundprint Press Release, "Soundprint Radio Documentary Series Debuts in January," November 20, 1987.  4p.; "Request for Proposals" 1987; and "Guidelines for Producers" 1987.  Interview with William Siemering,  7 August 1994.

[53] Glenn Gould's Sound Trilogy: Three Sound Documentaries. (CBC Records, PSCD 2003-3.  1992 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) is available on CD through ALLEGRO, 12630 N.E. Marx Street, Portland OR 97230-1059.  (1-800-288-2007).  Information on The Idea of North ,  including Gould's history of the program, comes from booklet that accompanies the CDs.

[54]  ibid., p. 6.

[55] Schwartz, Media the Second God, 170.

[56] Schwartz, 171.

[57] AIR's bi-monthly newsletter, AIRSPACE includes information on new projects,  production and broadcast news, opportunities,  a calendar of upcoming workshops, and other news of interest to radio and aural documentary producers. AIR also publishes a directory of producers. For more information check the Air website at http://www.well.com/~air.  Association of Independents in Radio is located at 1718 M Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036.  Phone: (888)YES-AIR7.   NPR training tapes are listed in the National Public Radio Training Channel tape Catalogue, and are available through NPR Training, 2025 M Street NW, Washington DC, 20036.  Of particular interest to field recordists and authors in sound are Radio Production series No.1 (Program #9104) and 2 (#9120) on field recording equipment and use; and Program 9141: Advanced Studio Production, in which Skip Pizzi discusses creative techniques in the studio.

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