The Undiscovered Treasure Trove

Piled high above our heads always in clear view but never seen, stowed away in a plain cabinet we walked past every day, sitting silently abandoned and forgotten, waiting, waiting. Until now. For years, the Central Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan University Archives reel-to-reel audio recordings have sat untouched gathering dust. The majority of these recordings were recorded between the late 1960s and the early 1990s. This treasure trove, waiting to be discovered for decades, has finally begun to surface.

This summer one of the projects that our digitation specialist, Anne Krohn, has been working on is organizing our reel-to-reel audio recordings into two complete and easily researchable collections: WNMU Media and Audio Visual Media. For many years these recordings have been scattered into a number of collections. The majority of them have never even been accessioned or inventoried! It was decided that these recordings would be split into two collections based on who produced them. This will allow other media forms, like the VHS tapes and film reels, to be added into the WNMU and Audio Visual Media collections once they have been processed.

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The WNMU Media Collection: Anne completed processing it a few days ago

There have been many interesting discoveries while going through these reels including various Media Meet productions and a radio program about the Upper Peninsula’s attempt to secede in the 1970s. Media Meet was a series produced by WNMU’s Public TV 13, which started in 1972. They covered a variety of topics and would sometimes ask NMU faculty and Marquette community members to discuss various issues including political, world and local news. Some of the topics that were recorded on reel-to-reel include: Dr. Irving Greenburg on the Holocaust, Scams and Frauds, Finn Fest, UFO Studies, and many more! In the mid 1970s, the Upper Peninsula attempted to secede from Michigan and become the State of Superior. An interview with a local senator in 1975 addresses the reasons why the Upper Peninsula wanted to leave and what the process for seceding would be.

As exciting and thrilling as it is to find these new gemstones, there is also a sad realization: Nearly a fourth of our reel-to-reel recordings are lost. Technology has a way of preserving the past while also destroying it. These “lost” recordings were recorded at a slower speed than what our reel to reel player can play. There is no way to speed up the recording digitally or on the player so the audio is lost. For example: I digitized a 10 minute recording of a man talking but I couldn’t understand what he was saying due to the recording being too slow (we’ll call this effect slow talk). So I tried to speed up the recording in the hope that his voice would speed up as well and I would be able to understand him. I sped up the recording so that it was five minutes long. However, all that accomplished was to create a now five minute recording of slow talk.

What we have lost on those recordings will forever remain a mystery. However, there are still many we can save and many we will preserve.

Interested in learning more and listening to the reels yourself? Contact the archives!

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The Audio Visual recordings: Anne is still processing them, as can be seen in the bottom picture.

Currently the WNMU reel-to-reels have been processed and are available for patrons. The Audio Visual recordings are still being processed but should be available in the coming weeks. The long-term goal is to digitize all our reel-to-reels so they can be preserved in a digital format.

Blog written by Anne Krohn

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