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.

Launching La TopoRadio

The RPTF is pleased to announce the launch of La TopoRadio— the best place on the web to explore historical research about Spanish-language radio. La TopoRadio is an interactive map that lets users discover publications about historic and contemporary stations.

The project supports the goal of the RPTF to bring attention to the multifaceted history of radio in the United States. Spanish-language broadcasters have been part of the nation’s heritage since the dawn of the radio era, but this history is often sidelined in official accounts of radio history. Spanish-language programs continue to grow in popularity and geographic reach even while English-language listenership has declined. 

La TopoRadio has already benefited from participation of scholars, librarians, and archivists from around the country– but there is still more to add!

If you know of a publication or archive that should be on the map, get in touch and make a suggestion to this ongoing project.

The project is the brainchild of Eric Silberberg and draws heavily on the expertise of RPTF Spanish-Language Caucus Members Dr. Inés Casillas, and Dr. Sonia Robles.

Two new projects join the Task Force

We are pleased to announce the RPTF’s newest partnerships! The Shortwave Radio Audio Archive and the Radio Spectrum Archive are spearheaded by Thomas Witherspoon, a longtime RPTF contributor.

The Shortwave Radio Audio Archive

The Shortwave Radio Audio Archive (SRAA) is a curated collection of primarily homemade shortwave radio recordings. The SRAA specializes in the archiving and sharing of air check and off-air recordings from radio enthusiasts and hobbyists across the globe. The collection grows every day and includes both historic recordings and modern recordings from across the shortwave radio spectrum. The goal of this SRAA is to have a dedicated space to store, archive and propagate these unique off-air recordings that might otherwise be lost as magnetic media fades.

The Radio Spectrum Archive 

The Radio Spectrum Archive (RSA) allows listeners to experience radio history as it happened.  It offers listeners the ability to tune through a radio band, listening not only to individual stations, but to all the stations, providing richly relevant radio context from the time. The RSA team believes that radio spectrum recordings are contextually-rich, dynamic, and engaging “time capsules” of our collective human history, we actively seek ways to preserve and protect these recordings in order to share them with current and future generations.

To learn more about these projects, explore their websites. Still curious? Check out Witherspoon’s projects, including qrper.com, which celebrates all things ham radio and The SWLing Post, a community of shortwave radio and amateur radio enthusiasts sharing shortwave radio reviews and news.

Radio Preservation Task Force Announces Launch of New Digital Preservation Initiative

Radio Preservation Task Force Announces Launch of New Digital Preservation Initiative

The Radio Preservation Task Force (RPTF) of the Library of Congress National Recording Preservation Board is pleased to announce the launch of Sound Submissions, a digital humanities program in the Recorded Sound Section of the Library’s National Audio-Visual Conservation Center (NAVCC).

The RPTF is a consortium of scholars, archivists, and educators created through the Library’s National Recording Preservation Plan to facilitate identification and preservation of extant radio materials in private and public collections throughout the country. Sound Submissions establishes an RPTF curatorial team led by Josh Shepperd (University of Colorado Boulder) to facilitate donations of digitized recordings and associated metadata for ingestion into the Library’s permanent digital archive.

Through the Sound Submissions program, collection holders preserve their digital files while retaining the original, physical media. Digital recordings are maintained by the Library’s National Audio-Visual Conservation Center in Culpeper, Virginia, and Library users can listen to recordings onsite at the NAVCC’s Recorded Sound Research Center in Washington, DC. 

Sound Submissions addresses the crucial need for long-term digital preservation solutions for sound materials while expanding and diversifying the range of cultural and political representation in national collections. Through this initiative, the RPTF and Library of Congress aim to promote preservation and public knowledge and appreciation of national audio heritage, ensuring recordings are successfully preserved and accessible to current and future generations.

Sound submissions project members include:

Matt Barton (LOC)

Brandon Burke (Iron Mountain)

Sarah Cunningham (NARA)

Maristella Feustle (UNT)

Kate Jewell (Fitchburg State)

Martin Johnson (UNC)

Michael Kramer (SUNY-Brockport)

Stacy Kowalczyk (Dominican)

Elana Levine (UWM)

Miles Levy (Smithsonian Channel)

Muira McCammon (Penn)

Patrick Midtlyng (LOC)

Jay Needham (SIU)

Ingrid Ockert (LBNL)

Erica Robles Anderson (NYU)

Stephanie Sapienza (UMD)

Josh Shepperd (Colorado)

Shawn VanCour (UCLA)

John Vallier (UW-Seattle)

Ian Whittington (Mississippi)

Black Women in Radio joins the Task Force

The Library of Congress’s Radio Preservation Task Force is excited to announce a new partnership with Black Women in Radio (BWIR). This organization has successfully connected thousands of minority women and celebrated their professional contributions to Black radio culture on a national platform. This month, we spotlight BWIR:

When Felèsha Love kicked off the Black Women in Radio (BWIR) marketing and research campaign in 2017, she had no idea of the overwhelming support and impact this campaign would have on this interconnected group of women. Love, the organizations founder and president, is an educator, author and media veteran with over 30 years of experience in the radio industry. She is using that experience to help change the perception of Black women in radio and to give them the credit they have earned and deserved for their contributions for which many have been historically overlooked and excluded.

NBC Washington Channel 4 recently aired a story on BWIR and their impact on the industry. Since its inception, BWIR has identified gaps and challenges that are specific to Black women in the industry and connected thousands of women all over the U.S., and abroad of all age ranges and levels of experience. Love’s effort has proven to be quite effective and most appreciated as many of the women on the BWIR platforms did not previously know each other. In 2020, Love produced the industry’s first podcast and TV show designed specifically to inform and introduce the public to the women behind Black radio culture. The podcast is available on most audio platforms including iHeart and the television show airs on demand daily at 8:30 PM on Good Life TV Channel 19.

Black Women In Radio (BWIR) is celebrating another milestone as an active partner of the Library of Congress’s Radio Preservation Task Force (RPTF). The RPTF was created by the Library of Congress’s National Recording Preservation Board (NRPB) in 2014 to facilitate preservation of, scholarship on, and educational uses of radio materials held by formal collecting institutions and private collectors throughout the country. In addition to the partnership, BWIR will actively participate in themed caucus groups and provide collections for inclusion in the National Radio Recordings Database and educational projects. Love is a member of the African American and Civil Rights Caucus, and the College, Community, and Educational Radio caucus.

“We have been intentional about making a significant contribution to education and research and I am pleased to have earned a partnership with the Library of Congress’s Radio Preservation Task Force (RPTF) to expand our efforts with such a distinguished group of scholars, archivists, collectors, and researchers,” said Love.

In addition to her significant contributions to radio, Love developed a wellness pedagogy and authored a book during her seven year tenure at Spelman College. Her work is devoted to addressing Mind, Body, Spirit Wellness and helping people build and nurture healthier relationships which is the subject of her book “Brave Leap to Freedom: Integrating Mind Body and Spirit to Cultivate Healthy Relationships,” (Love, 2014). She also established MySpiritFitness Management Group, a production company that produces positive content for broadcast and digital media. These accomplishments only solidify her efforts to strengthen the roles of Black women in radio. Through her own personal research while serving as the Director of Development for the National Black Radio Hall of Fame (NBRHOF), she noticed the disparities of Black women in the industry, which made her determined to remove Black women from the shadows and shine a light so bright that history can no longer ignore them.

“Bernie Haynes, founder of NBRHOF, has been an activist for Black radio culture for decades and I am grateful for his inspiration and encouragement of me to build a historical infrastructure specifically for women,” said Love.

The BWIR activities has garnered some 3200 organic Instagram followers whose core audience includes C-suite executives, radio station owners, program directors, and radio personalities who often contribute content for projects and initiatives led by Love.

BWIR is excited about working with RPTF and look forward to making meaningful contributions that impact the way Black women are viewed in the past and the future.

Please use this link for more information about BWIR.

Article: Radio Preservation and the Orphan Agenda

Director Shawn Vancour and Chair Josh Shepperd have written a new article about the Radio Taskforce and the impact of copyright policy on cultural memory and preservation. “Radio Preservation and the Orphan Agenda” explains just how the expanded orphan agenda has been central to the RPTF’s work. Vancour and Shepperd’s article foregrounds the social and political stakes of sound preservation. “As cultural memory work,” they argue, “radio preservation moves beyond an antiquarian interest in “saving the past” to embrace an agenda aimed at actively diversifying the historical record, enriching our sense of collective audio heritage, and securing cultural resources for building new social identities and imagining other possible futures.”

To read the article, check out the special double issue of “The Moving Image” 

 

 

Workshop Report: Digital Storytelling With Audio Primary Sources

The Educational Division is expanding its outreach efforts! This July, the Division worked with The History Project, a professional development organization at the University of California Irvine, to sponsor a digital storytelling workshop for primary and secondary school educators interested in integrating more audiovisual media into their classrooms. 

Led by Ed Division Co-Director Stephanie Sapienza, the workshop provided a general overview of the value of digital storytelling for meeting diverse educational goals—from presenting new material and alternative assignments to supporting students’ digital literacy. You can watch the full video of the presentation or directly review the presentation.

In addition to outlining a wide range of user-friendly tools for digital projects and tricks for production, the workshop supported efforts of RPTF Divisions and Caucuses by showcasing archival materials from radio collections that can be integrated into student projects as primary resources. Some of the highlights include: 

  • A reel of sample projects created with the Studs Turkel Radio Archive and the American Archive of Public Broadcasting, as well as other sources, in order to demonstrate how digital stories incorporate audio and other archival media
  • A short video guide about how to search the RPTF/ARSC Sound Collections database (about halfway through the presentation)
  • An introduction to a new online collection about pre-NPR educational radio, Unlocking the Airwaves

All of the resources discussed in the workshop (tools, audio collections, articles and guides) can be found here.

screenshot of the resource guide

This spreadsheet-style document is organized with a list of archival materials, storytelling tools, tutorials related to research and production, and recommended readings. We are constantly updating our stable of resources for educators; if you have suggestions for additions, please let us know! In the near future, we plan to have these resources and more available on this website. 

The second half of the workshop consisted of several focus groups asking participants about their interest and experience with audiovisual media in the classroom.

The Education Division Executive Committee led these focus groups and we are delighted to report that educators in primary, secondary, and museum settings are interested in utilizing more audio. It is clear that many educators have some experience with digital projects, but for the most part, teachers use video. The most prominent uses for audio come in the form of learning activities where students record each other, conduct interviews with family (e.g. oral histories), provide voiceover narration, and/or collect sounds of their communities. In other words, radio and other auditory archival sources are underutilized, falling under the radar for various reasons ranging from not even knowing such material exists to being too overwhelmed to figure out how to integrate into existing and new curricula. Nevertheless, the focus group participants expressed strong interest in audio in order to broaden the scope of students’ understanding of primary sources as well as additional opportunities for digital projects. 

Across the focus groups, participants stressed five major points that we find are beneficial for the RPTF to keep in mind as we develop our education outreach. 

  1. The span of time for students’ attention and teachers’ lessons. Short audio clips are best if students are to listen to them in the classroom. A podcast or audio source that is 20 minutes long is too challenging to hold everyone’s attention and taxing on the teacher to keep stopping the audio for discussion. One focus group suggested that nine minutes was the max for a video, so likely that might mean the max for audio, or even shorter.  

  2. Desirable kinds of resources. How can we make it easier for teachers to integrate audio? Many of the answers we received to this question focused on the following suggestions for learning activities: 
  • Already have selected audio clips, with timecodes and possibly also captions to follow along 
  • Provide an accompanying discussion guide and/or lesson plan. Even a short set of questions will make it more likely that an educator will use audiovisual materials.  
  • If the audio source also has a parallel or related video source, which offers the opportunity to, for example, set up stations where students explore the same topic through different media and activities, gallery walk, etc.
  • Link to teaching standards that educators are required to follow and can incorporate into their year-end reports  
  • Provide PowerPoints with student-directed instructions for facilitating the lesson, along with the activity’s end-goals. This cuts valuable time for teachers in both planning and execution.
  • Develop assessment guides, especially geared towards critical listening and how to evaluate digital projects
  1. Future workshops about tools as well as existing databases. There is definitely value in holding such workshops! There is an in interest in workshops – for students and for teachers – to train them to use tools and develop creative work. One participant floated the idea that maybe if we can teach some students how to utilize audio sources and create digital projects, that then the student can create tutorials to share with other students. Aside from the nuts-and-bolts of how to produce, there is the interest in how to find and navigate archival resources. One participant suggested that if they were first made aware of a particular resource (e.g. AAPB), that then they would like a workshop with some guidance but more so, the chance to ask questions. 

  2. Accessibility. Access to technology in primary and secondary education is challenging – arguably more so than at the college level. For example, some schools exclusively use Chromebooks, which constrains opportunities for production. Some schools and programs may have some tools for audio recording and production, but overall, it is hard to assign projects that feature recording, downloading, and/or editing audio. There is also, of course, the issue of internet speeds in both school and home settings. One participant noted that their school’s WiFi blocks certain websites. In another sense of accessibility, participants emphasized that supportive materials should be targeted at people at all levels of familiarity and dexterity with digital tools and research practices. 

  3. Community. Many of the teachers wanted to find ways to use digital tools to help students connect to, learn about, and honor the diverse communities from which they hail and to better understand their own families and backgrounds. Some participants drew the connection to audio primary sources as opportunities for English language learners as well as Spanish language learners. One participant recommended that it would be great to be aware of the location of and how to use local and regional archives, or even a guide for how to use regional radio stations as a primary source. 

This event was the first of a number of workshops to be offered by the RPTF Education Division and will guide our efforts to develop useful resources for educators.

Please get in touch with us at rptfeducation@gmail.com if you want to participate in future workshops, contribute to the creation of lesson plans, help create guides for archival collections relevant to teachers, and/or have additional feedback about what would be useful for integrating sound into classroom lessons and assignments.

Using AAPB’s “Voices from the Southern Civil Rights movement” Exhibit for Radio and U.S. History: A How to Teach My Article Entry

This is the first post in our series, “How to Teach My Article / How to Teach My Book.” Our goal in this series is to bring academic scholarship into classrooms by asking authors to describe and recommend how their scholarship can fit into various educational contexts. The first post is written by a founding member of the RPTF’s Education Division and provides the template for future posts. For more about this series and about our overall blog, check out our open call.


Article: Allison Perlman, “Radio Silence: The Radio Preservation Task Force and the Uses of Radio History,” New Review of Film and Television Studies 16, no. 4 (2018): 434-440. doi.org/10.1080/17400309.2018.1524966

Please provide a brief description of the piece

This short article uses the “Voices from the Southern Civil Rights Movement” exhibit of the American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB) as a case study to make three interrelated claims. It underlines the urgency of the radio preservation project of the RPTF as a means to redress archival silences that have influenced the scripting of US media history and US history more broadly. It illuminates how historians of the 20th century US, and specifically those focused on the Black freedom struggle, overlook or misrepresent the role of broadcast media in the movement. It then examines the Pacifica broadcasts from the “Voices” exhibit to identify how noncommercial radio covered southern campaigns and to contrast the content of these programs to the better-known television coverage of them. What emerges is an alternate way to understand the relationship between broadcasting and civil rights, one that insistently focused on the experiences and perspectives of activists on the ground.

Discuss the origins and purpose of the piece. How and why did you write it?

I was invited to submit a short essay to a special issue edited by Nora Patterson and Kathy Battles on “Radio Preservation as Social Activism.” I had been involved with the Radio Preservation Task Force since it was created and I had just completed a book on media activism and social movements. In addition, I had become increasingly grouchy over time that my colleagues in the discipline of history so often misrepresented, ignored, or diminished the role of media in their scholarship. And I was in the early stages of researching a history of US public media. So I thought this invitation a great opportunity to think through the import of the work that the RPTF was doing and to flag how this work could and should push us to reimagine how we script 20th century US history and the role of broadcast media within it, especially noncommercial broadcasting.

Identify the kinds of courses in which the piece could be assigned. Is the piece suitable for primary education (middle school, high school), undergraduate, and/or graduate courses?

This could be assigned in any course that addresses US radio history, US broadcasting history, history of the Black Freedom Struggle, archives and their uses, and/or public media.

I think the undergraduate classroom is probably the ideal learning environment for this article. It is short and accessible and could be assigned in both media studies and history courses.

What are your recommendations for how to teach your scholarship?

This short article could be assigned for a range of purposes. It foregrounds Pacifica broadcasts, and thus could enrich a discussion of how and why alternatives to commercial broadcasting expanded the sphere of who could speak, and what could be said, over the airwaves. In addition, it underlines how the Pacifica broadcasts offered a different perspective on the southern civil rights campaigns and could thus provide a base for a productive conversation about media and the Black freedom struggle. It could be assigned alongside one of the radio programs discussed in the piece and a clip of TV news coverage of the Civil Rights Movement. Furthermore, the article raises questions about the relationships between the existence of archives and the scripting of history – drawing on Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s work on archival silences – and could be used to facilitate discussion about how history is written.

Please provide recommendations for other works to assign alongside your article, works that could inform the lesson, and/or programs that could supplement the lesson.

Perhaps most obviously, the “Voices from the Southern Civil Rights Movement” is an excellent exhibit and could be assigned alongside this article. The exhibit offers a very strong introduction to the broadcasters and categorizes the broadcasts by place, organization, and people. It could also be brought into productive dialogue with the AAPB’s “Televising Black Politics in the Black Power Era: Black Journal and Soul!” exhibit.

All of the radio programs referred to in the piece are accessible via the American Archives for Public Broadcasting (the references in the article provide URLs). They could be contrasted with television programs on the Black Freedom Struggle, also available online, such as ABC’s “Walk in My Shoes” or WGBH’s “Perspectives: Negro and the American Promise.”

Other works of scholarship that could be put into productive dialogue with this short piece (depending on learning objectives) include Aniko Bodroghkozy’s Equal Time: Television and the Civil Rights Movement (especially chapter 2); chapter one of Trouillot’s Silencing the Past; Devorah Heitner’s Black Power TV (any chapter); Christine Acham’s  Revolution: Televised, chapter 2; Brian Ward’s Radio and the Struggle for Civil Rights in the South (especially chapter 6); and Matthew Lasar, Pacifica Radio, chapter 9.


We invite any scholars to share how to teach their articles, books, and other projects. Email rptfeducation @ gmail.com and check out our first post for more details about the Education Division and our blog initiative.

Music Time in Africa Archive Delivers Voice of America Radio Show

By Paul Conway, University of Michigan

Music Time in Africa is the longest-running radio show from the Voice of America (VOA), the official broadcast agency of the United States government. Because of legal constraints only removed by the US Congress in 2013, generations of listeners on the African continent only have ever heard the shows. With support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, nearly 600 unique digitized audio recordings and associated scripts, spanning the first thirty years of the show’s broadcast (1968-1998), are now available for streaming through an internet platform at the University of Michigan. The Music Time in Africa Archive is a rich resource for African musical heritage wrapped in the distinctive messaging for audiences in post-colonial sub-Saharan Africa.

The website for the Music Time in Africa Archive provides ample information about the origins and development of the archive. The website also provides direct access to the custom built online platform (click on “Listen”) that supports faceted metadata browsing, full-text search of the digitized program scripts, and streaming audio access to the radio programs. The surviving recordings show evidence of cannibalization of earlier program tape recordings for later shows and suggests a high level of re-broadcasting of earlier shows, which is a common practice for programs requiring a weekly program for 52 weeks every year. Plans for 2021 include releasing 106 shows that lack program scripts and an additional 320 original shows created by host Matthew Lavoie (2007-2012) and current host Heather Maxwell (2012-2018).

Fig. 1. Music Time in Africa Archive

Leo Sarkisian, the man behind the VOA’s Music Time in Africa had a big personality, a love for all forms of music and dance, and a passion for bringing “African music to Africa.” Leo (as he was universally and affectionately known) spent over a decade as a sound engineer with Tempo Records, a Hollywood-based company that trained him to produce original, on-location recordings of sounds and music for film soundscapes. Leo traveled with his wife Mary through over thirty-eight newly decolonized African nations, creating a unique and rich collection of live field recordings.

In 1963, legendary broadcaster Edward R. Murrow approached him with a job at VOA. His charge was first to support the radio stations of new sub-Saharan nations with his technical expertise—Radio Ghana and Radio Conakry initially, and later Radio Dahomey, Radio Tanzania, Radio Doula (to name but a few). Murrow also asked him to create an entertainment-based radio broadcast as part of a mission to introduce American perspectives to a post-colonial Africa, which he would go on to do for nearly 50 years. Leo’s work simultaneously advanced the causes of African independence and American political influence.

The first broadcast of Music Time in Africa was in May 1965. Production for the show began in Liberia’s VOA Program Center, and then relocated permanently to the agency’s headquarters in Washington D.C. in 1968 when Leo became the VOA Music Director of the Africa Division. For most of five decades, Music Time in Africa was a once-per-week 30-minute program, pre-recorded on Wednesday mornings and broadcast on Sunday evenings (18:30 GMT). The timing of the broadcast attracted listeners across sub-Saharan Africa just prior to a major two-hour news broadcast on Sunday evenings, African Panorama. Music Time in Africa was and continues to be a highly choreographed and fully scripted performance of intertwined words and music. Beginning with the first program, Leo assembled musical selections by stringing together recordings drawn from the extensive collections in the program’s music library. Leo worked exclusively with fresh ¼-inch tape, “ripping” selections from 45-rpm singles or 33-1/3 rpm LPs as necessary, and extracting excerpts from his live field recordings or recordings sent to him by radio stations in Africa. Sometimes Leo included listener-contributed materials, fostering a strong ongoing relationship with local audiences and musicians.

Figure 2. Leo Sarkisian and host Rita Rochelle, 1982.

A series of very talented and increasingly popular announcers performed the scripts around the selections “inserted” into the program at specifically-timed intervals: Bryn Poole (1965-67), Miatta Fahnbulleh (1968), Susan Moran (1968–1978), Rita Rochelle (1978–2005), Matthew Lavoie (2005–2012), and Heather Maxwell (2012–present). Each of these hosts, a number being women of color, projected a personal interest in the listener experience while crediting Leo Sarkisian for the intellectual content. Leo was a regular “guest” on his own program, which afforded him a continuing presence for his listener base and personalized the program around his first-hand knowledge of oral traditions, performing arts, rituals, festive events, traditional knowledge and artisanship.

In 2012, the Library of Congress inducted Music Time in Africa into the National Registry of Recorded Sound, highlighting the show from 29 July 1973, which was actually a rebroadcast of the original 12 March 1972 broadcast. You can listen to this show here in the Music Time in Africa Archive. Leo joins host Sue Moran in exploring the musical structures, instruments and social contexts of Mauritanian music. In the show, as Leo explains the complexity of Mauritanian musical theory, excerpts allow audiences to hear the difference in timbre of the tidinit versus the ardin, and the vocal style of Mounnina, one of Mauritania’s famed female stars, versus that of Sidi Ahmed El Bakay Ould Awa, a tidinit virtuoso. The careful attention in this show to gender parity, to history, to the intricacies of a distinctive musical system understood on its own terms are hallmarks of Music Time in Africa and the scholarly work of Leo Sarkisian.

Figure 3. Music Time in Africa Archive, 12 March 1972.

Leo Sarkisian died June 8, 2018, at the age of 97, ahead of his wife Mary, who died in February 2019.

His legacy of Music Time in Africa lives in VOA’s current broadcasts and in the Leo and Mary Sarkisian Collection at the University of Michigan, which hosts and maintains Music Time in Africa Archive. Leo would be happy if you took a listen.

Please address any questions to musictimeinafrica@umich.edu

About the blog: This post is part of the series, “Amplifying Archives: Collections Highlights,” one of several features in the RPTF Education and Outreach Division’s Blog. For more information, including calls for submission, check out our first post.

An Introduction to the Education and Outreach Division’s Blog and Call

photo of girls listening to a radio with the text: "We Are ALL LISTENING"; image source: https://archive.org/details/seehear194850journaloneaucrich/page/n286/mode/2up
image source
Archivists: do you have sound collections just waiting to be accessed and explored?
Researchers: have you recently published work just waiting to be read and taught?
Instructors: do you have lessons to share?

The Education and Outreach blog is here to make connections and further the study and circulation of sound materials and scholarship for wide-ranging audiences. We enthusiastically welcome writing on the following topics, as well as special proposals for pieces that fall outside of these guidelines.

Amplifying Archives

Collection Highlights

Archivists: we would love to spotlight ways that educators could use materials in your collections in the classroom. This series asks archivists to comment on their collections, highlight gems and/or lesser-known items, indicate subjects and age groups the collection could be particularly relevant to, describe how someone might navigate the collection, and reflect on how the materials challenge or enliven historical narratives.

Inner Workings

Addressing issues of accessibility, this column asks archivists to demystify some element of their professional practice to help scholars better understand and use their collections. Think of it as a “everything scholars wanted to know about sound archives but were too afraid to ask.” For this series, we invite archivists to reflect on the logic and theory behind practices like appraisal or arrangement in relation to a specific collection you’ve worked on—and comment on how this background knowledge can help users navigate and understand materials.

Teach My Article / Teach My Book 

Have you recently published work on radio or sound that would work well in a classroom? Tell us about it! Where would it fit on our high school, undergrad, or graduate syllabi? What activities could help students explore the concepts and materials you discuss? What examples did you have to cut, but would make great supplements in the classroom? For pieces more appropriate for graduate students, what decisions did you have to make in the development of your work that might shed light on the scholarly process for junior academics? If you’re interested, we can send you a template.  

Lessons Learned

As educators, we develop lessons that work well and we’d love to share, and we also have those lessons that well, did not really work out (and we’d still love to share). 

This column asks media educators to share the materials they use in the classroom, whether a syllabus for a graduate course or a listening exercise geared towards school-aged groups. In addition to sharing plans, clips (as allowed by copyright), assignments, and other items, we ask contributors to reflect on their experience using the material. Is the item you’re sharing a recent change you made after becoming tired of some other strategy? What age groups and topics are your materials best suited to? What tips, tricks, and suggestions can you share?

Then again, not every experiment is a success. Fortunately, failure can be a great teacher. You might also reflect on a lesson, syllabus design, listening assignment, or other activity that did not go to plan. What were you hoping to achieve, what fell short, and—most importantly—how has this reshaped your future strategies for teaching some element of sound and/or radio. In other words, this column asks authors to share their failures so we can also share their successes.


Submission Guidelines

We accept inquires and fully-drafted pieces. Word counts for all pieces should range between 750-1200 words. While minimal use of footnotes is acceptable, we prefer in-text hyperlinks for citation and resource-gathering. Images and audio-visual clips are encouraged. Please ensure that these images and clips are permissible to share. For further information or to pitch a contribution, please email us at rptfeducation@gmail.com.

About Us: The RPTF Education and Outreach Division supports the discoverability, accessibility, application, and analysis of radio and sound archives for a range of pedagogical activities. In collaboration with RPTF divisions, caucuses, and members, it sponsors events to showcase the educational uses of radio and sound collections and circulates pedagogical materials to support the integration of radio and sound sources into curricula across a range of disciplines and at all levels of instruction.