Friday, March 30, 2018

Researching Old-Time Radio

Nothing bothers me more than reading a book or magazine article that, one or two paragraphs in, I notice half a dozen errors. This usually turns me off reading the rest of the scholarly attempt, defeating the author's purpose. With respect to many of those who research old-time radio, or think they know how to research old-time radio, the following is a free 14-page PDF providing "A Primer For Researching Old-Time Radio."

A little more than seven years ago I wrote a five-part article focusing on where to find archival materials, tools of the trade, resources to use, and pitfalls to avoid. As computer and communications technology evolved, so have the methods of research, and a revision to those articles are in order. What I did was condense the information into one length article and update some of the bullet points.

Among the more important was clarification of sponsor vs. product. People look at me funny when I tell them Jell-O was never a sponsor of The Jack Benny Program. General Foods was the sponsor. Jell-O was the product. A product, an article or substance manufactured or refined for resale, cannot physically sponsor a program. Kudos to the advertising agencies that wanted radio listeners to associate the product with the program, but historian have to avoid that “trap.”

Today, a weekly check on eBay can provide -- on occasion -- obscure historical items such as contracts, inter-office memos and product tie-ins that would otherwise go unnoticed.

Of recent, a new tool for tracking down someone is Facebook. While not everyone is on Facebook, I found the daughter of a radio scribe in less than 60 seconds. We communicated and two months later I was in her barn looking over her father’s papers and photographs that gathered dust in a filing cabinet. 

Your local library probably offers ProQuest for free. This service grants you access to newspaper archives across the country. Many libraries will allow you access to ProQuest from your home computer with a library card and password/pin number. 

The iPhone/smart phone has become a researcher's best friend. Rather than pay or copy fees at the library (which can add up to hefty dollars), many libraries will allow researchers the use of the camera on their phone provided the sound and flash is turned off.

In short, this free PDF provides anyone researching old-time radio with an added benefit: what to ask a librarian before traveling out of state to an archive, clarifies the difference between a collector title and a script title, why half of the death dates listed on websites for celebrities are incorrect, and why you never want to consider anything found in a newspaper and magazine article as the gospel. 

Today, there are less than one dozen historians of old-time radio who research and publish their findings. For three of them, researching old-time radio is a full-time job. These numbers are expected to dwindle over the coming years. It is expected that, on occasion, there will be revived interest and possibly additional discoveries to be published. It is my hope that this essay will provide a primer for those newcomers. 

To view the free PDF file, click here:

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