Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Early Radio Space Archive

This just in from Steve Provizer of the Citizens' Media Corps who found a nice listing/discussion of early radio broadcasts on wax. It is amazing that people were recording radio broadcasts (of Morse code no less) as early as 1913-1915. Some of the recordings are at the Library of Congress. I don't know if there are audio examples on line, but it would be nice to hear them.

Somehow, the idea of sitting and recording radio transmissions seems very "hip hop" to me. Recording them directly onto an acetate seems INCREDIBLY hip hop (whatever that means).

Perhaps this is a form of retrospective sensemaking. Because sampling and scratching with radio and television broadcasts has been a staple of hip hop DJ/production techniques since early on, it goes without saying that the people who recorded them were representing a nacent hip hop aesthetic. Joe Schloss makes a similar point in his amazing book Making Beats about how crate diggers define breaks functionally and even imagine that these pre-existing "breaks" lie buried in layers of musical sediment, just waiting to be unearthed. I certainly do. Thus the desire to archive. Somewhere, in all these hours of radio transmission might lie the "perfect break". (For my take on the evolution of breaks, check out Love 1.3)

If this notion tickles your fancy, have no fear. All the radio broadcasts that have ever been transmitted are archived for all eternity...in space. (While I just realized this myself, my pal Rob Chalfen has log recognized the archival potential of space/time as source for "lost" jazz recordings.) The only hitch is that you need to be able to travel faster than the speed of light and have a super strong directional antenna. In that case, you could get out past the leading edge of the expanding bubble of radio waves representing the date of the first broadcast on planet Earth. Fire up the old sampler (if you can find an AC plug out there) and stay tuned for a real time retransmission of the whole history of broadcasting. How will the RIAA control that one?

The other nice thing about Steve's e-mail is that it reminded me of my personal history of recording the radio. Specifically, I remember spending hours upon hours making pause tape mixes of radio shows as early as grade school. The trick to these mixes was to try to anticipate when the MC was coming back on the air by reading the length of the pause between songs. When you accidentally recorded some talking or a song you didn't like, the goal was to rewind to a good punch in spot and put the machine back in "record/pause" in time to start recording again at the next punch in spot. I remember sitting there, stairing at the radio, waiting for songs I loved. I think these little "radio remixes" were my modest articulation of the universal artistic/romantic desire to remake the world in your own image. To be the DJ.

Do kids still do this? (How do you even record the radio if all you have is an IPod and a laptop?) Has the "mixtape" and podcasting taken over this function? If so, what does it mean that the FBI is busting folks who are distributing mixtapes and that podcasting is probably illegal too? Should I turn in my 1979 (?) tape of Charles Laquidara's madcap "Duane Ingalls Glasscock Instant Radio Spectacular" radio show on WBCN? How about Troy Smith's amazing collection of hip hop tapes? Can we all listen to them?

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