5. Broadcasting (Tony Trebble with Mark Jones)

1. Introduction

The purpose of this chapter is to suggest how a sound archive may be organised within a broadcasting organisation. It is presumed that the recordings will have been made by the organisation itself, and that a collection of commercial recordings will be organised separately. However, it is recognised that the two collections may be managed as one unit and this essay should be read in conjunction with that on commercial recordings elsewhere in this volume.

Archives of sound recordings in broadcasting organisations were not developed until the middle nineteen-thirties, when recording techniques began to be used in radio production. From the beginnings of radio the essence of the new medium was the simultaneous transmission and reception of the broadcast. 'Live' broadcasting provided the main appeal to both the general public and the broadcasters themselves, distinct from the experience of listening to gramophone recordings. In the British Broadcasting Corporation the first recordings were made in the early thirties on 60 rpm discs. Such recordings were made for short-term retrospective use on the BBC's Empire Service, often talks or speeches made by political figures. While initially these recordings were seen as inferior forms of transmission, useful for training staff but lacking in immediacy, an understanding of their potential began to grow. Historical value and as a potential source for new programmes were, and remain, the mainsprings for the systematic formation of sound recording collections in broadcasting.

2. Nature of broadcasting organisations

Most national broadcasting organisations now provide both radio and television services, but the nature and histories of the two media have usually ensured that radio and television production are organised separately. It is recommended that the sound archive is placed within the radio programme-making division. The archivist should have the closest contact with the production staff who both provide and reuse the material which is preserved. Such contact alerts the archivist to current and future programme plans and their potential significance to the archive. He may suggest ways in which archive material may be useful in the formulation of programme plans. Close contact between archive and programme-making areas should lead to interchange of ideas and information, and help to develop a sense of mutual trust and common interest. To this end it is essential that the archivist knows as many of the individual producers as possible. In this way support and advocacy may be secured, and the archive valued as an essential resource.

The sound archivist should maintain close liaison with his equivalent in television. Many practices and problems will be common to both collections; namely selection policy, the extent of catalogue documentation, issue and retrieval systems, and aspects of storage policy. In smaller organisations one archivist may be responsible for both radio and television material. The archivist would therefore need to ensure that the distinct archival needs of both media are catered for, according to the way in which the two programme-making areas are organised.

Most broadcasting organisations are concerned primarily with making new programmes, and there is always difficulty in securing adequate funds for establishing and developing archives of programme material. However it is now accepted that such collections can provide invaluable source material for new programmes of all kinds, capable of reuse in many different contexts. Archive collections can enhance the quality of programmes to such an extent that the organisation will suffer if these opportunities and responsibilities are not taken up.

A single radio organisation may have many and widely separated stations making and transmitting programmes. In this situation a decision must be made as to whether each station should have its own sound archive, or whether the local operations should depend on a central service. Ideally good lines of communication should ensure that the central archive can provide an equally effective service to both regional stations and the central area. Where regional characteristics and language are sufficiently distinct, it is essential that programme-makers within these regional centres should be involved in decisions on what material is required for permanent retention specifically for that region

3. Purpose of the radio sound archive

The purpose of a sound archive serving radio broadcasting is to build up and maintain the collection as a permanent source of material for use in programmes. It should also seek to preserve a collection of complete programmes representing the entire output of the service. All types of material should be taken into account. Although the first concern should be transmitted material, it is important that untransmitted material should also be considered; material that has been recorded for programme purposes but not used may be potentially valuable for the archive. Similarly, material may be recorded by sources outside the broadcasting organisation and offered directly to the archive.

The categories of material to be considered are as follows:

events (political, economic, social, sporting etc.);

voices and reminiscences of prominent contemporaries in all fields;

social history and folklore (home conditions, work, leisure, education, customs, traditions etc.);

miscellaneous material for documentary, reminiscent and general interest programmes;

linguistic material (language, dialect and accent);

drama and entertainment programmes;

music (works unlikely to be issued on commercial records, authentic folk and national music, outstanding performances and occasions;

natural history (wildlife) recordings, effects and authentic sounds.

These broad categories should provide the production areas with essential source material for a wide range of programmes as well as giving scope for repeat programming. Additionally it should provide a valuable research resource for historical and retrospective programming. Finally, as the archive grows, it should reflect the history and development of broadcasting techniques and of the broadcasting organisation itself.

4. Selection of material

Any process of selection will reduce the historic value of the organisation's material and its subsequent potential for reuse. However it is inevitable in most broadcasting organisations that economics enforce some selection of the material available. A broadcasting organisation will tend to transmit so much material daily that selection will be necessary both in choosing what to record or what to keep once recorded. Seeking to record and keep everything can lead to storage problems and make retrieval and use of the material very difficult. If material cannot be found and used by the programme-maker in time to meet broadcasting deadlines, the very existence of an archive may well be called into question. A clear selection policy must be established to prevent these problems since, once set in motion, they are difficult to reverse.

It is most important that those authorised to select, and the criteria used, are established with extreme care to reduce the possibilities of errors of judgement. The value of preserving broadcast material can be obscured by the operational pressures involved in programme production and transmission, especially in the areas of news and current affairs output. Operational pressures are particularly strong during the first years of a broadcasting organisation, when only a small proportion of programme material tends to survive.

The archivist must strive to avoid this pattern, and to establish satisfactory selection and preservation methods as an integral part of the service from its inception. To allow policy to be formulated, developed and systematically applied, it is necessary to establish a set of selection criteria. The following are suggested:

Is the recording likely to be of use in future broadcasts as primary source material? Does it illustrate a particular person, event, social attitude or change, in speech or music? (Selection must strive to consider every possible production context in terms of reuse.)

Does the recording possess significance in sound, over and above the information and/or style of the script?

Does the archive possess similar material and, if so, does the new recording increase the value of the existing collection by providing additional examples, improved performances, or better technical quality?

Is the recording technically suitable for preservation? (Here a balance has to be made between the intrinsic value of the content and the technical quality of the recording.)

Are there copyright, contractual or other restrictions on the use of the recording? If so, is the material of sufficient importance to merit preservation despite the difficulties limiting or preventing use? (It should be remembered these may be temporary and removable at a later date.)

Should the recording be selected as a whole or in part? (An effective policy is to keep in their entirety talks, plays and features, which have been conceived as artistic wholes, rather than to select extracts from them. In the case of public events and sporting commentaries selected extracts are usually sufficient. This may occasionally apply to talks or speeches where a passage is especially interesting or valuable, although the item as a whole is not regarded as outstanding.)

The actual proportion of material to be selected and preserved is difficult to recommend because of the diversity of broadcasting organisations, and of the funds available. A large repeat element and heavy dependence on commercial gramophone recordings will force down the percentage of output which is permanently retained. However, in general terms, something in the nature of 10% is likely to be a useful guide in formulating selection policy.

The timescale in which selection is made is significant. Some material, because of its rarity or known quality, can be identified as of long term value even in advance of transmission. In other cases, where existing material in the library is obviously better, items can be discarded soon after transmission. A large proportion of programme output inevitably falls between these two extremes. To avoid misplaced effort it is necessary to establish an evaluation point which allows sufficient time for an informed and objective decision to be made. However decisions must be made early enough to ensure an effective turnover and reuse of tape.

5. Staffing

The archivist should be paid on the same scale as the senior production staff he serves. The number of staff he employs will depend on his ability to persuade the organisation that he needs them, and the level of their remuneration will also be his responsibility. The following are the functions of staff required in an archive of sound recordings serving broadcasting:

management (archivist and secretary);



enquiries and issue of material;

returns and chasing overdue items;

technical services (e.g. copying or repairing material).

Some of these functions may be combined, depending on the size of the library. The selection and cataloguing functions can be combined into one operation. Similarly enquiries can be linked with returns thereby centralising the service element to the archive's users. Above all the archivist must be aware that the appointment of staff is the most important matter he decides.

6. Documentation

Each recording must be given an accession number for the purpose of identification, and the material should be stored in this order. Basic cataloguing and indexing data will include the following:

title of the programme;

names of those taking part in the programme;

date the programme was transmitted;

subjects of the programme;

category of the programme.

Cataloguing and indexing are expensive activities, although they are essential for the exploitation of the sound archive. The systems adopted should be as simple as is compatible with effectiveness. Complex schemes should be avoided, for it is important that the production staff themselves should be able to research their own needs.

In the earliest days of a sound archive it is recommended that single cards are used for each entry; never lists, which are difficult and cumbersome to keep up to date. Later the entries should be held on computer and regular up-datings and print-outs provided.

Copies of useful documentation produced by the production departments about their programmes should be received by the sound archive as essential aids to the cataloguing of the material. Such documentation might include programme digests, scripts and publicity material which may be usefully retained within the sound archive as an aid to future users.

7. Preservation

The library must be equipped with adequate and frequently maintained machinery, including copying facilities. Every recording selected for preservation should be copied for use, and the original then carefully protected. Production staff should not be permitted to cut up archive material for insertion in new programmes; they should copy it.

Expert advice on storage conditions should be available from within the organisation itself, because the archivist's problems will have been encountered already by his technical colleagues. Whatever is arranged (disposition of the racking, temperature, relative humidity) must suit the staff as well as the material, since the former is closely engaged with the latter. It is also suggested that in practice the main factor in the preservation of material is less the conditions in which it is stored and more the way in which it is handled.

8. Relations with broadcasting and other organisations

Most broadcasting organisations have international relations departments which facilitate the supply or exchange of material. The archivist should build up close contacts with his colleagues in this area. It will also be useful to keep in touch with the international broadcasting organisations, of which the European Broadcasting Union will be particularly helpful in supplying information about libraries in broadcasting institutions throughout the world.

It is inevitable that any broadcasting archive will attract the interest and attention of both other sound archivists in the non-broadcasting field and research students who may seek access to the collection. These contacts should also be maintained as links with specialist non-broadcasting sound archives can involve useful interchange of both ideas and material. Where possible, access should be granted to research students. The archive of any broadcasting organisation reflects a part of any society's history and should therefore be available for study.