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About 15 years ago, Antioch College’s student radio station, WYSO-FM, was preparing to move to a different building on the school’s Yellow Springs, Ohio, campus. Staff was responsible for clearing out everything that had accumulated since the station’s founding in 1958. In a storeroom they found recordings dating back to the station’s earliest days, all of which had been put away with the same care college students use when packing at the end of the year.
You can imagine — reel-to-reel tapes, cassettes and other audio storage media all stuffed into boxes and garbage bags. Many of the items were so covered in mold that labels were unreadable. The magnetic tapes themselves were in various states of decomposition. Fortunately, someone took the time to do some investigation instead of relegating the whole mess to a dumpster. What they found was an audio record of the prior 50 years composed of concerts, interviews, lectures and voices ranging from those of Susan Sontag and Cesar Chavez to Dick Gregory and Martin Luther King, Jr.
The items have since been conserved, with “several hundred hours of the most significant tapes … made accessible to the public.” The digitized material was also used to produce a series of feature stories about both the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War.
For better or worse, the same story is playing out across the country, often with very different results. Consider the pioneering local journalist or