Featured Collection: The Arthur B. Church KMBC Radio Collection at the University of Missouri-Kansas City

The Preservation Division of the Radio Preservation Task Force is launching a series of blog postings to feature radio collections around the United States in order to illustrate the variety these collections offer, and the cultural history they preserve. The first such collection is the Arthur B. Church KMBC Radio Collection, located in the Special Collections and Archives of the University of Missouri-Kansas City. We reached out to Derek Long, Head of Marr Sound Archives at UMKC, for information on this collection, and we are grateful for his time in answering a set of questions about it.

The collection itself primarily spans the time frame from the 1930s to the 1950s, containing 5 boxes of paper materials (business records, correspondence, ephemera), and 2600 sound recordings that capture classic programs from the Golden Age of Radio, and a considerable set of recordings related to the Second World War.

Derek Long elaborates:

One of my favorite recordings was uncovered just recently because it resided on a broken glass lacquer discs that we couldn’t previously digitize in-house. We received a CLIR Recordings-at-Risk grant in 2020 to have some of our severely damaged lacquer discs in our collections digitized by the IRENE technology at NEDCC. This particular broadcast came from off the coast of Cherbourg, France, during World War II and was broadcast on KMBC on July 1, 1944. The news correspondent, Charles Collingwood, was recording from aboard a duck boat (or PT boat) on its way out to a sinking ship that had been hit by a mine. Other boats had arrived earlier to rescue the sailors and the correspondent narrates the final sinking of the ship, including witnessing, at the very end of the broadcast, the successful rescue of the ship’s cat!

A glass lacquer disc from the 1940s with a yellow label in the center.
A glass lacquer disc from the 1940s.

The initial acquisition of the collection came in 1996 with a donation from Arthur B. Church, Jr., and his wife, Virginia with eleven additions following over the years. Long explains how the process began with a tip from a researcher:

Publicity portrait of Arthur B. Church. Standing at angle near wall behind KMBC microphone stand and holding "Buzz Saw" newsletter dated Thursday May 7th. Printed note on front: "'That's My Business' / So says Arthur B. Church."
Arthur B. Church publicity portrait.

Mr. Church’s father, Arthur B. Church Sr., owned and operated KMBC and other radio and television stations from the 1920s through the late 1950s. KMBC produced radio transcription programs for distribution on the CBS network. When KMBC was sold, Mr. Church transferred the discs and stampers for these programs and other lacquer discs to his home in Colorado Springs. The collection came to the sound archives from a tip from Teddy Dibble, a filmmaker who was working on a documentary about local children programming for KCPT, Kansas City’s PBS affiliate. In the spring of 1996, while researching resources for the documentary, Dibble contacted Mr. Church about possible recordings and other material for the project. After learning about Mr. Church’s collection, Dibble contacted the staff of the sound archives, who then contacted Mr. Church about donating the collection. The Dean of the libraries and sound archives’ staff visited Mr. Church and negotiated the donation of the collection which was then appraised and transferred to the sound archives. Over the years the KMBC collection has been supplemented by additional gifts from Mr. Church and other donors, most notably television station KMBC.

Front of KMBC building exterior at 11th and Central from left side. Grand Reopening sign spanning front archways. Several men and woman in entryway and on sidewalk.
KMBC building exterior with Grand Reopening sign.

In the fall of 1998, a staff member of KMBC contacted the sound archives about a large cabinet containing metal boxes of 16” lacquer discs stored in the basement of the KMBC studios. The discs had been recorded during the 1940s by a KMBC engineer, who then stored them away for posterity. Sound archives staff visited KMBC, viewed the collection and negotiated the donation. The collection was transferred to the sound archives in early 1999 and added to the Arthur B. Church Collection. The collection was then renamed the Arthur B. Church KMBC Radio Collection.

The collection is digitized, discoverable, and accessible in great detail thanks to a 2011-2012 Humanities Collections and Reference Resources grant funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Different kinds of media are accessible as follows: – The audio recordings in the collection are digitized, cataloged (also included in WorldCat) and accessible upon request, either directly or via Interlibrary Loan. – The paper materials are processed and documented in a finding aid. The photos have been digitized, descriptive metadata has been created for them, and they are available in UMKC Libraries’ Digital Special Collections. Lastly, Long provides the welcome news that the collections is widely accessible for research access:

The Church family holds rights to the original productions for any commercial use but otherwise we have an agreement that we can make those materials available to users. There are some underlying rights for certain content, for example music recordings, but we preserve and make all materials in the collection available for research.

The Arthur B. Church KMBC Radio Collection exemplifies the kind of local, regional, and national history that a preserved and accessible radio collection can restore to public access, while honoring the work of those who created and maintained the collection and the materials in it. We hope you have enjoyed learning about it as much as we have, and we invite readers to submit suggestions for future collections to feature!

KMBC transmitter at 50th & Belinder Road. Two-toned radio tower on one story two-toned building that reads "KMBC" over door. Grass and sky with clouds visible around building and tower.
The KMBC transmitter. Picture from the 1950s or 1960s.

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