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Curator’s Picks: Signature Sounds

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(The following is from the July/August 2016 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, LCM. You can read the issue in its entirety here.)

Matt Barton in the Library’s Motion Picture and Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division discusses some of the nation’s most iconic radio broadcasts.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed a Joint Session of Congress on Dec. 8, 1941—one day after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The president referred to Dec. 7 as “a date which will live in infamy.” Within an hour of the speech, Congress passed a formal declaration of war against Japan and officially brought the U.S. into World War II. “In his nine-minute speech, the president sought not only to rally the nation, but to provide the most accurate picture possible of the extent of the attacks made in the Pacific to that point, countering rumors but also conveying the seriousness of the situation.”
Weltbild Publishing Company, Prints and Photographs Division

Denied the right to sing at DAR Constitution Hall because of her race, contralto Marian Anderson performed an Easter Sunday concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on April 9, 1939. The event drew an integrated audience of 75,000, including members of the Supreme Court, Congress and President Roosevelt’s cabinet. “News photos and newsreels of this event have become iconic, but millions of Americans experienced the radio broadcast first, live and in real time.”
Prints and Photographs Division, courtesy of the NAACP

In 1962, Philadelphia Warriors center Wilt Chamberlain shattered the NBA record by scoring 100 points in a single game. The game was broadcast only by a Philadelphia radio station and rebroadcast later that night. “Those broadcasts were lost but fortunately two fans recorded key portions of those broadcasts. The NBA eventually acquired both recordings.”
Prints and Photographs Division

WHO’S ON FIRST? 3c26194u.tif
Comedians Bud Abbott and Lou Costello first performed their now- legendary baseball sketch for a national radio audience on “The Kate Smith Hour” in March 1938. This broadcast is now lost, but in response to popular demand, the duo gave an encore performance later in the year, which survives.
New York World- Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection, Prints and Photographs Division

Calvin Coolidge made history at his second inauguration on March 4, 1925. “It was the first time an inauguration was broadcast nationally on the new medium of radio, and it was carried on 30 stations nationwide.”
National Photo Company Collection, Prints and Photographs Division


All of the above radio broadcasts were selected for inclusion in the National Recording Registry, which ensures their long-term preservation. 

Comments (5)

  1. Thank you for this site access

  2. Curator’s Picks: Signature Sounds
    August 11, 2016 by Erin Allen

    All these pictures of iconic recordings. Are you supposed to be able to listen to them?

    Based on prior experience with emails and the LOC, I seriously doubt I will ever get a response.

    • Mr. Putnam,
      Thank you for your comment. President Roosevelt’s speech is digitized and available on the Library’s website:
      While the rest of these selections aren’t currently online, the Library makes available many other audio recordings, which you can explore here:

  3. It is great to think that many of the great events of our history have been captured (recorded) and saved with the LOC. Please send your magazine. Thanks.

  4. An emotional experience for a lad of the time relived; a transformational experience for the retired adjunct professor of public administration/government. Thank you.

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