Crawford Media Services in Atlanta, GA, one of the nation's foremost digital restoration firms, is now at work restoring and digitizing hundreds of "Protestant Hour" radio programs on various recorded formats from 1945 to 1995.
When the project is complete, approximately 2,652 programs will have been migrated from the old analog sources - audio tapes or transcription discs - to digital files. Once digitized, the programs can be easily stored, accessed and shared.
The story begins at the University of Georgia in Athens (UGA), where the Protestant Hour Archive is housed. The radio programs are catalogued and sorted by archivists at UGA. These efforts help identify the proper master source for each show, which could be a ¼" reel-to-reel audio tape or a transcription disc. Transcriptions discs (generally 16" records) were commonly used from the WW2 era to the late 1950s to distribute programming to radio stations and the Armed Forces networks. They were rendered obsolete by the advent and widespread acceptance of audio tape.
Once catalogued, shows are sent to Crawford Media Services in Atlanta for digitization. All materials are checked in, inspected for physical problems, cleaned if there is mold or chemical breakdown residue and stored in secure temperature and humidity controlled rooms. Crawford's audio migration staff will then set up and play back the audio tapes on open reel decks. These machines are considered obsolete and would not be found in most recording studios today. The transcription discs require specialized turntables that can hold up to 16" records. Special styli are needed as well since the grooves are wider than normal vinyl records.
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Due to the materials used in their manufacture, some of the audio tapes may have "Sticky Shed Syndrome" - the tape sticks to itself and is not playable. In nearly all cases, Crawford can correct this problem by literally baking the affected tapes. This controlled and timed process utilizes low temperature dehydrators.
Once the tapes or discs are ingested into the computer, two digital files are created for each show using ProTools software: an uncompressed WAV file (CD quality) and a compressed MP3 file (similar to iTunes quality). Both files are checked at several points to ensure they were created properly.
The digitization of the 2,652 Protestant Hour radio programs is expected to take approximately 4 to 6 months. Once complete, fifty years of significant religious and social history - originally "locked away" on deteriorating tapes or discs stored in hundreds of boxes - will fit on one hard drive and can easily be accessed and shared.
Lilly Endowment Inc. of Indianapolis granted the Alliance for Christian Media $150,000 to complete the restoration.
The 2,652 programs in the collection include the best preachers from the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and The Episcopal Church. The program currently rotates among six mainline Protestant denominations that, in addition to the historic partners, includes the United Church of Christ and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
The Alliance for Christian Media launched a funds campaign for the restoration nearly three years ago. Honorary Chair of the campaign is the Rev. Dr. Thomas G. Long, Bandy Professor of Preaching at Emory University's Candler School of Theology.
Numerous church and seminary leaders have endorsed the effort, and the Alliance has organized a task force of preaching professors and scholars to assist in creating ways the collection will be used educationally in colleges, universities and seminaries. It will also become a major feature on the Day1 web site.
Its use in training young preachers will be a high priority. The Very Rev. Ian S. Markham, Dean and President of the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, endorsed the project early on: "Preachers, pastors leaders and scholars in more remote areas of this country and beyond do not have easy access to libraries and other educational materials and rely heavily on the Web and other digital resources as a means for ongoing education and renewal."
Renowned United Methodist preacher and professor at Duke Divinity School the Rev. Dr. William Quick has said, "The slice of history this preserves for posterity will be a source for future generations, at least for those persons seeking an understanding of the church during the latter half of the American Century."
Alliance president and executive director, the Rev. Louis Schueddig, added, "This enormous resource will shed light on how religious leaders dealt with the issues of an entire generation, from Communism to Civil Rights, to women's issues, and the growing secularization in society. Anyone of a certain age interested in religion will remember the Protestant Hour and when recalling great preachers of this generation will discover them in this collection."
Dr. William H. Willimon, nationally known author and United Methodist bishop of the North Alabama Conference, added, "It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Protestant Hour archive is the best collection of the homiletical art in America, perhaps anywhere in the world. The prospect of having these sermons available in an accessible format is thrilling."
Day1 executive producer and host Peter Wallace said, "We are looking forward to making these priceless resources available for use by seminary and university professors, pastors and teachers, and lay audiences. They will have access not only to outstanding sermons and historical materials, but to timeless spiritual wisdom from the leading figures of the 20th century church."