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HBCU Radio Preservation Pilot Project

“Nearly a third of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) have radio stations, 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.”
Jocelyn Robinson, project coordinator

The WYSO Archives Hosts the HBCU Radio Preservation Project

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Jocelyn Robinson
Boxes of CDs at Virginia State University's WVST in Petersburg.

Historically Black Colleges/Universities (HBCU) radio stations have both participated in and documented the African American experience, including the Civil Rights era. There are currently 104 HBCUs, and of those, 29 have active radio stations. In thirteen states and the District of Columbia, the stations 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. In addition, born digital material is also at risk, due in part to its sheer volume; it also has specific preservation needs. There is no database or easily accessed, comprehensive information on any historical materials that HBCU radio stations might hold.

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Jocelyn Robinson
WHCJ director Grace Curry and Special Collections administrative assistant Ann Ogden listen to cassettes at Savannah State University in Georgia.

In 2019-2020, with experience developing and utilizing an historical audio archives, the WYSO Archives, a unit of the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO, received a modest grant from the National Recording Preservation Foundation for a project focused on surveying HBCU radio stations. Jocelyn Robinson, then an independent scholar and producer with experience working with historical radio collections—as well as years of experience working with HBCUs and Black museums--served as project director for the HBCU Radio Station Archival Survey Project. With WYSO lending administrative infrastructure, WCSU at Central State University and the National Afro-American Museum & Cultural Center (both in nearby Wilberforce) provided technical input and support. The plan called for the resulting report to 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).

The survey project received widespread press and attention right before the pandemic hit; recommendations from the preliminary report became Phase I of what is now a larger preservation project. The important work has continued, despite constraints caused by the coronavirus.

With generous support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Phase II of the HBCU Radio Preservation Pilot Project began July 1, 2021. Over the next year and a half, Phase II takes the data from the Phase I survey to inspire a collaboration between the WYSO Archives--with its experience developing and using historical college audio archives—and the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) in Andover, MA, an important nonprofit preservation institution. Each brings critical technical and creative expertise and solid administrative resources to the goal of encouraging and supporting an ethos of preservation at HBCU radio stations. This will ensure historical broadcast media are there well into the future to document the HBCU radio legacy and for use by scholars, researchers, students, faculty, community members, and media producers.

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Jocelyn Robinson
Archivist James R. Stewart holds an old reel-to-reel tape at North Carolina A&T in Greensboro.

Phase II Pilot Project activities include:

  • completion of the initial survey and site visits to HBCU campuses
  • training for radio station staff, volunteers, and alumni in oral history to gather the stories of HBCU radio stations
  • training in using historical audio in production
  • training via workshops/webinars for radio station staff and institutional archivist on audio preservation and digital preservation;
  • collections-level assessments of audio collections at radio stations on pilot campuses;
  • shadowing opportunities for HBCU students to participate in the training and to observe how the collections-level assessments are conducted; 
  • helping radio station staff and institutional archivists create audio collections preservation plans;
  • coaching pilot participants to leverage their assessment report to support grant applications and funding requests;
  • helping radio station staff and institutional archivists create disaster plans using dPlan;
  • performing one audio preservation pilot project per pilot campus;
  • organizing and convening a project workshop for pilot participants and future collaborators; and
  • planning for Phase III--an anticipated follow-on, full-scale implementation project that will be made available to all HBCU radio stations and their campus archives. 

About NEDCC

NEDCC was founded in 1973 as a non-profit devoted to the conservation and preservation of paper-based materials. Its services have since expanded to include audio reformatting, digital imaging, and preservation education and field services. NEDCC’s mission is to improve the conservation and preservation efforts of libraries, archives, historical organizations, museums, and other repositories; provide the highest quality services to institutions that lack in-house conservation/reformatting facilities or that seek specialized expertise; and provide leadership in the preservation and conservation fields. Link here for more information on NEDCC.

WYSO

Through its parent entity Miami Valley Public Media (MVPM), WYSO is the administrative hub and fiscal agent for the project on behalf of the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices and the WYSO Archives. WYSO will contribute technical expertise in conducting oral histories and producing media with historical audio. While the WYSO/MVPM mission is local, its vision and core beliefs speak to a greater leadership role that encompasses projects such as this. Link here for more information on WYSO.

Jocelyn Robinson, who now works out of WYSO’s Eichelberger Center for Community Voices as the Producer for Emerging Initiatives, Education, and Archives, continues to serve as the project director. She has experience working with historical audio as both a producer and preservationist, and is a member of the African American and Civil Rights Radio Caucus of the Radio Preservation Task Force (RPTF) at the Library of Congress.