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 home >> Civil Rights History Project >> Survey of Collections and Repositories >> Collections >> Collection Record

The Civil Rights History Project: Survey of Collections and Repositories

NBC radio collection

Repository: Library of Congress. Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division

Collection Description (CRHP): The collection includes many news broadcasts about events during the civil rights movement, such as the March on Washington, the integration of the University of Mississippi and Central High School in Little Rock. It also includes a panel discussion on civil rights in Jersey City, and National Press Club events with Coretta Scott King, Roy Wilkins, Ralph Abernathy and Vernon Jordan.

Collection Description (Extant): The Library's NBC Collection contains 150,000 sixteen-inch lacquer discs which date from the early days of the network to the 1980's. While the bulk of the NBC broadcasts at the Library were recorded following the network's establishment of its Electrical Transcription Service in 1935, the collections also contain a large number (nearly 200) of scarce earlier recordings, most of which were recorded by NBC's parent company, RCA. These early discs were recorded with cumbersome equipment that yielded shorter and noisier recordings than those that could be produced after the invention of the lacquer disc in 1934. Equipped with the new recording equipment, NBC started recording many of its own programs, sporadically at first and with increasing frequency as the decade proceeded. From 1935 to 1939, the number of annually recorded programs, retained in the NBC archive, jumps from 661 to 3007. The majority of these recordings are of programs originating from New York. NBC's Chicago and Hollywood bureaus maintained their own recording archives which were never incorporated within the network's primary, New York-based archive, now in the Library.

In general, the more important or prestigious the sustaining program, the greater the chance it would be preserved, as there are many recordings from the 1930s of opera, symphony, historic news broadcasts, and public affairs programs. The range of recorded commercial programs from this period is more puzzling and seemingly random. For some shows, such as Fred Allen's Town Hall Tonight, the inventory of recorded programs is nearly complete, while for others, no less popular, it is scant. Engineers at NBC appear to have recorded a far greater number of programs than were ultimately saved, but the company's precise selection criteria remain unknown. Nonetheless, NBC appears to have saved programs chiefly for legal purposes, for reference in the production of future shows, and, especially during the years of World War II, to preserve recordings of historic events.

Following Pearl Harbor, the number of recorded programs in the archive soars, with Hollywood and Chicago programs now commensurate with their actual numbers. Peaking in 1944, the inventory for that year lists nearly 9,000 programs—many, of course, news broadcasts. In addition to documenting the course of events, the wartime recordings provide vivid testimony of NBC's dedication to the war effort and compelling evidence of how Americans coped with the crisis. Naturally, humor was an important outlet, much of it at the expense of the enemy—the Japanese, far more commonly an object of ridicule than America's European foes.

Since receiving the NBC recordings in 1978, engineers in the Library's Recording Laboratory have been engaged in re-recording the fragile lacquer discs onto more durable polyester tape. So far, all discs through 1952 have been re-recorded. The remainder, which date to 1971, are still in the process of being preserved. In a parallel effort, Library catalogers, initially funded by a grant from the MacArthur Foundation, have created a comprehensive computerized inventory of the programs preserved on tape.

Access Copy Note: Most of the NBC Radio recordings in the collections of the Library of Congress have been cataloged in the Recorded Sound Section's SONIC catalog of broadcast and master recordings, and this is where researchers should begin searching for NBC material. There are, however, other sources for NBC recordings at the Library, many of which pre-date the donation of the NBC Radio Collection in 1978. Even among the NBC donation, broadcasts made after 1955 are being selectively preserved and hence have not been entered into SONIC.

SONIC is available at

Collection URL:

Date(s): 1935-1971

Extent: 150,000 sixteen-inch lacquer discs

Language: English

Rights (CRHP): Contact the repository which holds the collection for more information on rights.


Central High School (Little Rock, Ark.)
Civil rights movements--Press coverage
March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Washington, D.C., 1963
Radio journalism
University of Mississippi


Sound recordings


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   May 15, 2015
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