National Archives Sound Recordings Named to National Recording Registry
Press Release · Thursday, January 30, 2003

College Park, MD

.Six sound recordings from the National Archives were named as part of the first annual selection of 50 recordings to the National Recording Registry. They include: Booker T. Washington's 1906 recreation of his 1895 Atlanta Exposition Speech; President Franklin D. Roosevelt's radio "Fireside Chats," 1933-34; Description of the crash of the Hindenburg, Herbert Morrison reporting, 1937; "War of the Worlds," Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater, 1938; General Dwight D. Eisenhower's D-Day radio address to the Allied Nations, 1944; "I Have a Dream" Speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963. The National Recording Registry, established under the terms of the National Preservation Act of 2000, names 50 recordings each year that are "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

Of the six recordings from the National Archives, three are original. Twenty-five Fireside Chats recorded by President Roosevelt between July 24, 1933 and July 28, 1934, are recorded on broadcast discs. These recordings were an influential series of radio broadcasts in which Roosevelt utilized the media to present his programs directly to the public and thereby redefined the relationship between the President and the American people. The originals are preserved at the Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park, NY.

President Eisenhower's D-Day radio address to European citizens on the day of the Allied Normandy Invasion announces the invasion, requests their support, and promises liberation. The speech was originally recorded on discs that are preserved at the Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kansas.

The recording of the crash of the dirigible Hindenburg on May 6, 1937 is particularly unique because the shock wave from the explosion caused the cutting head of the single Presto portable recorder used by announcer Herbert Morrison and engineer Charles Nehlsen to vibrate, resulting in a shallow groove at the point of the explosion, just as Morrison declares "Its burst into flame!" Nehlsen was able to get the recording head under control almost immediately, just as Morrison was hysterically exhorting him to "Get this Charlie! Get this Charlie!" Had Nehlsen not been closely supervising the recording process, the cutting stylus probably would have been ruined—meaning that the recording would have ended right there. Dubs of the original discs made during the 1930s were unable to properly negotiate the damaged portion of the grooves, resulting in an audible skip right at the point of the explosion and loss of sound. It was not until the disc was carefully played by National Archives technicians on modern light-weight equipment in the 1970s that the shallow portions of the grooves were successfully tracked and the audio restored and preserved.

These six recordings are part of the National Archives' audiovisual collection, one of the world's largest. There are more than 260,000 unique reels of film, 225,000 sound recordings, and a rapidly growing collection of more than 65,000 videotapes. The films are primarily nonfiction and consist of edited and unedited footage, documentaries, newsreels, news film, instructional films, screen magazines, combat films, research and development test films, and other formats. The sound recordings consist of voice recordings of speeches, interviews, press conferences, interrogations, proceedings, and meetings. Video recordings consist of television news programs; telecast proceedings of the U.S. Congress; agency information programs; public service spots; press conferences; meetings; interviews of federal officials; edited programs and unedited video footage of historical events.

The collection includes many other original and obscure recordings. For example on Thursday, September 21, 1939, radio station WJSV in Washington D.C. recorded at the request of the National Archives its entire broadcast day, from sign-on to sign-off. Everything is heard as it was broadcast from rise and shine with Arthur Godfrey at 6:30 a.m.; through midday soap operas and dramas with the "Romance of Helen Trent" and the "Life and Loves of Dr. Susan". The afternoon includes an address by President Franklin Roosevelt to Congress and at 4 p.m. the continuation of the broadcast of a baseball game. At 6 p.m. a broadcast of "Amos 'n Andy" is heard, as well as the evening programs on the CBS schedule. The evening closes out with big band remotes. Heard are all programs broadcast that day including station breaks, commercials, technical difficulties, along with all the music, comedy, drama, news, and advertisements that aired in its entirety. This extraordinary set of recordings represents the earliest documentation of a complete day of radio. It is an aural snapshot that is totally authentic and unique in the annals of the history of broadcasting.

This page was last reviewed on February 21, 2019.
Contact us with questions or comments.