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10th Orphan Film Symposium (April 6-9, 2016): Radio Preservation Task Force

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The Packard Campus is excited to host to the tenth edition of the Orphan Film Symposium, April 6-9, 2016; the theme is “Sound,” both with and without moving images. “Orphans X” is presented in conjunction with New York University Cinema Studies and its Moving Image Archiving and Preservation Program.

You can register for Orphans X here.

One of the recommendations of the Library’s 2012 National Recording Preservation Plan—it’s very readable, even for the layman—led to the creation of the Radio Preservation Task Force, which is a consortium of academics, curators, archivists, and radio practitioners spread over 125 universities, museums, and libraries, working from the recommendations of the NRPP. They’re invested in the preservation of endangered radio collections, as well as finding a way to use “digital humanities” approaches, such as big data, to make materials searchable, listenable within fair use, and most importantly, implementable for research and classroom use. The RPTF has also been conducting a series of curatorial projects to raise awareness of how much material has gone unpreserved and unstudied (short answer: millions of hours).

I recently attended a conference sponsored by the RPTF where there was a great deal of spirited discussion about the challenges of radio preservation. It was especially encouraging to hear of the digital tools that stations, archives, and universities are using and creating to make radio collections more widely available; these tools are applicable to more than just radio, so it was a very energizing two days. Orphans X will include a presentation featuring members of the RPTF who will tell us more about these and other intriguing developments.

Although Radio Salutes (Paramount, 1931) has no connection to preservation—I rather doubt anyone at the time was thinking about preserving commercial broadcasting, then less than a decade old—it is one of the earliest films I’ve ever seen that featured the medium. It’s a peculiar movie, beginning with a celebration of the technology that allows radio signals to reach the depths of Mammoth Cave and the heights of a dirigible, then rapidly pivoting to a musical performances by Nathaniel Shilkret and His Orchestra and “that darling of Songland,” Ruth Etting. Radio Salutes was preserved from a nitrate print in the AFI/Dorothy Horton Collection; the sound, ironically, is a little rough because of the print’s worn condition. As commercial radio matured it was increasingly featured in motion pictures, primarily as a vehicle for presenting performances, most notably in a series of shorts called Ramblin’ ‘Round Radio Row and in The Big Broadcast features.

We hope to see you at Orphans X!

Radio Salutes (Paramount, 1931)



  1. Very amusing: from the depths of a giant cave to the dirigible in the air, we can hear radio anywhere! Interesting that the microphone is not in frame for most of the vocalist’s song.

    This is what we would call “branded content” today–the Westinghouse brand is clearly visible–and a good solid pitch it is!

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