Shortly after the Smithsonian’s Pan-Institutional Audiovisual Survey wrapped up in 2017, I was given the opportunity to submit a grant proposal for an audio digitization project. I looked through our inventory that was generated by the survey to find collections that contained older, less common formats that we could not preserve in-house. My search led me to Accession 05-142, Smithsonian Institution Sound Recordings, circa 1915-1941. I was initially drawn to the wax cylinders because it is one of the earliest and most fragile formats for sound recordings, but when it became apparent that preservation of these items would not fit within the budget limitations of the grant, I turned my attention to the 16” lacquer transcription discs, and more specifically, to the ones containing episodes of the Smithsonian’s first radio program, The World Is Yours.
The World Is Yours was a weekly thirty-minute radio show that aired from June 7, 1936 to May 10, 1942. It was funded by the Works Progress Administration and presented as part of the Educational Radio Project, and is considered one of the most successful educational radio programs of the 1930s. After doing some research, I discovered that the Archives has recordings for about 138 of the 303 shows that were aired and scripts for an additional fifty-nine shows for which we do not have recordings. Also, there are over 9,000 pages of educational supplements, correspondence, and other related print material related to The World Is Yours within the Archives’ collections.
With intriguing titles like “Heroes and Heroines of Science” and “Romance of the Camera,” I was immediately fascinated with the entire series, and became determined to have these materials digitized. Sadly, I was not successful with the first grant application (or the second one), but finally, in October 2019, we received generous funding support from the National Collections Program to have the audio materials preserved. In November 2019, the Archives sent 16” lacquer transcription discs and ¼” open reel audio tapes out to a vendor to be digitized. Additionally, one the Archives’ digitization volunteers spent several months scanning the correspondence and educational supplements, and our archives aide prepared the scripts for imaging by removing all the staples.
The ultimate goal is to be able to share these materials on our website so that others can fall in love with this show the way that I have. Stayed tuned to the blog for more updates and sneak peeks as this project continues!
- “Stablizing Lacquer Transcription Discs,” by Alison Reppert Gerber, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Smithsonian Institution Sound Recordings, circa 1915-1941, Accession 05-142, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Smithsonian Institution, Editorial and Publications Division, Records, 1847-1966, Record Unit 83, Smithsonian Institution Archives