This week we explore sources which existed as sound recordings, sound performances,
or audio in some form. Learning to “read” and interpret these sources is quite different from handwritten documents and scientific evidence we’ve we worked with so far, but they are an important part of the cultural landscape of the past.
Tuesday, March 1 Reading: Susan Douglas, “Radio Comedy and Linguistic Slapstick,” from Listening In: Radio and the American Imagination.
Read not only for content (in this case, her chapter is about radio comedy and some of its notable programs and stars), but also for historical method: HOW is she writing about sound? HOW is she using radio programs as historical evidence? How does she construct an argument using evidence which she cannot “show” us as text or illustrations, but must describe for us–since we cannot hear it along with her? In one sense, Douglas must translate the shows into a written form, just as the shows themselves must translate physical comedy and “sight gags” into linguistic/aural comedy and “sound gags.”
For Thursday March 3, everyone’s assignment *ahead of time* is to listen to at least an hour of old-time radio or recorded sound and be ready to share your findings with the class. Bring headphones for private listening during the workshop, too.
Chase down old radio through these links or through Youtube (ignoring any visuals, of course):
OTR.net – Old Time Radio Network
RUSC.com – this is a fabulous old-time radio website, but its best content is by subscription only. The link goes to a selected list of free downloads.
All the programs of Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater of the Air are online, including the 1938 Halloween “War of the Worlds” broadcast that so terrified the East Coast. (Better quality audio may be found on YouTube)
National Jukebox (Library of Congress) is a massive digital archive of recorded sound prior to 1925.
Thomas Edison’s Attic is an archived radio program and podcast that replays old recordings (wax cylinder, phonograph and other now-extinct exotic formats) from the Edison National Historic Site’s collection – lots of interesting old American sounds from 1888-1929
Rand’s Esoteric OTR is a blog & podcast of the author’s gigantic collection of transcription disks (i.e. records of radio shows meant for later playback), many of them from Armed Forces Radio during WW2. A great source for high-quality web broadcasts of old radio programming.
Other resources, museums and archives for radio history:
Vintage Radio and Communications Museum, Windsor CT
Pavek Museum, Broadcasting Hall of Fame (St. Louis, MN)
Museum of Broadcast Communications (Chicago)
American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WBGH, Boston)
Other Links for Class This Week: Fibber McGee’s closet (1940), 1930s Radio News (Hindenberg #67-68) — footage & description on later newsreel, WOTW 1938, On the Media “The X Factor” (2007), Frasier S4 Ep18 “Ham Radio,” available on Hulu.