As it swept the nation between the two World Wars, growing in popularity and accessibility, radio presented a new way for Americans to find entertainment, to stay up-to-date on national and international news, and to hear the voices of their elected officials and other newsmakers. The Recorded Sound Section of the Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division has collected not just musical recordings throughout the years, but also radio broadcasts, oral histories, interviews, speeches, and other forms of spoken media.
This section covers a range of recorded sound holdings, drawing together materials on current events, public discourse and debate, politics and government, and news, as well as guidance for searching our collections.
This American Leaders Speak collection presents recordings made between 1918 and 1920 for a series called “Nation’s Forum.” St. Louis attorney Guy Golterman (1879-1967) was the force behind the recordings—he believed that the voices and words of prominent Americans should be preserved and made more widely available to those who may never have had the chance to hear the speakers in person. In many cases, these recordings are the only surviving recordings of the speaker featured. The speeches are not actuality recordings—that is, recorded at the time of their original delivery. Instead, speakers were invited to repeat significant orations for the project. A major reason for this was that the acoustic recording technology in the early 20th century, which relied on the force of the human voice to cut a record, was extremely limiting. A speaker had to shout into a recording horn at close range to successfully capture their voice on a disc. Additionally, many of the speeches are abridged, as phonograph records of this period could only hold about three minutes of material. Recordings in the series from 1918 are devoted mostly to World War I topics; recordings from 1919 and 1920 are devoted to post-war issues such as nationalism and international politics, as well as the 1920 presidential election.
Politicians heard on the Nation’s Forum recordings include well-known figures such as Warren G. Harding (as an Ohio senator and 1920 presidential candidate), Calvin Coolidge (as governor of Massachusetts and Harding’s running mate), Franklin D. Roosevelt (as the 1920 Democratic vice presidential candidate). Prominent businessman John D. Rockefeller, General John J. Pershing, and Irish statesman Éamon De Valera, who was integral to the separation of the Republic of Ireland from the United Kingdom.
Since 1932, the National Press Club has hosted luncheon gatherings that have allowed presidents, visiting world leaders, and other leading personages to address the press and answer questions about pressing current affairs. In 1969, the Press Club donated to the Library of Congress audiotapes of talks they had been recording since 1952, a collection that has grown to nearly 2,000 recordings. The National Press Club collection, the Library has made available talks by some of the Press Club's most important luncheon speakers, including eight U.S. presidents (George H. W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gerald R. Ford, Herbert Hoover, Richard M. Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Harry S. Truman), six foreign heads of state (Menachem Begin, Fidel Castro, Charles de Gaulle, Nikita Khrushchev, Anwar Sadat, and Margaret Thatcher), and such renowned cultural and political icons as Muhammad Ali, James Baldwin, Leonard Bernstein, Audrey Hepburn, Alfred Hitchcock, Bob Hope, Edward R. Murrow, A. Philip Randolph, Jonas Salk, and Adlai E. Stevenson. Accompanying essays set the topics discussed into relevant historical contexts and provide suggestions for further reading.
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. Programs in the collection include news, politics and public affairs, religion, sports, music and variety, quiz shows, non-music cultural programming, comedy, soaps, mysteries, women's programs, and children's shows.
Political figures and the U.S. government feature heavily in our NBC news collections, and broadcasts about World War II are also abundant. Political, public affairs, and news programs include Meet the Press, University of Chicago Roundtable of the Air, The Open Mind, You and Your Government, and America's Town Hall of the Air. See the Meet the Press and Chicago Roundtable tabs for information on these two important NBC programs.
Meet the Press, the NBC News program that is still going strong today, began on the radio in 1945. Martha Rountree (1911-1999), a pioneer of broadcast journalism, was one of the creators of the program and its moderator until 1953. Lawrence E. Spivak, Rountree's co-creator, served as a weekly panelist and moderated the program from 1966 to 1975.
The program has featured political and cultural leaders from the U.S. and around the world in its over-70-year history. This collection is a treasure trove of appearances by just about every notable political figure of the past 75 years, from Eleanor Roosevelt to Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Library holds most of the Meet the Press radio broadcasts, as well as audio recordings of the television broadcasts that began in 1947. The entire audio collection spans the period from 1945 to 1984. Programs can be searched by name and date in SONIC, but subject searching is limited. The Library also has Meet the Press materials in the Manuscript Division; the Prints and Photographs Division; the Moving Image Section of the Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division; and the General Collections. Transcriptions for many Meet the Press programs can be viewed in the Moving Image Research Center, as well as video materials from the television version of the program.
The University of Chicago Roundtable radio program began in 1931, airing on a local Chicago radio station. In 1933, the program was picked up by NBC and broadcast nationally. The program brought together scholars from the University from a range of fields--science, philosophy, politics, journalism, literature, business--as well as government officials and civic leaders to discuss major issues of the day. The show maintained a conversational format and discussed a variety of topics, including economics, civil rights, politics, literature, psychology, religion, science, and more. The Library's Roundtable holdings span the years 1935-1956.
Other programs with a similar discussion format for answering the major questions of the day are American Forum of the Air, which aired on the Mutual Broadcasting System and later NBC, and America's Town Meeting of the Air, which also aired on NBC. Both American Forum and Town Meeting of the Air can be found in SONIC (see more information about SONIC below).
- Include recording in one of the keyword fields to limit your results to only sound recordings materials.
- You can also Add Limits by clicking the white button right above the Search button.
- Search for audio materials by title. Many of the items in our collections are not fully cataloged, so subject access is limited. And keep in mind that we do not have a comprehensive catalog of all of our holdings.
SONIC (Sound Online Inventory and Catalog) is the Recorded Sound Section's database. SONIC allows you to search for 78's, 45's, copyright cassettes, and many broadcast and archival recordings. SONIC offers several kinds of searches. You can search by name, title, or subject, and by keyword.
Political and public affairs topics can be found by searching the Library's Online Catalog and the Recorded Sound Section's SONIC database. Try these search suggestions, and see more search tips below! And remember - a portion of our materials are not cataloged in public, online databases. The Recorded Sound reference librarians can always help locate materials, so don't hesitate to get in touch!
Form and genre terms may assist you when searching by subject. See our guide to those terms at the link below.
The Recorded Sound Research Center has a number of finding aids and collection guides available on our website, and many more are available from reference librarians. Contact the Recorded Sound Research Center for finding aids and title lists for the following political topics and persons:
The Recorded Sound Section also holds collections that are related to politics and news topics, including collections from individuals and legislative bodies.
Even more resources are available in the Recorded Sound Research Center. These include research databases, books, card catalogs, microfilm and microfiche, subject files, and other print resources. The following online resources are the result of partnerships between the Library of Congress and other cultural institutions:
If you can't find what you're looking for using SONIC or the Library's general catalog, we may still have it. A portion of our collections are not fully cataloged and searchable online, so always contact the Recorded Sound Research Center reference librarians if searching the catalogs doesn't yield any results. The Library has several onsite indexes, card catalogs, and internal databases that are not searchable online. The Recorded Sound reference librarians are always happy to help locate materials.
For more advice on searching, visit: