NBC Resources Held by the Recorded Sound Section
The Library's NBC Collection contains 150,000 sixteen-inch lacquer
discs which date from the early days of the network to the 1980's.
While the bulk of the NBC broadcasts at the Library were recorded
following the network's establishment of its Electrical Transcription
Service in 1935, the collections also contain a large number (nearly
200) of scarce earlier recordings, most of which were recorded
by NBC's parent company, RCA. These early discs were recorded with
cumbersome equipment that yielded shorter and noisier recordings
than those that could be produced after the invention of the lacquer
disc in 1934. Equipped with the new recording equipment, NBC started
recording many of its own programs, sporadically at first and with
increasing frequency as the decade proceeded. From 1935 to 1939,
the number of annually recorded programs, retained in the NBC archive,
jumps from 661 to 3007. The majority of these recordings are of
programs originating from New York. NBC's Chicago and Hollywood
bureaus maintained their own recording archives which were never
incorporated within the network's primary, New York-based archive,
now in the Library.
In general, the more important or prestigious the sustaining
program, the greater the chance it would be preserved, as there
are many recordings from the 1930s of opera, symphony, historic
news broadcasts, and public affairs programs. The range of recorded
commercial programs from this period is more puzzling and seemingly
random. For some shows, such as Fred Allen's Town Hall Tonight,
the inventory of recorded programs is nearly complete, while for
others, no less popular, it is scant. Engineers at NBC appear to
have recorded a far greater number of programs than were ultimately
saved, but the company's precise selection criteria remain unknown.
Nonetheless, NBC appears to have saved programs chiefly for legal
purposes, for reference in the production of future shows, and,
especially during the years of World War II, to preserve recordings
of historic events.
Following Pearl Harbor, the number of recorded programs in the
archive soars, with Hollywood and Chicago programs now commensurate
with their actual numbers. Peaking in 1944, the inventory for that
year lists nearly 9,000 programs—many, of course, news broadcasts.
In addition to documenting the course of events, the wartime recordings
provide vivid testimony of NBC's dedication to the war effort and
compelling evidence of how Americans coped with the crisis. Naturally,
humor was an important outlet, much of it at the expense of the
enemy—the Japanese, far more commonly an object of ridicule than
America's European foes.
Since receiving the NBC recordings in 1978, engineers in the
Library's Recording Laboratory have been engaged in re-recording
the fragile lacquer discs onto more durable polyester tape. So
far, all discs through 1952 have been re-recorded. The remainder,
which date to 1971, are still in the process of being preserved.
In a parallel effort, Library catalogers, initially funded by a
grant from the MacArthur Foundation, have created a comprehensive
computerized inventory of the programs preserved on tape.
Locating NBC Radio recordings in the collections
of the Library of Congress
Most of the NBC Radio recordings in the collections of the Library
of Congress have been cataloged in the Recorded Sound Section's
of broadcast and master recordings, and this is where researchers
should begin searching for NBC material.
There are, however, other sources for NBC recordings at the Library,
many of which pre-date the donation of the NBC Radio Collection
in 1978. Even among the NBC donation, broadcasts made after 1955
are being selectively preserved and hence have not been entered
into SONIC. Information about these recordings is listed in a database
available in Recorded Sound Reference Center, and interested researchers
may call the Center at (202) 707-7833 to determine their availability.
Over 2000 NBC broadcasts are also listed in the Library
of Congress online catalog which may be searched on the web.
The NBC recordings in the LC online catalog include items donated
to the Library of Congress by private collectors, performing artists,
recording studios, broadcasts purchased from NBC before the Library
acquired the NBC collection, and performances released on commercial
record labels or rebroadcast by the US government.
The History Files
1967 files containing tens of thousands of documents comprise
what NBC called its "history files." Consisting primarily of business
papers, the files also include the reminiscences of early employees,
printed memorabilia (such as anniversary programs), network histories,
audience mail, statistics, charts, and maps. Most of the materials
date from the mid-1920s through the late 1940s, when network radio
was starting its decline as a result of television. Documents in
the files relating to the newer medium, though less extensive,
are still numerous. To facilitate access to this information, the
Library created a detailed online finding aid which describes the
most important contents of each file. Also listed in the inventory
are hundreds of miscellaneous publications (many relating to advertising
and to television) and the speech files of NBC executives—those
of Sylvester ("Pat") Weaver, creator of the Today and Tonight shows,
handsomely bound. The history files present an excellent overview
of how the network operated and, more specifically, how it juggled
the difficult role of servant to many masters—sponsors, performers,
and affiliates, as well as the government, special interest groups,
and listening public.
The Log Books
The log books of WEAF (renamed WNBC in 1946) and WJZ list the
daily programs and the call letters of all stations which received
those programs. As the number of affiliates rose, the combinations
and permutations of networking became rather complicated. Thus,
beginning with 1930 volume, the logs are no longer titled "Daily
Programs," but rather, more descriptively, "Corrected Traffic Sheets." The
pre-NBC logs of WJZ and its sister station WJY also contain critical
commentary by the station announcers. Some of the NBC logs also
provide supplementary information of a more objective nature, such
as the musical contents of a program, the name of a guest artist,
or the interruption of a scheduled program due to a news bulletin.
Information of this type is usually found on the verso of the pages.
The dates of the log books in the collection follow:
- The WEAF/WNBC logs: 1922-1955.
- The WJZ logs: 1923 (the year RCA assumed control of the station)
- 1941 (when the Blue Network was divorced from NBC).
- The WJY logs: 1923-1926 (the station's final year of operation).
The Master Books
In addition to log books, NBC donated microfilmed copies of the
station master books which contain paper documentation of the programs
produced at WEAF, WNBC and WJZ. This documentation consists of
program scripts, ad copy, news copy, and the master music sheets,
which list the musical contents of the programs.
"A Master Book is the official written record of everything broadcast
for the entire broadcast day from one station" (NBC Central
Files Manual, 1938). NBC donated a total of 2,530 reels of
microfilmed master books (including the Chicago and Hollywood scripts)
to the Library, comprising the largest radio script collection
in America. The Master Books are inventoried below:
- The WEAF/WNBC master books: 1922-1984.
- The WJZ master books: 1927 (when the station began broadcasting
as the flagship station of the Blue Network) - 1941 (when the
Blue Network was divorced from NBC).
- The Chicago scripts: May, 1944-December, 1945.
- The Hollywood scripts: August, 1943-December, 1945.
- The International Network master books: August, 1936-September,
[Note: The documentation for programs which aired over WEAF or
WJZ, but which were produced elsewhere, are not included in their
master books, but rather, presumably, in the master books of the
stations where those programs originated.]
Many network programs were produced at NBC's regional studios
in Chicago, San Francisco, and Hollywood. A limited number of program
scripts from the Chicago and Hollywood master books are included
in the NBC Collection dating from the war years.
Also included in the collection are the microfilmed master books
of NBC's International Network (sometimes called the White Network),
composed of several short wave stations whose broadcasts in six
different languages were primarily intended for overseas listeners.
The Index Cards
Posterity owes an enormous debt to the scores of anonymous NBC
employees who, between the years 1930 and 1960, compiled a comprehensive
index card catalog of network programs, performers, and guests.
It is the logical place to begin searching the collection for information
in any one of these three areas. The catalog is composed of four
major indexes: one for all commercial programs and another all
sustaining programs from 1930 to 1960; and two biographical indexes,
comprising all "radio artists" (entertainment professionals) and "radio
personalities" (basically everyone else, from authors and athletes
to labor leaders and Presidents) who appeared over the network
during that thirty-year period.
The inspiration for the catalog probably came from AT&T, which
kept summary records of WEAF's commercial programs on index cards.
Some of these cards are still extant and incorporated within NBC's
commercial program index. NBC not only enlarged upon the scope
of its predecessor's idea, but carried it through with much greater
attention to detail. Typically, the NBC program cards contain a
brief description of the show and also note its starting and ending
dates, network affiliation (Red or Blue), hours of broadcast, advertising
agency and agent (in the case of commercial programs), as well
as the names of the stars, host, announcer, and orchestra.
Many program cards also include a complete rundown of every broadcast,
where cast changes, guest performers, and sometimes even plot summaries
are recorded. Notable facts, such as a cast member's final appearance,
are often underlined in red. Carleton Morse's dramatic serial,
One Man's Family, which ran over NBC for twenty-seven years, is
described on forty-six, two-sided cards, some of which contain
detailed genealogies of the fictional Barbour family.
The catalog is not only of interest to radio historians, but
to specialists in almost any field of American history from 1930
to 1960, particularly World War II. In 1938 NBC created an index
of all news and public affairs broadcasts relating to the "European
War." Renamed the "World War II" index after Pearl Harbor, it comprises
nearly 2,000 cards. Several hundred more cards are included in
a separate "War Effort" index, which lists all programs broadcast
from service bases, radio plays based on the war, programs which
sold war bonds, and those in which war related topics (victory
gardens, for example) were incorporated into their program scripts
or ad copy. NBC's careful documentation of the war years extends
to the radio personality index where the speeches of important
political figures, such as Churchill and Roosevelt, are not only
summarized but frequently annotated with interesting details. For
instance, Churchill's immortal, first speech as Prime Minister
("…I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat…")
was originally heard only by members of Parliament on May 13, 1940
and re-delivered for the purpose of broadcasting over the BBC two-and-a-half-years
A disconcerting feature of the index card catalog is that "Negro
radio artists" (but not personalities) were filed separately. The
fact that NBC failed to "integrate" its artist index at some point
after 1960, when revelations of the network's segregated filing
system would have caused embarrassment, may reflect a desire to
preserve the historic integrity of the index. But a more likely
explanation is that by then most network executives were so focused
on television they had little reason to consult the index card
catalog. Indeed, few were probably aware of its existence.
The Press Releases
The press releases in the NBC Collection date from January
1924 through December 1989. (The 1940 and 1941 volumes were not
included in the donation and are presumably lost.) The pre-network
releases were produced by WEAF, while still under AT&T ownership.
That WEAF regularly issued detailed press releases at such an early
date is evidence of that station's greater wealth and sophistication
in comparison to most, if not all other, early radio stations in
Far more legible than the microfilmed master books, the press
releases are an invaluable resource for aiding in the reconstruction
of early, unrecorded programs. They are also useful as a supplement
to the card catalog. For example, a researcher wishing to obtain
biographical information about an unfamiliar actor listed on one
of the program cards could consult the press releases issued shortly
before the date of his performance. In addition to releases on
the programs and performers, there are many relating to the network's
announcers, writers, musicians, corporate staff, affiliates, and
to NBC's technical achievements, particularly its early experiments
in television broadcasting.
Not to be overlooked is that the press releases are simply a
good read, providing tidbits of the stars and a vivid picture of
day-to-day life at network headquarters. They describe: New York
in the grips of a storm, as engineers rush to a top floor of Radio
City to record howling gale-force winds for their sound effects
library; studio audiences of the NBC Symphony being handed programs
of soft, porous paper so that the musicians would not be distracted
by the rustling of turning pages; and in those days when all performances
were live, a weary Jack Benny deciding to move his program to Hollywood
partly to avoid repeating his show late at night for the benefit
of West Coast audiences. As explained in a press release on that
subject, "It's all over by supper time out there."
NBC Daily News 1940-1941
The Recorded Sound Reference Center holds volumes for 1941 and
1942 of the NBC publication NBC Daily News Reports. Researchers
may request these volumes in the Recorded Sound Reference Center.
Listed below is an inventory of all materials in the NBC Collection
which are not covered by this article.
- Approximately 1300 reels and 340 cassettes of selected radio
news broadcasts from 1961 through 1985. These include presidential
news conferences and speeches, as well as coverage of important
events, such as the first moon landing.
- Transcriptions of Meet the Press, 1954-1984, on microfiche.
- NBC Television Log Books, May 1949-November 1988.
- NBC Television Master Books, 1936-1991, on microfilm.
- NBC Television Kinescopes, approximately 18,000 programs, from