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A Treasure Trove of Audio History Can Be Found Online

My early audio and engineering education wasn’t just fashioned from textbooks and classroom lectures. There were seminars from Synergetic Audio Concepts and sessions at AES conventions, which I started attending while still in college. There were fellow students I worked with in the sound and lighting department, as well as equipment dealers and manufacturers.

And then there were the trades. As early as college days, I subscribed to Broadcasting, Broadcast Engineering, Broadcast Management/Engineering and Audio magazine. After college and as my career progressed, I added many more trades to the list, so much so that one postal worker considered it a personal achievement if he could fit everything into my mailbox.

There was db Magazine (that’s how they spelled it), Recording Engineer/Producer, Studio Sound, Mix, Videography, Pro Sound News, Modern Recording, titles relating to sound contracting, engineering and design, and a host of others including Radio World and (of course) TV Technology.

Among the audio articles, these publications covered some of my favorite topics such as control room design, acoustics, sound system design, loudspeakers and microphones, recording techniques, tests and measurements, equipment reviews and so much more.

I still have boxes of these old gems taking up precious storage space, but I must admit I haven’t looked through them in years. Yet they still hold valuable information, so it’s hard at the moment to send them off to the recycle bin.

Well, that dilemma may be over. Fortunately many of these publications are now available online, and maybe more will find their way there in the future.

But not to worry. There’s enough there to keep one engaged for many hours—actually, many hundreds of hours. In addition to old issues of db, RE/P, BE, BM/E, Studio Sound, Modern Recording and Broadcasting that first caught my attention, this site contains a treasure trove of around 250 magazines, books and other publications ranging in time from the beginning of the 20th century to the present.

I’ve been having fun delving into The Wireless Age, Bell Laboratories Record, The Broadcast Engineer’s Journal, RCA Review, Radio Engineer’s Journal, ITT Electrical Communication, and early Audio magazines (they’re available up to 1964), for articles about those favorite audio subjects, and getting great history lessons in the bargain.

And there is a lot of history here. Even these older magazines looked back. One hundred years ago, the January 1915 issue of The Wireless Age reprinted articles from 18 years prior, in the early days of the Marconi wireless. RCA Review, in January 1937, ran an article on the “Three Decades of Radio” by David Sarnoff, then president of the Radio Corp. of America.

While much of the material is technically oriented, there are also early radio mass market publications about the early days of radio programs and the stars. Also included is material about ratings and research, station logs and lists, the history of broadcasting, yearbooks and directories.

This amazing resource is the brainchild of LA-based radio industry veteran David Gleason. Gleason said he’d often receive inquiries about some matter of radio history. “I have a good memory for it,” he said. “I can play the call letter game, and win.”

 Visitors to the website will find around 250 magazines, books and other publications ranging in time from the beginning of the 20th century to the present.

He also amassed a personal collection of old reference books and broadcasting trade magazines. “At one point I decided it would be useful to have the resources accessible to people online, and see if nobody objects,” he said.

This was around the year 2000. At first Gleason put up scanned copies on his personal website, Web traffic grew, but it was directed more to the broadcast-related publications than to Gleason’s resume. The sites were split in 2005 and was born.

And then more publications rolled in. Once people discovered the site, Gleason started to receive donated magazines and related items found at transmitter sites, garages, basements, studios about to be moved, closed military bases and library deaccessions. Gleason augmented the collection himself, finding many on eBay.

Eventually, “it grew too big for a normal website, so we had to move it to a dedicated server on a server farm,” Gleason said.

Gleason scans the publications himself, converting them to PDF files. Fortunately, most can be done with a high-speed scanner that reads both sides of a page, but if not, Gleason has other scanners at his disposal.

Gleason uses a sophisticated optical character recognition (OCR) software package like that used by insurance companies, so all of the PDF documents can be searched.

Searches can be global across most of the publications at one time, a selected subgroup, or an individual title. A few of the publications, like the consumer electronics magazines such as Popular Electronics, or the audio collection (db, RE/P, Audio, High Fidelity), are not included in the global search function, but they can be searched by title.

The result of a search is a single page with the search terms highlighted. That way you can easily read or print out just that page. If you need the entire article, you’ll need to click on the publication title, then the particular issue of interest (if applicable). That brings up the entire magazine or book.

“Everything is copy protected,” Gleason said. “You can view [things] or download [them], but you can’t edit them or break them apart.” The PDFs on the site allow for a lower resolution printout that’s very readable, but probably not good enough for republishing.

Where he could, Gleason has received consent for abandoned publications or has reached agreements with those publications still active, although perhaps under a new name or owner. If you don’t see a favorite on the site, it could be that he hasn’t been granted permission.

Gleason sees the site as more a library than a bookstore. Referring to the material on the site, Gleason said, “They will disappear as far as accessibility is concerned. There may be multiple copies across the country, but they are not accessible.”

Since these are publications in a specialized field, Gleason has seen college and public libraries throw them away. Where they still exist on library shelves, they may not be available to the general public or in a location convenient for researchers. And as publications have come and gone, they are not often archived anywhere else.

The site offers primarily U.S. publications, with some others from the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Latin America. But especially for technology issues, Gleason said the site has visitors from around the world. “The development of technology is not nation-specific,” he said.

The site is free for users. Gleason said that it’s his way of giving back to an industry that he’s been a part of for more than five good decades.

Gleason has set up an endowment fund so that the site will be maintained indefinitely. The servers are backed up in different geographical locations, and there are several industry people who have backup copies and help check the scans for errors.

Gleason would like to reach out to the general broadcasting and audio community for missing issues in the collection and additional archival material, and to magazine publishers for permission to add back issues to the site.

I’ve certainly enjoyed getting lost in time at American Radio History. It’s time well-spent.

Mary C. Gruszka is a systems design engineer, project manager, consultant and writer based in the New York metro area. She can be reached via TV Technology.