LOCAL NEWS

KIRO Radio accidentally saves American history

Mar 1, 2016, 10:11 AM | Updated: Oct 18, 2017, 7:24 am
The National Archives in College Park, MD is home to a rare collection of radio recordings made by KIRO Radio during World War II.

This catalog of the KIRO World War II audio collection was published in 1963. Dan Rooney of the National Archives and Records Administration shows the "blank" side of a 16-inch disc from KIRO from World War II. KIRO recorded this broadcast from Richland, Wash., home of the Hanford project, the day after the atomic attack on Hiroshima. Dan Rooney of the National Archives and Records Administration examines a 16-inch diameter disc containing a radio program originally recorded by KIRO in August 1945.

One of the most important events of the 20th century was World War II. The Cold War that followed and many of the national borders that exist to this day were largely created during that deadly, years-long conflict from the late 1930s to 1945.

An expert speaking at the Library of Congress at the first-ever Radio Preservation Task Force Conference described how one of the most important tools for understanding World War II is available to researchers only because of an “accident” at KIRO Radio more than 70 years ago.

During his keynote address last week in Washington, DC, longtime archivist and librarian Sam Brylawski spoke of KIRO Radio’s role in saving a priceless audio record of American history.

Related: Mysteries of Seattle’s old “Doughboy” remains

It was a case of “accidental preservation,” Brylawski told the audience of more than 200 radio history scholars from around the US and Canada, that resulted in the creation of a nearly complete archive of CBS news broadcasts during World War II.

“KIRO is the station in Seattle that cut lacquer discs to timeshift,” Byrlawski said, explaining how the scheduling of live broadcasts of CBS Radio’s news coverage was aimed at the Eastern time zone, which was not convenient for West Coast audiences. KIRO, as Brylawski described, violated network radio policies to make recordings of news programs on giant, 16-inch diameter discs, and then play them back a few hours later at times that were more convenient to Seattle-area listeners.

“As a result, those lacquer discs are the closest thing to a complete record of CBS World War II news,” Brylawski said. And they were saved, “only because the station, probably against its [network affiliation] agreement with [CBS chairman] William Paley, was timeshifting.”

Speaking with a reporter after his speech, Brylawski described how the preservation of the KIRO materials happened somewhat unintentionally, and what it means for historians. “Accidentally,” he said, “we have the best archive extant archive of CBS News during World War II.”

The full story is long and a little complicated. The original 16-inch discs were recorded off the “network feed” from CBS in New York at the old KIRO studio in the basement of the Cobb Building at Fourth Avenue and University Street in downtown Seattle. Rather than thrown away, the discs were moved, perhaps gradually or in small batches, to the KIRO transmitter site on Vashon Island. That’s where University of Washington professor Milo Ryan “discovered” them in the 1950s, along with help from former KIRO station manager Loren Stone.

In 1957, the thousands of discs were moved to the University of Washington, where Professor Ryan secured funding from CBS and led the effort to make copies on reel-to-reel tape and to create a catalog. Engineers from both KCTS TV and KUOW-FM, when both of those stations were still on campus, assisted with technical aspects of making the recordings.

In the catalog written by Milo Ryan and published by University of Washington Press in 1963, Ryan notes how if reusable recording tape had been available to KIRO during World War II, the archive might not exist. Engineers, Ryan says, may have simply erased and reused the same tape every day. Because 16-inch discs could only be recorded on once, re-use wasn’t an option.

The discs were moved from the University of Washington to the National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) facility on Sand Point Way and ultimately moved to NARA’s archival facility in College Park, Maryland in 2002 or 2003. The tapes remain at the University of Washington Library, where they’re accessible to researchers, and where they’re gradually being made available online.

At the National Archives in Maryland, Dan Rooney is the NARA employee who oversees what’s known as the “Milo Ryan Phonoarchive.” On a recent morning, he donned a white glove and showed a reporter a box full of original 16-inch KIRO discs.

The second disc Rooney carefully removed from the acid-free archival box was labeled, in pencil, “Richland B’cast, Atomic Bomb, 8/6/45.” This would’ve been just hours after the world learned of the existence of America’s atomic bomb. It’s also when Seattle residents learned about the massive secret federal project at what was called the Hanford Engineering Works in eastern Washington.

“In terms of the historical significance,” Rooney said, “one of the most significant things [about the Milo Ryan Phonoarchive] is that it’s really like this day-by-day accounting during the World War II period. Bombings in London, on the ground reporting going on, there’s [Edward R.] Murrow broadcasts in there, prominent journalists.”

Sam Brylawski minces no words in his assessment of the value of the Milo Ryan Phonoarchive. “It’s an extraordinarily important document of American radio history,” Brylawski said, “or, I should say, journalism history and American history.”

While reluctant to speak ill of artifacts of visual history, Brylawski believes audio is a powerful tool for understanding the past. “At this conference, a lot of people have spoken of the importance of actually hearing a voice from the past,” Brylawski said. “And how much more effective [sound] is, in terms of understanding the person and the times, than a photograph.”

Brylawski also says that KIRO deserves recognition for what the station did during World War II, even it was something of an accident.

“KIRO should get a gold star for ‘inadvertent archiving,'” Byrlawski said. “That wasn’t their intention, but thank God they did it.”

Help KIRO Radio and MOHAI Search for hidden radio history

Local News

airport...
Frank Sumrall

State Rep: ‘None of these locations are suitable’ for a future airport

According to Jason Rantz, the acting chairman of CACC, Warren Hendrickson, stated he believes none of the airport locations will move forward.
1 day ago
(KIRO 7)...
Shawn Garrett, KIRO 7 News

Deputies seize nearly 100 pounds of drugs during Tacoma arrest

Deputies with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department seized nearly 100 pounds of drugs while arresting a man with a felony warrant in Tacoma
1 day ago
police pursuit...
Matt Markovich

Source of pursuit deaths updates controversial data

Stats used by legislators to consider changing police pursuit laws may be in question.
1 day ago
recycle...
Nicole Jennings

‘Recycle, don’t throw out’ newest message from King County initiative

King County has launched a new initiative to get people to recycle or reuse items before automatically throwing them out.
1 day ago
belltown...
KIRO Newsradio Newsdesk

Pedestrian hit by train in Belltown, police investigate

Seattle Police are investigating after a man was hit by a train near Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood Thursday night.
1 day ago
Frasier...
Bill Kaczaraba

Lovable radio host Frasier returns, but not to Seattle

Frasier, the lovable but loveless radio host who put Seattle on the map will not be returning to the Emerald City.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
KIRO Radio accidentally saves American history