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Rhody Radio episode transcription has been been made possible by the American Rescue Plan: Humanities Grants for Libraries, which is an initiative of the American Library Association (ALA) made possible with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.


Preserving History with the American Archive of Public Broadcasting

Lauren Walker: [00:00:00] You are listening to Rhody Radio, Rhode Island Library Radio Online.


Lauren: I'm your host, Lauren Walker, from the Rhody Radio crew and Coventry Public Library. Today I'm talking with Alan Gevinson and Karen Cariani, co-directors of the American Archive of Public Broadcasting, a collaboration between the Library of Congress and GBH. Hi, Alan and Karen. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today. Do you want to introduce yourselves and say what your roles are at the AAPB?

Alan Gevinson: Sure. Hi, Lauren. I'm Alan Gevinson. I'm the special assistant to the chief of the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center at the Library of Congress. I'm also the project director for the library of the AAPB.

Karen Cariani: I'm Karen Cariani. I'm the executive director of the GBH Archives, in Boston. I'm GBH's project director for the American Archive of Public Broadcasting. Nice to meet you.

Lauren: It's great to meet you both. [laughs] What is the American Archive of Public Broadcasting, and how did it start?

Karen: Well, it's a collaboration between GBH in Boston and the Library of Congress to preserve and make as accessible as we can public media content, both TV and radio, from across the country, to the American public. The collaboration, it's been in process for 10 years now. The collaboration splits up the duties such that the Library of Congress is responsible for the long-term preservation of the digital files.

GBH is mostly responsible for outreach and engagement and access through the website, but we both collaborate together on [00:02:00] curation, governance rights, and legal issues. It's very much a collaborative team between the two institutions, which has been quite wonderful. Alan, do you want to pick it up?

Alan: Sure. So far, in the 10 years we've been working together, we've been able to digitally preserve more than 150,000 items sent in from more than 400, I think about 435 stations, producers, and archives around the country, including the territories of the US. We've made close to 100,000 of them available online for educational purposes. You can't download them, they're streaming only.

We find that this is a wonderful resource for people to learn about communities all over the US. Many of these are local shows that haven't been seen outside of the communities, and even within the communities, haven't been seen since broadcast. We do think it's a valuable archive, and we're very happy to be working on this great project.

Karen: It's almost evenly split between TV and radio. There's a little bit more TV than the radio at the moment, but it's a pretty close split between the two.

Lauren: That sounds really important. From Rhody Radio's perspective, we can definitely relate to having small local content, and wanting more people to know about it. That's really great. Why is it so important to archive and preserve public broadcasting content?

Karen: Well, I think public broadcasting is one of the few locally-owned stations across the country these days, as opposed to being owned by a corporate network. It does [00:04:00] have a perspective of covering topics that are long-lasting and important to our American democracy, for our citizens to know about. We tend to present the information and let people judge that information on their own, as opposed to being opinionated. It's news, it's cultural, it's social issues, it's history, it's science. I think public media pretty much covers a wide swath of information that is important for people to know about. I'm partial though, coming from a TV station. I'll let Alan speak to that issue. [chuckles]

Alan: I would add that generally, in public media, you find longer conversations. They're not broken up by commercials. You get more in-depth conversations than you might find on commercial radio or television. Public media also has been open to underrepresented groups producing programs for public media. Often, public media has had to be prodded by those groups, but there's been a lot of great material done by African American groups, by Chicanos, by Native American groups, that we preserve in the Archive, as well as more mainstream material.

Lauren: What goes into your archival process? Do you work with already digitized content, or do you also work with tangible media like film and cassette tapes?

Karen: Both, actually. It is much easier and quicker for us to grab the digital files, if they already exist in a digital format. [00:06:00] Over the past 10 years, we've helped a number of organizations get outside money and grants to digitize their materials. We currently have a very large Mellon grant to double our collection in the next four years, to digitize another 150,000 items from material across the country, of marginalized and unrepresented voices, gaps in our collection, states that we don't necessarily have material from, material that's at risk, that's deteriorating, that needs to be preserved ASAP.

Lauren: That was going to be part of my question, too, is dealing with physical materials. Do you prioritize it by, like, what needs to be digitized first, and go that way, or does it just come your way whenever it comes your way?

Karen: I would say it's a mix of decision-making and curating, which ones we pursue. It's a mix between the topic it covers, what the material is, do we have anything like it? How unique is it? How at risk is it? Is it on one of the formats that is becoming more and more obsolete? Like 2-inch, 1-inch? Film, although might have a longer shelf life than the video and the magnetic tape, it still is one of the formats that is easily thrown away because people can't view it, and don't know what to do with it. I would say it's a mix. Alan, do you want to contribute to that?

Alan: Oh, it definitely is. We often reach out to stations and producers. We go to conferences, meet them, and talk to them about what they have that might be worth preserving, that we could collaborate with them on a grant proposal. In our [00:08:00] own collection at the Library of Congress, we have quite a lot of public broadcasting material that we've acquired over the years.

Generally, at the library, we do choose to digitally preserve the most at-risk material first, the 2-inch. We've been working on a project the last four or five years to digitize our entire 2-inch collection of public television broadcast going back to the 1960s, maybe even some of these in the '50s, but the '60s onward, we've got a large collection, and we've been going through those every year, digitizing them.

Lauren: When you say 2-inch, is that a size of film?

Alan: Yes. I guess we should explain. It's videotape.

Lauren: Oh, okay.

Alan: It was the standard for use for a period of time. Karen probably knows that history better than I do, when it went out. I believe in the '80s was when it switched over to other forms. The 2-inch, there actually aren't even a lot of machines left that can play 2-inch. It's an obsolete format. Luckily, we have machines at the Library of Congress, and we get parts from when they break down. We try to find organizations that might have parts that we could use. It's a battle against time to preserve this material.

Lauren: What are some of your favorite exhibits that you've done in the past for the Archive, and what are some new or upcoming exhibits that you're most excited about?

Karen: I'm going to let Alan answer that one.

Alan: We love our exhibits. We have about 19 of them right now, and we're working on eight additional ones, that should go up this year. One of my favorites is called Freedom Song. It's about the interviews that were conducted for [00:10:00] Eyes on the Prize. Eyes on the Prize was a documentary series from the 1980s that came out in two parts. The first part had six episodes, the second had eight episodes, and it's an incredible documentary about the Civil Rights Movement. We have, in our archive, the complete interviews that were conducted.

Maybe a few minutes of somebody got into one of the programs, we've got the full hour or two hour long interview, and we found that those are very, very valuable. These are people who participated in the movement, historians talking about the movement, people who were in opposition to the movement. Our Freedom Song exhibit brings it all to life. It tells the backstory of how the Eyes on the Prize documentary came about. It gives you access to women in the movement, and has links for all the women who were interviewed, public officials, et cetera. It's got a lot of great ways to approach this topic.

Lauren: Here's a clip from the Archive, from Eyes on the Prize. America, They Loved You Madly. Featuring an interview with activist, Joanne Robinson.

Interviewer: When you look back in history, it looks like the boycott was a spontaneous act provoked by the arrest of Rosa Parks. Was it?

Joanne Robinson: It was a spontaneous act from those persons who were not members of the Women's Political Council, but we had worked for at least three years getting that thing organized. The night of the evening that Rosa Parks was arrested, Fred Gray called me and told me she was arrested, she had somebody going her bail, but her case would be on Monday. I, as president of the main [00:12:00] body of the Women's Political Council, got on the phone and I called all the officers of the three chapters.

I called as many of the men who had supported us as possible. I told them that Rosa Parks had been arrested and she would be tried. They said, "You have the plans, put them into operation." I called every person who was in every school and every place where we had planned to be at that, have somebody at that school or wherever it was at a certain time, that I would be there with materials for them to disseminate.

I didn't go to bed that night. I cut those stencils. I ran off 35,000 copies of the little foyer that you have, and I distributed them. I had classes from 8:00 to 10:00 at the college, and at ten o'clock, I had two senior students who had agreed to go with me. I took them in my car. The packages were already there. It would take about a half a minute to drive on a school campus. The kid would be there, in just a minute they would disappear.

Alan: On a similar topic, we did an exhibit called Voices from the Southern Civil Rights Movement, that was exclusively radio from the 1960s, so now 60 years old, that contemporary with the times. Some of these were documentaries that have been long forgotten, but just spring to life what the movement was about. A lot of them interview young people, and it's very inspiring to hear them talking about what they did. We've got a great exhibit on the Peabody Awards material. The Peabody Awards, it's still going on, but they began in the, either late '30s or early '40s. I think early '40s.

Every year, awards are given for best television and radio programs. [00:14:00] What we did was we got a grant with the University of Georgia, that holds the Peabody Awards archive. We received the grant to digitize their complete collection of public media that was submitted for consideration. These, they were submitted by stations, we assume that they were what stations considered their best, or more important material, every year. We've made all of those programs now available, and we've done an exhibit talking about the history of the Peabody Awards, and just having various ways to access them.

We've made all of the Watergate hearings available online. We've digitized that. I believe it's the only place on the web that they're available. We did a wonderful exhibit on the history of public television deciding to broadcast, and in fact, to re-broadcast at night. It was a big decision for public broadcasting. They decided that-- The hearings were done during the day, and commercial stations would take turns broadcasting them. What public broadcasting did was for people who were working during the day, could come home at night, and at eight o'clock, they would show the whole hearings.

At times, it would go to 2:00, 3:00 in the morning, but they devoted their broadcasts to these hearings. The people who anchored this were Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer, and two years later, they started the MacNeil/Lehrer Report, which became the PBS NewsHour. PBS public television showed that they could be an important player nationally, in public affairs broadcasting, because of the Watergate. We [00:16:00] have a wonderful exhibit that tells this backstory, and again, makes it accessible by name of person who is testifying, and by other categories as well. Karen, anything you want to mention?

Karen: Yes, my favorite exhibit is the one on Zoom, the children's program. It talks about the importance of children's program, and Zoom in particular, where it was for kids by kids. It shows a number of letters from the write-ins that kids were writing into the Zoom stuff, because it was encouraging kids to contribute ideas in letters. I think it's just a really fun, wonderful exhibit on the first series. I also want to just mention that there is a difference between the exhibits and the special collections.

Alan was talking about the exhibits in particular, which were curated by scholars, that contain material from a number of different collections, potentially different programs, but has a theme or a scholarly view of what all of these things mean, and tries to pull some kind of a thematic meaning out of it. We also have special collections, which sometimes group things by a station, by a topic, from a certain community or consortium.

For example, I was looking in the collection to see what we had on Rhode Island, and there is a BirdNote. We have a collection on BirdNote, and there is a BirdNote program on birds in Block Island, which someone from the Nature Conservancy talks about, which is cute.

Lauren: Here's that clip from the Archive, from BirdNote, Birds of Block Island.


Dominic Black: This is BirdNote, and I'm Dominic Black.

Automatic Answering machine: Thanks for calling the Nature Conservancy of Rhode Island. If you know the extension of the person you need to reach [crosstalk]-

Dominic: When I asked [00:18:00] Scott Comings about the birds of Block Island, he laughed.

Scott Comings: It's fun to talk about stuff you love [laughs] so this is right [crosstalk]-

Dominic: Block Island is 10 miles off the coast of Rhode Island. Scott spent a lot of time there when he was a young person, and he says it's a magical place.

Scott: Towards the end of May, it is still the end of the songbird migration, and the birds are in their alternate plumage. That's always really fun to see. Then going into June and July, that's prime nesting season, and we try to keep track of things like barn owl nests and northern harrier nests, and piping plovers, and other shorebirds.

Dominic: Scott's doing this work day in, day out as Associate State Director with the Rhode Island chapter of the Nature Conservancy. I ask him if there's a bird that still gets him really excited when he sees it.

Scott: Well, I mean, the one that's always great to see is Blackburnian warbler. I just love that bird, and to see it in the sun is really neat. I still take a lot of pleasure in seeing things like the northern harrier. Block Island is the last place that that species nests in the state. Pretty much any bird that I see, I really, really enjoy. My favorite probably changes every day.

Dominic: From BirdNote, I'm Dominic Black.


Karen: We have both special collections which are more, here is a bunch of things either from a station or from a certain collection or about a theme, and then the exhibits, which are much more curated and scholarly.

Lauren: Well, I'm glad to hear that Rhode Island is in that. Even if it's just one thing, [laughs] that's fine.

Alan: I did, by the way, just a few minutes before we started, I searched for Newport Folk [00:20:00] Festival, and Newport Jazz Festival, and we do have a number of programs that feature. Like the director of the Newport Folk Festival, I think in 2011, we've got that. We've actually got a lot of programs by a person who was on the board of the Newport Jazz Festival, and an MC. He was Father O'Connor. He was called the Jazz Priest. We have a collection of programs that he hosted, from Riverside Radio, which was WRVR in New York City, that he went down and hosted these wonderful jazz programs. We know that he also began-- He was at the beginning of the Newport Jazz Festival.

Karen: We'd love to get more material from Rhode Island stations, actually. It would be fabulous.

Lauren: Yes. Hopefully, this episode gets out there and those stations will hear it, but that's great that we are included in the Archive. Where can our listeners access these exhibits and the special collections?

Karen: The website is, and they're accessible there. It's only accessible within the United States. There is a geo-block for outside the United States due to rights issues. The entire collection, all 150,000 items are available, either on location at GBH, or on location at the Library of Congress research room. As Alan said, close to 100,000 of them are available streaming on the site.

Lauren: Wow. A little birdie told me that, is it this year, your 10th anniversary?

Karen: Well, depending on how you count birth.


Karen: 10th anniversary might straddle a couple of years, but we are talking about how to celebrate. We're really hoping to get over [00:22:00] that line of 100,000 items in the online reading room, for sure. Launching this big digitization project will also be part of our 10th anniversary. We're thinking about what kind of an event we might have, but we haven't got any solid plans at the moment.

Lauren: Sure. Well, it's very exciting that it's been 10 years, or give or take, depending on when you consider the beginning of the Archive. Yes, congratulations on that.

Karen: Thank you.

Lauren: Is there anything else that you wanted to talk about that we didn't touch on? That you want our listeners to know about?

Karen: I guess we really would love people to check out the collection, and utilize it in education or journalism or just personal interest, and let us know what you think. We are about to launch some primary resource sets for educators to use. We've got four up there right now. We'll have 20 by the end of the summer, for sure. Those are for use in classrooms, either higher ed or high school. We have some podcasts also. We have 10 podcasts. We're hoping to do a whole 'nother season of that, too. We're in the moments of trying to figure out what that might look like. If anybody sees us at any of the conferences where we're exhibiting, please come up and say hi. Can you think of anything else, Alan?

Alan: I would just add that our whole archive is keyword searchable. We do transcripts of the audio. So, it's keyword searchable, and I would just say, put in some keywords of just anything you're interested in. These programs are fascinating. A lot of people think, "Oh, it's old programs, they're dead, they're not worth listening [00:24:00] to anymore," but it really makes history come alive, to listen.

As you know, radio, you have this intimacy, listening to people talk to you on the radio. Same with television. It really makes what was going on at the time alive. To be there right with people 50 years ago, 60 years ago, 20 years ago, and go through what they were going through, and listen to them express themselves.

Karen: As Alan mentioned, we do have transcripts that go along with the items, that were created by a speech-to-text tool. Machines don't get all of the audio right all of the time, so we do have a crowdsourcing effort called Fixit, or Fixit Plus, and would love the public to help us correct those transcripts. It's actually a really good way to focus on listening to something really carefully, as opposed to just kind of hanging out and listening to a video or a TV or a radio show on your computer, you really have to focus on what they're saying. If people want to help us out, fixing those transcripts is a great way to do it.

Lauren: That would be great. Hopefully, some of our listeners will take you up on that. [laughs] Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today. I really enjoyed learning about the AAPB, and it sounds like really fascinating work. I hope our listeners will visit your website, and check out the collections, and learn something about the past.

Karen: Great. Thank you.

Alan: Thank you.

Lauren: Thank you for listening. For more information about the American Archive of Public Broadcasting, visit, where you can access their streaming content for free. You can also check out the AAPB podcast, Presenting the Past, wherever you find your podcasts, or on [00:26:00], or on YouTube. Rhody Radio is proud to be a resident partner of the Rhode Island Center for the Book, and brought to you by library staff and community members all around the Ocean State.

This episode was made possible in part by a grant from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, an independent affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Rhode Island Council for the Humanities seeds, supports, and strengthens public history, cultural heritage, civic education, and community engagement by and for all Rhode Islanders. You can find more from Rhody Radio on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. If you enjoyed today's episode, subscribe to Rhody Radio and give us a review on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or wherever you listen, to help us reach more Rhode Islanders.


[00:26:49] [END OF AUDIO]

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