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. The bulk of these NBC broadcasts were recorded following the network's establishment of its Electrical Transcription Service in 1935. There are also nearly 200 earlier discs that were recorded with cumbersome equipment that yielded shorter and noisier recordings than those produced after the invention of the lacquer disc in 1934. In 1935, 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. Whereas the majority of the programs originated from New York, NBC's Chicago and Hollywood bureaus maintained their own separate recording archives.
NBC did not record everything that went out over the airwaves. Among their non-commercial or sustaining programs, only those that were considered important or prestigious, such as opera, symphony, historic news broadcasts, and public affairs programs were preserved. 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.
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. The majority of recordings in the NBC Radio Collection have been digitized and are available on-demand in the Library's Recorded Sound research Center. For more information on searching the programs, see Using the Collection.
Radio programs in the collection include, among many others: