The project, called Preserving Rural and Women’s Programming on Wisconsin Public Radio, would strive to save recordings of broadcasts that aired on WHA, a station launched by the university in 1917. The precursor to Wisconsin Public Radio was an early example of public service broadcasting: It featured weather forecasts, farming reports, and a “school of the air,” in which children would receive lessons in drawing or writing.
The problem, according to digital and media archivist Cat Phan, is that people can’t listen to the recordings now without putting them at risk. That’s because they’re currently stored on 16 inch-wide aluminum disks covered in a black lacquer, called “transcription disks.” The disks were popular in the golden age of radio for recording broadcasts, but they’re also considered among the most fragile forms of audio preservation.
The UW-Madison Archives launched the WHA project in May, and has already received a $19,664 grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources in Washington, D.C. The goal, said Phan, is to figure out a process for digitizing the old broadcasts by focusing on about 250 disks from the collection.
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