Radio history, historic radio

Internet connections can really boost history with sound and film presentations. History is really still in infancy stages, but some sites flash through with brilliant views of what can be done.

Old Time Radio posts a wealth of sound clips from throughout radio history, coupled with essays detailing much of the history that isn’t in the soundclips. The site seems to have almost all the episodes from Captain Midnight, for example. You can also hear Terry and the Pirates, or Fred Allen or Jack Benny.

The real gems, to me, are the newscasts and the stories of the newscasters. The 1937 broadcast of the Hindenberg Disaster is available, but so are some of the later and more important, and more rare, broadcasts of World War II: the Austrian Crisis, Neville Chamberlain with Britain’s declaration of war, news bulletins of the Pearl Harbor attack, on-the-scene accounts of the D-Day invasion of Normandy (with more accounts here), the battle for Iwo Jima now famous from two Clint Eastwood films, and V-J Day (“Victory-Japan”).

Later clips make this a standout site, and tantalize us with possibilities.  Ernest Hemingway’s suicide report, the 6-Day War between Israel and Egypt and Syria in 1967, and a report on the funeral of Robert F. Kennedy in 1968 flesh out events that the high school history texts tend to stroll quickly over, and offer possibilities of classroom enrichment beyond the texts.

Surely more radio broadcasts exist that could be used in history classrooms.  Radio and broadcast history sites like The Broadcast Archive have the history of broadcast, but few actual broadcasts.   Other sites carry a few important broadcasts, but like this one, come weighted with polemics (the politics and religion on this site make it questionable for school use, though students may not think to look at the home site from the broadcast links — where did this guy get these broadcasts, and does he have the rights correctly listed?).

Some research suggests that students learn history partially through repetition, as with any other topic.  The old “repeat it four times” rule gets boring in class, but can be kept alive by repetition in other media.  Teachers who use the actual broadcasts of news of what are now historic events can make history speak to students.  Can.

More radio broadcast history:

BBC News historic broadcast archives  (This site has broadcasts through current times, including, for example, broadcasts of Nelson Mandela’s rise to the presidency of South Africa, a much-ignored era in too many classrooms.)

Earthstation 1 CDs and DVDs for purchase

Timeline of radio, from the California Historical Radio Society

Radio broadcasts 1939-1943 from the University of San Diego’s history server

Ken Burns’ “Empire of the Air” companion site

First commercial broadcast in the U.S., KDKA-AM, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with results of the Cox-Harding presidential election, November 2, 1920

One Response to Radio history, historic radio

  1. […] moments in history. Earlier this week, the history education blog Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub linked to several fine archives of historic news broadcasts that are worth […]


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