Internet Archive and OTR
After receiving a very positive response to an article here at First Arkansas News about Lum and Abner, it is apparent there are still a good number of old time radio (OTR) fans out there and more than a few of them have taken to the Internet to talk about — and study up on — those broadcasts that dominated popular entertainment before the advent of television.
Mike Davis, a Springdale resident and administrator with the Old Time Radio section of the Internet Archive, said he hopes a lot of those fans make their way over to his favorite corner of the Web. Why? He said they’ll find somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 OTR programs available in MP3 format available to listen to on the site or download.
“The problem is, not a lot of people know about it,” Davis said of the OTR section, adding that he has an interest in seeing that people learn of the resource. “Actually, I kind of started it.”
Back in 2000 and 2001, Davis, other members of the Lum and Abner Yahoo! group and other fans of the program had a large collection of episodes in MP3 format. The collection spanned 12 compact discs and fans would share them by mailing them here and there and generally doing what they could to make them available.
A major problem, Davis said, was that there were very few places on the Internet where people could permanently store such collections and make them available to the public. The Internet Archive, however, was built for archiving such material.
Eventually, Davis said Internet Archive representatives decided to permit the Lum and Abner collection.
“Lum and Abner was the first collection there,” he said, adding that other classic radio programs were soon made available through the Internet Archive. “It just grew from there.”
Davis said a fan of The Great Gildersleeve program uploaded his collection next, X Minus 1 came along soon after that and a host of shows soon followed. And we’re not talking about small collections, either — he said there are about 1,600 Lum and Abner episodes available, around 500 episodes of The Great Gildersleeve and entire collections of some series.
Today, Davis said the Internet Archive is the preferred destination of OTR fans around the world who want to download programs or listen to them through a built in player on the site. For those who want to share programs to people visiting their sites, the can grab the HTML code for the player from the Internet Archive and embed it on their sites.
Davis was quick to point out that downloading MP3s from the Internet Archive is vastly different from downloading illegal music through the Internet. The material stored at the Internet Archive is no longer under copyright, whereas the controversial files available for download through other sites is copyrighted.
He said the Internet Archive is home to everything from old television programs to about 2,000 Grateful Dead concerts and more than a few unsigned bands and performers. That material, Davis said, is either public domain or protected under a Creative Commons license — which does allow individuals to use copyrighted material with specific limitations — as per site requirements.
In the case of the OTR programs on the site, Davis said the original owners of the shows chose not to renew the copyrights on them. By the time the option to renew those copyrights came around, television had changed the entertainment industry and most people who owned the rights to OTR programs decided there was no profit in keeping those shows out of the public domain.
Of course, there are exceptions to that rule. At one point in time, episodes of The Shadow were available for download at the Internet archive. As soon as it was discovered those shows were still copyrighted, however, they were removed, Davis said.
He pointed out that the OTR section exists for the convenience of fans wanting to listen to episodes of their favorite programs and researchers. Most serious fans don’t like MP3s, Davis said, explaining they want either the original, analog media used to record the programs or high-quality Waveform Audio File Format (WAV) files — digital recordings, often of the original masters.
MP3s are, certainly, more compact that WAV files. Perhaps three or four 30-minute snows can be stored on a compact disc in WAV format while hundreds can be stored on that disc in MP3 format. However, MP3s are “lossy” — those small file sizes come at the expense of some fidelity. WAV files are lossless in terms of fidelity.
Most MP3 files in the collection are stored at the data transfer rate 32 kilobits per second (kbps) rather than the now standard 128 kbps. Davis said that’s because most OTR MP3 collections were created when dial-up modems were standard — the emphasis was on smaller files because download rates were so slow.
Now that broadband Internet connections are the norm, file sizes aren’t as much of a concern and larger, better-sounding files are becoming more common at the Internet Archive. One group that has made a high-quality set of Lum and Abner shows available through the Archive is the Pine Ridge Project — a group that mastered its collection at 128 kbps.
Davis said the MP3 files for most collections sound good even at 32 kbps. One problem combated by the OTR section has to do with labeling — errors can be made when people covert a show to MP3 format and that could result in people downloading some episodes other than the ones they want to hear.
Fortunately, Davis said collectors and fans are generally a thorough bunch. The Old Time Radio Researchers Group (OTTR), for example, has uploaded over 70 series and you can find those collections by running a search for OTRR in the OTR Section at the Internet Archive. The OTTR is made up of a core of over 600 OTR fans and a distribution network of over 1,000 people, said OTRR Founder Jim Beshires.
So why do people like Davis and the OTRR members spend so much time labeling, archiving and restoring radio programs? Davis said it’s certainly not for the money in that most people involved in the hobby of preserving those files do it on a voluntary basis. As far as he’s concerned, working with the Internet Archive in preserving shows is a great way to make sure a vital part of our entertainment history is kept in tact.
Also, Davis said focusing on Lum and Abner is his way of preserving a part of Arkansas’ past.
“There are so many people in Arkansas that don’t know who they were,” Davis said. “That ‘s a shame. I think they were one of the greatest comedy pairs in history.”
For more information, head on over to the OTR section at the Internet Archive and run a search or two.
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email = Ethan@FirstArkansasNews.net.