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Christopher Sterling

The National Recording Preservation Board Remembers Christopher Sterling (1943 – 2023)

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The National Recording Preservation Board of the Library of Congress is saddened to report the passing of media professor, scholar and friend Christopher Sterling.  Chris was a member of the NRPB from 2004 and became its Chair in 2015, serving in that capacity until poor health forced him to step aside in 2018.  Along with being the Board’s erudite and impassioned leader, he was also one of the National Recording Registry’s greatest advocates, showing boundless support for many of recorded sound’s most important artifacts with a special interest in all things radio.  Chris’ love of the FM and AM dial was no surprise, of course, as he was one of the medium’s greatest historians, as proven by his co-authorship of such works as the seminal radio history “Stay Tuned” and as the editor of the three-volume “The Radio Encyclopedia” and, later, “The Concise Encyclopedia of Radio.” 

Sitting NRPB Chair Robbin Ahrold–who succeeded Chris–says:

Chris Sterling was already an old hand at the NRPB when I joined for the first time in 2013. He graciously helped me understand the sometimes arcane workings of the Board, its place in the Library ecosystem, its history and significance, all with a perspective bordering on wisdom, leavened with his patented wry humor. I had spent the better part of two decades learning about the history of radio broadcasting from some of the founders of the industry as a Broadcast Music, Inc. staffer.  But Chris’ encyclopedic knowledge of radio was truly astounding; I found myself learning the industry’s story all over again in our conversations.  Chris guided us through some demanding times as he was named Chair in 2015 and the Library itself transitioned to new leadership; he gave us a steady hand at the tiller as we all steered to a new course.   We will miss his experience and perspective, and I will miss his good humor and knowing wink.

Below, we reprint Chris’ obituary.

Cover of Chris Sterlings history/text book "Stay Tuned"
Cover of “Stay Tuned”

Born in Washington DC in 1943 where his father Henry was serving with the wartime intelligence agency OSS, Chris grew up in Madison after his father resumed his teaching post at the University of Wisconsin. Chris earned a B.S. in political science (1965), switching fields to mass communication for his M.S. (1967) and Ph.D. (1969), all at Wisconsin.

Chris and Ellen Mickelson were married in 1965–they celebrated their 57th anniversary in 2022. Their “most important products” as Chris often put it, are their two daughters Jennifer (born in 1969) and Robin (born 1972). They live close by within the greater Washington DC area.

In his long career as an academic, Chris taught for just one year at the University of Utah before being lured to Temple University in 1970, where he stayed for a decade, publishing his first three books. In 1980, he took a position as a special assistant to an FCC commissioner, serving there for nearly two years. Starting in 1982, he taught at George Washington University, from which he retired in 2016. During his years in Washington, he wrote or edited (often with others) more than 20 more books and also served on two occasions as an associate dean of GW’s Columbian College. He founded and edited (for 45 years) the journal now known as Communications Booknotes Quarterly, and also served for five years as the third editor of what is now known as Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media.

Chris Sterling sitting among library book shelves
Chris Sterling among the books

Chris was an avid book collector nearly all his life, pursuing volumes on aviation and naval history, Sir Winston Churchill, castles and fortifications, archaeology of the ancient Maya and Anasazi peoples, passenger lines and liners, the history of Washington, DC, and his professional field of telecommunications history and policy. He developed substantial collections on each topic. He loved old (but disappearing) bookshops as well as buying books online.

Chris and Ellen Sterling
Chris and Ellen Sterling

In 2017, he and Ellen moved south to Fredericksburg, Virginia, and enjoyed retirement amongst nearly an acre of trees. By then unable to travel, they enjoyed revisiting travel memories and photos in extensive notebooks describing their earlier driving trips to all 50 states and most Canadian provinces, plus air travel to some 30 other countries. Cruises around Hawaii, up the Inner Passage to Alaska, and around the Baltic Sea and Norwegian coastline were among many highlights.


To learn more about the National Recording Registry and the National Recording Preservation Board, visit this link.

For more information related to this blog or any Library of Congress holdings, please see Ask a Librarian, and if you plan to come in to view or listen to any collection items, please reach out to our reference staff in the Moving Image Research Center and the Recorded Sound Research Center.


  1. I never met Dr. Sterling; but, it was an honor to read this blog about him through your ‘eyes’.
    Barbara Namon

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