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HBCU Radio Archival Survey

Jocelyn Robinson presenting on the project at the Association of African American Museums conference in Washington, DC.
Jocelyn Robinson presenting on the project at the Association of African American Museums conference in Washington, DC.

Historically Black Colleges/Universities (HBCU) radio stations have both participated in and documented the African American experience, including the Civil Rights era. About thirty radio stations in thirteen states and the District of Columbia have been identified. They are as diverse as HBCUs themselves: they are public/private, large/small, rural/urban, and range in geography from the Deep South to the Midwest, from the Eastern Seaboard to the Great Plains. Many of these stations have been in existence for decades, and their obsolete magnetic media are deteriorating; we stand to lose forever this primary source material reflecting the diversity of the Black experience over time.

Currently, there is no database or easily accessed, comprehensive information on any historical materials that these radio stations might hold. In order to create such a resource, a partnership has been formed between WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, a public media outlet with experience developing and utilizing an historical audio archives, Central State University's WCSU in Wilberforce, Ohio, an HBCU radio station with the distinction of being the first licensed by the FCC, and the National Afro American Museum & Cultural Center (NAAMCC, also located in Wilberforce), which houses historical audio collections of regional and national importance. With the leadership of Neenah Ellis, General Manager of WYSO, Dr. Robert Franklin, General Manager of WCSU, and Dr. Charles Wash, director of the NAAMCC, an archival survey of these radio stations will be conducted over the summer of 2019. Jocelyn Robinson, an independent scholar and producer with experience working with historical radio collections will serve as project director, with WYSO lending administrative infrastructure, and both WCSU and NAAMCC providing technical input and support.

The resulting information will then be compiled into a report/database that will be accessible to the public through the Radio Preservation Task Force (RPTF), a project of the Recorded Sound Preservation Board at the Library of Congress, and the Association of Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC).

“Nearly a third of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) have radio stations,” says Jocelyn Robinson, project director, “and many went on the air during the Civil Rights era, fifty or more years ago. Much of the material created at these stations during the struggle for equality and beyond is now at risk, as magnetic tape and other obsolete formats deteriorate. But we won’t know what needs preservation until we survey the content and conditions of the radio archives on HBCU campuses. What we discover could have enormous potential for podcasts, radio and film documentaries, and museum exhibitions, allowing students, researchers, media producers, and communities to remember, honor and be inspired by the voices of this important legacy.”