Reel to Reel

From the Archivist: Occasional posts related to University history

By Rebecca Toov

We couldn’t believe it – 11,586 reels of recorded audio are preserved at the University Archives. These reels contain recordings of University speeches, ceremonies, and conference proceedings given from the 1940s to the 1990s. The reels also contain the recorded broadcasts of WLB/KUOM, the predecessor of University radio station RadioK.

A grant from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund of the Minnesota Clean Water, Land and Legacy amendment has allowed University Archives to catalog and capture unique metadata for every reel. Another Legacy grant, recently awarded, will facilitate the digitization of more than 2,000 reels.

There is a strong representation of audio content related to the history of the University, such as convocations, commencements, and inaugurations of University presidents. There are also many recordings specific to the University Libraries.

"Interview of Irvin Kerlan discussing the Kerlan collection," by Audrey June Booth, December 12, 1960.
“Interview of Irvin Kerlan discussing the Kerlan collection,” by Audrey June Booth, December 12, 1960.

 

Many recordings illuminate the history of Minnesota as well as the world beyond state borders. Nearly every major political figure in the state appeared on Public Affairs, a long-running KUOM program, including governors (Perpich, Quie, Andersen), senators (McCarthy, Humphrey, Durenberger), and even a vice president named Mondale. Programming addressed the political, social, economic, and environmental issues impacting Minnesotans, as discussed by lawmakers and other state officials.

Tape insert with broadcast details. Arthur Naftalin interviews the future governor Rudy Perpich (he took office on December 29, 1976), December 21, 1976.
Tape insert with broadcast details. Arthur Naftalin interviews the future governor Rudy Perpich (he took office on December 29, 1976), December 21, 1976.

 

"The Future of Social Programs" with Walter Mondale, March 12, 1982.
“The Future of Social Programs” with Walter Mondale, March 12, 1982.

 

National and international leaders who spoke at the University and throughout the Twin Cities in various capacities were recorded and broadcasted for the KUOM listening audience.

Dump the war rally, Metropolitan Sports Center. Peter Yarrow, John Kerry, Eugene McCarthy, May 23, 1971.
Dump the war rally, Metropolitan Sports Center. Peter Yarrow, John Kerry, Eugene McCarthy, May 23, 1971.

 

The arts and cultural heritage of Minnesota was shared through regular program series such as “Artist and Archives,” “Guthrie Greenroom,” and broadcasts of the Minneapolis Symphony (Minnesota Orchestra) previews and performances. The voices of many Minnesota literary figures and members of the theatrical profession are also captured on the reels.

Tray of audio reels for the "Guthrie Greenroom" program, interviews with Guthrie Theater actors, directors, and set designers, 1973.
Tray of audio reels for the “Guthrie Greenroom” program, interviews with Guthrie Theater actors, directors, and set designers, 1973.

 

The station also broadcasted programs that addressed issues of diversity and equality.

"Equal Voice: Women, Power, and the Women's Movement" with Gloria Steinem," circa 1970s.
“Equal Voice: Women, Power, and the Women’s Movement” with Gloria Steinem,” circa 1970s.

 

"Homosexual Marriage," with Jack Baker, 1971.
“Homosexual Marriage,” with Jack Baker, 1971.

 

"Who is the Undocumented," with Ralph Peralez, January 21, 1978.
“Who is the Undocumented,” with Ralph Peralez, January 21, 1978.

 

Public Affairs, "Minneapolis Justice: A Black Perspective," with Gleason Glover of the Minneapolis Urban League, July 30, 1980.
Public Affairs, “Minneapolis Justice: A Black Perspective,” with Gleason Glover of the Minneapolis Urban League, July 30, 1980.

 

WLB/KUOM broadcasts were for all ages. From 1938 until 1979, the station produced The Minnesota School of the Air, a series of programs for listening audiences in public and private schools. The station collaborated with local school districts and the State Department of Education to produce original radio programs that aided the instruction of schoolchildren.

Following Conservation Trails, "Along the Gunflint Trail," November 3, 1961. Written by Nat Johnson, educational advisor for the Minnesota Department of Conservation, this program series promoted the preservation of land and wildlife.
Following Conservation Trails, “Along the Gunflint Trail,” November 3, 1961.
Written by Nat Johnson, educational advisor for the Minnesota Department of Conservation, this program series promoted the preservation of land and wildlife.

 

Minnesota Honor Roll, "The Mayos," March 3, 1978. This series profiled notable Minnesotans through biographies and discussion.
Minnesota Honor Roll, “The Mayos,” March 3, 1978. This series profiled notable Minnesotans through biographies and discussion.

 

For over 20 years, these 11,586 audio reels (plus an additional 193 cassette tapes) sat silently in storage collecting — a lot of — dust. These recordings were inaccessible due to erroneous box/tray lists and lack of playback equipment. Processing and digital conversion will allow University Archives to provide the ultimate preservation measure for these materials.

In the 1940s, the station printed program bulletins with the tag line, “The Voice of the University of Minnesota.” Soon that voice will again be heard.

Stay tuned!

—Rebecca Toov is a project archivist for the University of Minnesota Archives. To learn more about the University of Minnesota Archives, please visit www.lib.umn.edu/uarchives

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