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Audio Archaeology

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Imagine looking page by page at magazines devoted to radio, recorded sound,  film, and television that previously could only be viewed by a visit to a library or an archive.

In the past few years, we’ve been working with the Library’s Document Scan Center to digitize around 1 million pages of public domain media-related periodicals such as Radio and TV Mirror,  What’s On the Air, and Radio Digest,  as well as trade publications like The Phonoscope, Talking Machine World,  and Variety Radio Directory.  All these periodicals are available on the Internet Archive but a non-profit initiative called the Media History Digital Library also harvests these scans for presentation on their site along with other books, periodicals and pamphlets they’ve digitized.

Below are just a few examples of what you can find on either site:

Image of Phonoscope, No. 1 cover, 1896
Phonoscope, No. 1, 1896, cover. Image from Internet Archive from original at the Library of Congress

The Phonoscope, is one of the earliest sound and sight periodicals published in the United States, appearing monthly  in 1896.  Scientific as well as a fan magazine, it billed itself as “Devoted to Scientific and Amusement Inventions Appertaining to Sound and Sight.” Not only were there articles on the emerging recorded sound industry and new records and artists, but one could find articles on slot machines, and “picture projecting devices” such as the Kineopticon.



Talking Machine World, 1906, cover.
Talking Machine World, 1906, cover. Image from Internet Archive from original at the Library of Congress.

Also published monthly, The Talking Machine World,  came out of New York, as did Phonoscope., Starting in 1905,  TMW was considered the main trade magazine and was rich in full page advertisements of new phonographs as well as sound recordings and new products. Researchers will find ads from Victor, Edison, Aeolian-Vocalion, Brunswick, Columbia, Pathe,  Emerson, Okeh and Sonora, among others.


Page from Broadcasting, 1931
Broadcasting, vol. 1, No. 1, 1931. Image from Internet Archive from original at the Library of Congress

Broadcasting started in 1931, merging with Broadcast Advertising in 1932 and soon became the “bible” for the advertising industry.  Merging with several other publications over the years, Broadcasting and Cable is still one of the leading trade publications, focusing on television and cable broadcasting.






What's on the
What’s On the Air, Vol. 2, No. 1, 1930, cover. Image from Media History Digital Library from original at the Library of Congress.

What’s on the Air was a short lived magazine for the radio listener, exhorting readers to “never, never just tune in” but find out what “stations are broadcasting chain features and also, by means of the wave-length guide, how to tune them in.” Starting in 1929 it lasted only until 1931 but along with the guide to programming came colorful covers and features on performers and entertainment.

Headline from article from What's on the Air, 1929
Article from What’s on the Air, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1929. Image from Media History Digital Library from original at Library of Congress


Cover from Radio Mirror, February, 1932.
Radio Mirror, February, 1935, cover. Image from Internet Archive from original at the Library of Congress

Radio and Television Mirror was first published in 1935 as Radio Mirror  but later changed its title to include the ever growing popularity of television.  As a fan magazine, it offered readers lots of articles on radio stars and personalities, but broadcast historians have noted that the reporting was loose on facts and used press agents for much of its content.  As television became the preferred medium, the magazine focused mostly on daytime soap operas under the banner of TV-Radio Mirror well into the 1970s.






Radio Digest, 1932, cover.
Radio Digest, 1932, cover. Image from Internet Archive from original at the Library of Congress

Radio Digest was also an early fan magazine with many articles on programs and radio personalities.  First published as a tabloid in 1922, it became an important magazine with features on radio stars as well as more technical topics.  It went through many transformations over the years, from weekly to semimonthly and finally monthly.  Taking a hit during the Depression, it became a monthly magazine called Radio Fan Fare before ceasing to publish in 1933.


This project provides an invaluable resource for film and recorded sound scholars, broadcast historians, and not to mention, film and record buffs.  We hope to revolutionize research in these fields by providing access to entire collections of periodicals that will allow new research, analysis and discoveries within the academic community and the public at large. You can find these periodicals and much more at the Internet Archive and at the Media History Digital Library.



Comments (2)

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