A User’s Guide to World War II-Era Radio in the National Archives

“A Mobile Radio Unit Is Installed In This Jeep Of The 323rd Bomb Squadron, 91st Bomb Group, Based At Bassingbourne, England; Lt. Stull Is The Driver Of The Vehicle. 22 May 1943”, 342-FH-3A12741-69518AC

The National Archives’ extensive holdings of World War II-era radio broadcasts have long been overshadowed by our flashier newsreel holdings. Nonetheless, a long tradition of collecting, preserving, and describing radio programs at the National Archives has made available a wide array of recordings related to all aspects of the war, American and otherwise. The paper finding aids and preservation books in our research room often have more information on these recordings than can be found in the catalog. We are, as always, open to inquiries at mopix@nara.gov.

A handful of series are fully digitized, including 208-GENERALa, which is newly available in our catalog. Some of the obstacles presented to placing recording online include rights issues, about which more appears at the end of this post, and the many generations of copies of the original recordings. For example, the original materials in 208-GENERALa are transcription discs. Decades ago, partial preservation and reference sets of these materials were transferred to ¼” reel-to-reel tape for replication and research room use. The digital files in the catalog today originate in the duplicate tapes rather than the original transcription discs. This is why original paper finding aids remain valuable.

Research in our holdings should be accessible rather than intimidating, so I have collected many of our most useful and used World War II-era radio series, as well as some less famous gems. They appear in this blog post organized by broad topic.

General WWII Radio Collections

208-GENERALa consists of the Office of War Information’s Sound Recording Relating to World War II. This collection of 1234 titles is a wonderful starting place for anyone interested in American radio propaganda, news, and entertainment aimed at the homefront. It includes Office of Emergency Management series such as “Three-Thirds of a Nation,” “You Can’t Do Business with Hitler,” and “Victory Volunteers.” Speeches, President Roosevelt’s fireside chats, and talks by military personnel are also present.

This episode of ‘Victory Front” features an appearance by characters from the NBC radio dramedy “The Goldbergs,” 208.56

The Milo Ryan Phonoarchive of Radio Newscasts Relating to World War II and Special Coverage of Other Historical Events defies easy categorization, as there are 4221 titles listed in the catalog. A broadcaster and educator based in Seattle, Ryan uncovered station KIRO’s treasure trove of acetate discs of World War II-era recordings. The collection includes extensive CBS news coverage but also speeches by prominent figures, early coverage of the United Nations, and even fictional suspense dramas.

DM-CBS, Sound Recordings Relating to World War II and the Postwar Era, is a smaller collection containing further items along the same lines as the Milo Ryan collection.

48-GENERALa, Sound Recordings Relating to Conservation, may sound like an unusual series to contain records related to a great global conflict, but the Department of the Interior was heavily involved in the mobilization of the nation’s natural resources in the war effort. Many recordings relate to metals, rubber, and waste reduction. Additionally, the department collected radio recordings unrelated to their mission, including morale talks by pilots and army band music.

The John R. Hickman Audio Collection consists of 300 recordings mostly from the World War II-era. They include government programs such as “This is Our America” and “This is War.” Also present are programs created by the Office of Facts and Figures and a variety of speeches and post-war materials. Commercial recordings include a larger number of materials from the now-defunct Mutual Radio Network.

Radio Recordings Featuring American Troops

Sound recordings related to the Air Force appear primarily in 18-GENERALa, Records of the Army Air Force. The AAF created several radio series including “The Fighting AAF” and “Your AAF.”

127-GENERALa, Recruitment Radio Broadcasts and World War II Field Reports by Marine Radio Correspondents, includes many narratives related by marines of their experiences. Unusual among most World War II series, some programs include the sounds of combat.

Two small series which may be of interest are 38-GENERALa, Sound Recordings Relating to Naval Activities During World War II, and 226-GENERALa, Audio Recordings, ca. 1940 – ca. 1945, which relates to the Office of Strategic Services.

Voice of America

Established on February 1, 1942, the Voice of American immediately plunged into coverage of the war. Our main VOA production library collection, 306-VOAa and 517-VOAa, begins after the war, but several VOA series contain recordings from that era. Helpfully, they have series identifiers which clearly explain themselves.

Enemies on the Radio

242-GENERALa, Sound Recordings of Speeches of Axis Leaders and Other Propaganda Material, consists of seized German and Italian propaganda. This is a series for which the vast majority of items do not have individual entries in the NARA catalog. Detailed information about the contents of each recording is available in the research room.

Several series consist of “Treasonable Utterances” investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. District Court for the Southern (San Francisco) Division of the Northern District of California. These are 65-TRFa, 65-TRa, 118-GENERALa. Many of the recordings contain broadcasts by Iva Toguri D’Aquino, a.k.a. Tokyo Rose, as well as American counterpropaganda exposing these “Lies from Tokyo.”

Programs by both enemies and allies appear in 262-GENERALa, consisting of shortwave broadcasts monitored in the United States. As with 242-GENERALa, the majority of the series is not yet itemized in the catalog, but a paper finding aid is available.

English-language Italian propaganda program featuring poet Ezra Pound, 262.24390

Rights Issues

We encourage all researchers to consult https://www.archives.gov/research/motion-pictures/permissions before reproducing or distributing any NARA recording, but a few rights issues stand out in regard to WWII-era audio. Many, perhaps most of our holdings in this area are government productions, but a large number originate from the private sector of various countries.

Multiple recordings in the collections featured in this blog post contain musical performances which may be under copyright, for example popular big band and crooner music contained in 208-GENERALa and in recordings featuring Iva Toguri D’Aquino. Nonetheless, these “Tokyo Rose” programs have been uploaded to our catalog, due to the historic significance of the content.

Programs from the commercial radio networks CBS, NBC, and ABC, appear throughout these collections. Recordings containing speeches, press conferences, and other public events pose fewer concerns than reports and interviews featuring network correspondents or fictional radio dramas. 208-GENERALa and the Milo Ryan Collection contain significant amounts of commercial materials. Some of the network programs in 208-GENERALa have been withheld from the catalog. For all items, the responsibility for the subsequent use of the materials lies solely with the end user per NARA regulations at 36 C.F.R. 1254.62. This responsibility includes determining, for each of the items provided, whether all or part of the work has been copyrighted, and whether that protection has lapsed; and determining whether any performance-based or other rights are claimed in the items provided.