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The National Broadcasting Company at the Library of Congress

NBC Radio Manuscript Materials

The Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division is also home to NBC resources beyond sound recordings. Described here are the manuscript materials available for research in the Recorded Sound Research Center. These paper materials provide invaluable information about the history of the National Broadcasting Company and its radio programs and complement the broadcast holdings of the section.  The division also holds analogous material for television broadcasts, including television master books and log books, press releases, and a Television Program Analysis File that is similar in nature to the radio index cards. These are described in the next section of this guide.

The Index Cards

NBC Index Cards. Photo courtesy of the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division staff.

Posterity owes an enormous debt to the scores of anonymous NBC employees who, between the years 1930 and 1960, compiled a comprehensive index card catalog of network programs, performers, and guests. It is the logical place to begin searching the collection for information in any one of these three areas. The catalog is composed of four major indexes: one for all commercial programs and another for all sustaining programs from 1930 to 1960; and two biographical indexes, comprising all "radio artists" (entertainment professionals) and "radio personalities" (basically everyone else, from authors and athletes to labor leaders and Presidents) who appeared over the network during that thirty-year period.

The inspiration for the catalog probably came from AT&T, which kept summary records of WEAF's commercial programs on index cards. Some of these cards are still extant and incorporated within NBC's commercial program index. NBC not only enlarged upon the scope of its predecessor's idea, but carried it through with much greater attention to detail. Typically, the NBC program cards contain a brief description of the show and also note its starting and ending dates, network affiliation (Red or Blue), hours of broadcast, advertising agency and agent (in the case of commercial programs), as well as the names of the stars, host, announcer, and orchestra.

Many program cards also include a complete rundown of every broadcast, where cast changes, guest performers, and sometimes even plot summaries are recorded. Notable facts, such as a cast member's final appearance, are often underlined in red. Carleton Morse's dramatic serial, One Man's Family, which ran over NBC for twenty-seven years, is described on forty-six, two-sided cards, some of which contain detailed genealogies of the fictional Barbour family.

The catalog is not only of interest to radio historians, but to specialists in almost any field of American history from 1930 to 1960, particularly World War II. In 1938 NBC created an index of all news and public affairs broadcasts relating to the "European War." Renamed the "World War II" index after Pearl Harbor, it comprises nearly 2,000 cards. Several hundred more cards are included in a separate "War Effort" index, which lists all programs broadcast from service bases, radio plays based on the war, programs which sold war bonds, and those in which war related topics (victory gardens, for example) were incorporated into their program scripts or ad copy. NBC's careful documentation of the war years extends to the radio personality index where the speeches of important political figures, such as Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, are not only summarized but frequently annotated with interesting details. For instance, Churchill's immortal first speech as Prime Minister ("…I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat…") was originally heard only by members of Parliament on May 13, 1940 and re-delivered for the purpose of broadcasting over the BBC two-and-a-half-years later.

History Files

Harris & Ewing. David Sarnoff, Pres. of RCA & Chairman of the Board, NBC, N.Y. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Approximately 1300 files containing tens of thousands of documents comprise what NBC called its "history files." Consisting primarily of business papers, the files also include the reminiscences of early employees, printed memorabilia (such as anniversary programs), network histories, audience mail, statistics, charts, and maps. Most of the materials date from the mid-1920s through the late 1940s, when network radio was starting its decline as a result of television. Documents in the files relating to the newer medium, though less extensive, are still numerous. To facilitate access to this information, the Library created a detailed online finding aid which describes the most important contents of each file (see "Using the Collection" listed in the left menu). Also listed in the inventory are hundreds of miscellaneous publications (many relating to advertising and to television) and the speech files of NBC executives—those of Sylvester ("Pat") Weaver, creator of the Today and Tonight shows, handsomely bound. The history files present an excellent overview of how the network operated and, more specifically, how it juggled the difficult role of servant to many masters—sponsors, performers, and affiliates, as well as the government, special interest groups, and listening public.

The Log Books

The log books of WEAF (renamed WNBC in 1946) and WJZ list the daily programs and the call letters of all stations which received those programs. As the number of affiliates rose, the combinations and permutations of networking became rather complicated. Thus, beginning with 1930 volume, the logs are no longer titled "Daily Programs," but rather, more descriptively, "Corrected Traffic Sheets." The pre-NBC logs of WJZ and its sister station WJY also contain critical commentary by the station announcers. Some of the NBC logs also provide supplementary information of a more objective nature, such as the musical contents of a program, the name of a guest artist, or the interruption of a scheduled program due to a news bulletin. Information of this type is usually found on the verso of the pages. The dates of the log books in the collection follow:

  • The WEAF/WNBC logs: 1922-1955.
  • The WJZ logs: 1923 (the year RCA assumed control of the station) - 1941 (when the Blue Network was divorced from NBC).
  • The WJY logs: 1923-1926 (the station's final year of operation).

The Master Books

In addition to log books, NBC donated microfilmed copies of the station master books which contain paper documentation of the programs produced at WEAF, WNBC and WJZ. This documentation consists of program scripts, ad copy, news copy, and the master music sheets, which list the musical contents of the programs.

"A Master Book is the official written record of everything broadcast for the entire broadcast day from one station" (NBC Central Files Manual, 1938). NBC donated a total of 2,530 reels of microfilmed master books (including the Chicago and Hollywood scripts) to the Library, comprising the largest radio script collection in America. The Master Books are inventoried below:

  • The WEAF/WNBC master books: 1922-1984.
  • The WJZ master books: 1927 (when the station began broadcasting as the flagship station of the Blue Network) - 1941 (when the Blue Network was divorced from NBC).
  • The Chicago scripts: May, 1944-March 18, 1954.
  • The Hollywood scripts: August, 1943-December, 1953.
  • The International Network master books: August, 1936-September, 1948.

[Note: The documentation for programs which aired over WEAF or WJZ, but which were produced elsewhere, are not included in their master books, but rather, presumably, in the master books of the stations where those programs originated.]

Many network programs were produced at NBC's regional studios in Chicago, San Francisco, and Hollywood. A limited number of program scripts from the Chicago and Hollywood master books are included in the NBC Collection dating from the war years.

Also included in the collection are the microfilmed master books of NBC's International Network (sometimes called the White Network), composed of several short wave stations whose broadcasts in six different languages were primarily intended for overseas listeners.

Press Releases

Carol M. Highsmith. Rockefeller Center, New York, New York. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

The press releases in the NBC Collection date from January 1924 through December 1989. (The 1940 and 1941 volumes were not included in the donation and are presumably lost.) The pre-network press releases were produced by WEAF, while still under AT&T ownership. That WEAF regularly issued detailed press releases at such an early date is evidence of that station's greater wealth and sophistication in comparison to most, if not all other, early radio stations in America.

Far more legible than the microfilmed master books, the press releases are an invaluable resource for aiding in the reconstruction of early, unrecorded programs. They are also useful as a supplement to the card catalog. For example, a researcher wishing to obtain biographical information about an unfamiliar actor listed on one of the program cards could consult the press releases issued shortly before the date of his performance. In addition to releases on the programs and performers, there are many relating to the network's announcers, writers, musicians, corporate staff, affiliates, and to NBC's technical achievements, particularly its early experiments in television broadcasting.

Not to be overlooked is that the press releases are simply a good read, providing tidbits of the stars and a vivid picture of day-to-day life at network headquarters. They describe: New York in the grips of a storm, as engineers rush to a top floor of Radio City to record howling gale-force winds for their sound effects library; studio audiences of the NBC Symphony being handed programs of soft, porous paper so that the musicians would not be distracted by the rustling of turning pages; and in those days when all performances were live, a weary Jack Benny deciding to move his program to Hollywood partly to avoid repeating his show late at night for the benefit of West Coast audiences. As explained in a press release on that subject, "It's all over by supper time out there."

NBC Daily News Reports

The Recorded Sound Reference Center holds volumes for 1941 and 1942 of the NBC publication NBC Daily News Reports. Researchers may request these volumes in the Recorded Sound Reference Center.