NBC radio broadcasts consist of news, music, cultural, entertainment, children's, and sports programming, and are some of the most-requested materials in the Recorded Sound Research Center. Read on to learn more about the programs in the collection.
The Library's NBC Radio Collection contains 150,000 sixteen-inch lacquer discs which date from the early days of the network to the 1980's. While the bulk of the NBC broadcasts at the Library were recorded following the network's establishment of its Electrical Transcription Service in 1935, the collections also contain a large number (nearly 200) of scarce earlier recordings, most of which were recorded by NBC's parent company, RCA. These early discs were recorded with cumbersome equipment that yielded shorter and noisier recordings than those that could be produced after the invention of the lacquer disc in 1934. Equipped with the new recording equipment, NBC started recording many of its own programs, sporadically at first and with increasing frequency as the decade proceeded. From 1935 to 1939, the number of annually recorded programs, retained in the NBC archive, jumps from 661 to 3007. The majority of these recordings are of programs originating from New York. NBC's Chicago and Hollywood bureaus maintained their own recording archives which were never incorporated within the network's primary, New York-based archive, now in the Library.
In general, the more important or prestigious the sustaining program, the greater the chance it would be preserved, as there are many recordings from the 1930s of opera, symphony, historic news broadcasts, and public affairs programs. The range of recorded commercial programs from this period is more puzzling and seemingly random. For some shows, such as Fred Allen's Town Hall Tonight, the inventory of recorded programs is nearly complete, while for others, no less popular, it is scant. Engineers at NBC appear to have recorded a far greater number of programs than were ultimately saved, but the company's precise selection criteria remain unknown. Nonetheless, NBC appears to have saved programs chiefly for legal purposes, for reference in the production of future shows, and, especially during the years of World War II, to preserve recordings of historic events.
Following Pearl Harbor, the number of recorded programs in the archive soars, with Hollywood and Chicago programs now commensurate with their actual numbers. Peaking in 1944, the inventory for that year lists nearly 9,000 programs—many, of course, news broadcasts. In addition to documenting the course of events, the wartime recordings provide vivid testimony of NBC's dedication to the war effort and compelling evidence of how Americans coped with the crisis.
Since receiving the NBC recordings in 1978, engineers in the Library's Recording Laboratory have been engaged in preservation efforts that have involved re-recording the fragile lacquer discs onto more durable polyester tape and, more recently, digitizing the recordings. In a parallel effort, Library catalogers, initially funded by a grant from the MacArthur Foundation, have created a comprehensive inventory of the programs preserved on tape. As a result, most of the NBC radio programs in the Library's collections can be found in Sound Online Inventory and Catalog (SONIC), the Recorded Sound Section's database of sound recordings. For more information on searching the programs, see Using the Collection.
Radio programs in the collection include, among many others: