Kim Pemberton (Vancouver Sun)
Vancouver — A huge stash of archived radio clips that was in danger of disappearing forever has found a new audience online.
The University of B.C.’s radio station, which began as a student club in 1938 and continues to flourish today as CiTR 101.9 FM, has been amassing audio clips since the 1940s.
Students and community members who used the station to hone their skills could see multiple boxes containing dusty tapes looming above them as they created new broadcasts. And as time passed, many of the reel-to-reel recordings, which spanned five decades, were in danger of deteriorating completely.
“We had moved some boxes of these old tapes to UBC’s archive but it seemed sad to have it all sitting there and no one could listen to it,” said CiTR’s programming director Sarah Cordingley, whose station no longer had the machines to play the old reel-to-reel recordings.
Now, after a three-year effort, more than 500 of these old recordings — including music programs, documentaries, public service announcements and live music broadcasts — have been digitized and made available to the public free of charge via UBC’s Library Open Collections website.
Cordingley said the station had already begun digitizing its music library of more than 35,000 CDs to make it easier for DJs to manage, so they decided the same process needed to be done with the old reel-to-reel tapes.
Fundraising began at the station in 2010, and in 2013 UBC’s Library Digitization Centre and the UBC University Archives partnered with CiTR to begin the process of recording and uploading the reel-to-reel collection.
The first order of business was getting machines that could actually play the tapes. Reel-to-reel is a type of magnetic tape recording that precedes the cassette. Large machines would spin the spools of tape that differ in speed and width.
Back in the day, reel-to-reel edits were made manually by cutting and splicing together pieces of tape. Today, everything is done on a computer.
Cordingley said listening to some of the recordings gives a voice to the past. Listeners can get a sense of what campus was like in the early days by listening to everything from “adorable old ads” to obscure Vancouver bands, she said.
One of the highlights for Cordingley was hearing a clip of her former professor interviewing legendary rock musician Lou Reed in 1977. The 14-minute recording, created by Bruce Baugh, was titled “special part #1” — but unfortunately the second part couldn’t be found.
Another loss was not having the full recording of Vancouver punk-rock band the Modernettes‘ 1982 concert at the ballroom of UBC’s student union building. On the surviving footage, the Modernettes — which featured former Vancouver Sun reporter John Armstrong, a.k.a. Buck Cherry — play a cover of the Monkees’ You Just May Be The One, before they can be heard flogging Modernettes T-shirts for $7 each and warning students that the bar was closing.
Other highlights from the collection include some of the first Women’s Studies lectures at UBC and news segments about Expo ’86.
The audio collection can be found at https://open.library.ubc.ca/collections/citraudio