My name is Rebecca Benson, and I’m a graduate student at the University of Missouri, working on a Master’s in Library Science and focusing on work in special collections libraries. I am so excited for the experience I have gained working with the AAPB: I am familiar with much older materials, but the history of the past 100 years really demands broadcast media to be fully understood. The opportunity to work with AAPB and the materials from our local community radio station has expanded my archival horizons, and I look forward to sharing these materials and this history with researchers, as well as sharing this technology with other archivists.
The University of Missouri partnered with the one of the local community radio stations to work on this project. KOPN has been broadcasting from the same office in downtown Columbia since it was founded in 1973 — and I’m pretty sure some of the reels I digitized had not been touched since then. As one of the first open-access community radio stations, they have an amazing perspective on the history of the past several decades. The collection spans an incredible number of areas, from radio theatre to concerts to talk shows, from feminist, queer, indigenous, and otherwise marginalized voices. Working with Jackie Casteel, we decided to begin by digitizing the women’s programming, from the annual Women’s Weekend, the League of Women Voters, and the local Women’s Health collective, among others. Even within this subset, the range of programming spans from interview shows with women in prison to a discussion from one of the first female dentists in the area. Every time I start a new reel, I learn something new and interesting about Columbia or the world, and I cannot wait for others to use this trove of information to begin doing research. I have benefited from the information myself — by chance, I digitized the 1986 League of Women Voters panel on hospital trustees a week before another hospital trustee election in town, which dealt with the hospital lease discussed in 1986!
As I have worked with these materials, I have found that this sort of archival work can re-unite communities and bring people together. Not only have I worked with the university and our initial contacts at the station, I have encountered numerous other people who are, or were, connected with programming that I have now heard. Working on the metadata for our programs led me to the State Historical Society, and their archives of broadcast lists. My time sorting reels at the station led to meeting with a woman who had run much of the radio theatre programming for decades. A chance mention of KOPN led to learning more about the alternative ‘zine community in Columbia, and its connection with the radio station. This project has shown me all the ways in which archival projects are more than just scholarly work, but a way to build and re-build communities.
Getting all of these reels digitized has been — and continues to be — a massive project. As a community radio station, KOPN did not have the most standardized procedures for recording, broadcasting, and documentation, which has led to some interesting moments at the work station. I’m still uncertain how someone managed to splice one tape inside out and backwards! On the other hand, all of these quirks are a result of the creative community that grew around KOPN, and without it, the history of the station would be much poorer. We are so excited to share this vibrant part of our local history with the world.
Written by Rebecca Benson, PBPF Spring 2018 Cohort
The Public Broadcasting Preservation Fellowship (PBPF), funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, supports ten graduate student fellows at University of North Carolina, San Jose State University, Clayton State University, University of Missouri, and University of Oklahoma in digitizing at-risk materials at public media organizations around the country. Host sites include the Center for Asian American Media, Georgia Public Broadcasting, WUNC, the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority, and KOPN Community Radio. Contents digitized by the fellows will be preserved in the American Archive of Public Broadcasting. The grant also supports participating universities in developing long-term programs around audiovisual preservation and ongoing partnerships with their local public media stations.
For more updates on the Public Broadcasting Preservation Fellowship project, follow the project at pbpf.americanarchive.org and on Twitter at #aapbpf, and come back in a few months to check out the results of their work.