Monday, July 23, 2012

Activating Archives for Intelligent Discussion of the Future

Found this after following a link on James Cridland's excellent blog.

What a thoughtful piece by Trevor Dann about radio archives. He gave it at the great conference last year, but I see it hasn't had the reach it deserves.

It's true that there seems to be paradox in radio that there is a love of playing old records but the speech in between has to be contemporary...the latest news and weather. Putting old speech clips out is seen as less important than having a fresh new statement that no-one has yet heard.

Most radio archives across Europe are in a rather sorry state. The tapes may be physically in bad condition. More often than not it;s the catalogue that is incomplete, so you can't find stuff. Then the fastest way to get something done is to the find someone and ring them up rather than digging out the context yourself.. So because it takes too much time to find things (Youtube is often faster) I see many broadcasters wondering what to do next - and whether they should be keeping all this stuff. Rooms full of tapes have been chucked out on the grounds that no-one is interested. Yet when you work out what it has cost to make this material, the cost of making a coherent collection pales by comparison.

As an aside, I remember calculating that at Radio Netherlands we were putting about 9 million Euros worth of material into the radio archive each year - without a real plan of why we doing this. I'm glad we did. The archive is infact provides access to Dutch society in foreign languages for the second part of the 20th century. Now that the RNW building is going to be cleared for new tenant, I wonder what will happen to that archive.

But back to Trevor Dann. He discusses the idea of a Peoples' Archive, where the public broadcaster (in the case the BBC) would declare an amnesty on the tapes recorded at home by listeners and announce what they were looking for to complete their own archives. There is a time element here. Cassettes and home-burned CD's don't last more than a couple of decades, especially if they are not stored under the right conditions (too hot or too much sunlight). I note that some of the CD's I made in 1995 are becoming unplayable on computer's though they still seem to work on CD players.

Trveor's point that using the archive is generally frowned upon by station management is true. Repeating a programme was often seen as a lazy way out of a scheduling problem, yet a scheduled repeat of something makes a lot of sense and audiences like it. I have been releasing time travel editions of Media Network, a show I used to produce and present on Radio Netherlands. They are left, as broadcast, so you can understand the context of what is being said. But there is clearly a market for dipping into this kind of archive and putting ideas from the past into a modern context in order to have a serious discussion about the future.

I note that the excellent series that Trevor has produced on the Sounds of the 20th Century has a page on BBC Radio 2'website - but it could be so much more.

Update: Trevor kindly responded with an update this morning: You’ll be pleased to know that the People’s Archive, now re-named The Listeners’ Archive, will be launched shortly as part of the BBC’s 90th anniversary celebrations. The announcement will be made after the Olympics.

Lessons Learned: We need to start thinking about more creative uses of archive material. History has a horrible habit of repeating itself. The media, in general, is poor at putting discussions of the past into a useful modern context. Now that search technologies are improving, creative use of archives needs a rethink.

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