An Interview with Joy Jackson

conducted by Deanna Sukkar of Seattle Public Library on February 14, 2007

"OTR and Modern Radio Drama"

What sparked your interest in OTR?
I'm a little unusual, in that I came into it via a local theater-The Bathhouse Theatre had a home-grown musical, their "cash-cow" at Christmas called The Big Broadcast. It was comprised of bits from old-time-radio shows. I was on the Board of Directors of the Bathhouse in 1991, when I ran across the announcement of a new club, The Radio Enthusiasts of Puget Sound, and their first meeting had John Archer as their special guest. John was one of the Shadows. I thought "A source for more shows for the Big Broadcast! I'll go." And it sucked me right in.

Did you grow up listening to Radio Theater as a kid?
Nope, I'm not old enough. Radio drama was in its dying days in the late Fifties, and I never ran across it on the radio - I remember the "radio stars" from their early television programs.

What do you think have been important events in the development of OTR?
Are you asking about the important events in the development of radio? Or in the hobby of Old-time-radio? In the case of the latter, it's always been the technology. I think the hobby got a big spurt of growth when audio cassettes came out - you didn't have to be a techie running the reel-to-reel tapes. REPS's library, for instance, was strictly cassette; SPERDVAC (the OTR club in LA) started with reel-to-reel, and added cassettes. Later on, both clubs started using CDs. There was another spurt of interest when computers became prevalent, and the internet started. Suddenly there were places you could download shows for free, on the usenets. Then mp3 came around, upsetting the old-time hobbyists, and how easy it was for anyone to make a web-site. The computers really brought OTR into the reach of the younger generation, who never heard it on the radio, neither live nor in reruns.

Could you talk a little bit about the administrative and funding structure of ART?
At the current time, ART is barely 2 years old. We have a Board of Directors, which meets first Saturday of the month, over the internet - we have Board members in Seattle, Oswego (OR), Encino (CAL), Lexington (KY), and Birmingham (UK). Officers: President, vice president, secretary, treasurer. Script committee of three. The President is also the Producer and Artistic Director. The rest of the Board are members at large (6). We have just started a dues structure ($36/year), but most of the expenses are handled with donations of time or labor or money. We have been awarded our 501c3 non-profit tax deductible status. We have about 20 members. (The OTR archive that you are most familiar with?) REPS, started in 1991, has a Board of Directors (president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, 3 members at large). 250 members. It has its 501c3 non-profit tax deductable status. Dues of $20/year. Has a cassette library of 4500 tapes, and has begun a CD library, and a DVD lending library, plus printed materials library. SPERDVAC - over 1300 members. Huge library holdings, on a rental basis, of reel-to-reel, cassette, CD and scripts.

What would you consider some of the most successful things about this particular organization?
The new radio shows that we've generated: Alonzo's Watch, based on family letters from the Civil War was a piece of magic that makes me glow. Watching people take fire from the goals of ART - resurrecting the stories from OTR scripts that no longer have recordings in existence; developing new stories and new series in audio drama; encouraging new writers and others who become ensnared in audio acting; building a cadre of radio actors and learning from the old pros of OTR days.

What do you feel are some of the biggest challenges the group faces in collection building?
Having enough experienced help in editing the sound of the newly recorded so that its professional enough for radio; Getting the word out about ART and what we are striving to do; fund raising so that ART would not depend upon personal donations; Attracting new members.

Do you feel there has been any interest resurgence in OTR?
Yes, as I mentioned above - the young have discovered OTR on the internet, and no longer have to find a person in their home town to talk about the hobby. Mp3 made it easier (and quicker) to collect OTR, but changed some of the dynamics of the hobby.

And has this affected your collection?
Not ART - because we are generating our own collection of our own recordings. But for REPS - whose membership has always been pretty static - new members join at the same rate that old ones go away. REPS doesn't like the mp3 faction, nor does SPERDVAC. So the fans of mp3 ended up forming their own associations, usually internet based. I belong to one such group, which has a library of over 70,000 shows - on mp3.

Have there been any particular individuals that you can mention that have been key influences upon the direction of OTR archives?
Harlan Zinck and Tom Brown are First Generation Radio Archives - taking recordings from the original transcription disks, correcting the sound on them via the Cedar process on the computer, and then selling CDs of those shows. There's a group on the internet, called OTRR (Old Time Radio Researchers) who are working at compiling complete series with the best sound possible, and accurate logs of broadcast dates. Along with the folks in OTRR, there are individuals who are uploading their collections to There are individuals who go over and above for a specific show - Barbara Schwarz for the Friends of Vic and Sade, Al Girard for Fibber McGee and Molly, Mike Wheeler for the Great Gildersleeve, Donnie Pitchford for the Lum and Abner Society, Laura Leff for Jack Benny.
And a number of individual collectors who have shared their collections very generously with other fans of OTR, including those in the blind community.

Talk a little about your (community) outreach programs (plans).
We bring OTR actors into town for two special events, one in June and one in September, where the ART actors can perform with and learn from the old pros. We do a continuing outreach to a senior citizen group at Langston Hughes, providing radio scripts, sound effects and direction. We've recorded pioneer stories for the Pioneer Museum of Seattle. We network with blind community, via the internet.

Who is your target audience (patron)?
I believe the most likely audience for the audio productions of ART are to be found within the blind community, and the vast amount of people who are addicted to books on tape/CD. People who love to listen to stories.

On the subject of intellectual control: How do you store and index your collection?
The collection that I have, as does ART, consists primarily of radio scripts - I have around 1000 of them. They are indexed in an Access database. The scripts are stored in filing cabinets and file boxes. REPS: their master and lending libraries of audio cassettes were indexed on Access database, stored in boxes (100 tapes to a box). I also have a wide assortment of cassette tapes, but they are not indexed. Instead they are in generic categories (western, mystery, comedy, theatrical, etc), in file boxes.

What metadata do you attach to the files?
Although we maintain a web-site, we haven't worked on the metadata angle yet.

Technology keeps changing and formats become obsolete. The archival stability of the digital format is still in question. Are the shows in one particular format?
No. Some are on tape; some are on mp3 CDs; self-generated shows start off on mini-disks, before they are moved into the computer to be edited; after which they are burned to CDs or data DVDs. I also keep backups on additional disk drives.

What are some of the preservation challenges you face when working with audio files?
Trying to find the files once they have been moved into the computer. (Location) Finding enough time to edit the files. Making sure that I am using the most recent version of the sound file, rather than re-using one that is missing some additions. (use of file names)

On the philosophy of radio archive - do you feel the people who (produce radio dramas) maintain such collections feel a duty or responsibility to preservation, making them accessible to future generations?
Absolutely. In the OTR hobby, there are two spheres of collecting - those who collect and hoard for their own pleasure, and those who gather and share with whomever they can. Above I mentioned the OTRR, and their goals to gather complete sets, and upload to

Are ART shows distributed to any outside archives?
We're working on it. The majority of the hobby want the original versions, with the original actors. There's only a small fraction that enjoy anything different. Which is why I think the blind community is our best audience, because they are used to using their ears to listen to stories.

On copyright in the digital age - can you tell me anything about the legalities of producing OTR shows?
Can of worms. There are some specific shows that the author/writer copyrighted. But the majority of shows were performed for ad agencies or on spec for a radio station, and at the conclusion of the broadcast, the scripts were tossed into the trash, and no one ever did anything else with them.

On producing modern audio shows, like ART - the standard copyright protections exist.
There's the copyright of the script, and a different one for the performance/production. Most of the modern audio producers include original music, to avoid the copyright problem for the music. Getting permission from the writer of a modern audio script is considered good form - generally permission is given, and the only pay requested is a copy of the production. Sound effects are generated by actors during the production, or recorded ahead of time.

Do you have a personal philosophy about OTR and the direction it should take?
Audio Drama has a life of its own. There's always been a few desperate souls that have to write and produce audio shows. It's a form of acting that is unique. The stories of OTR are as fresh today as they were when they were recorded.

And the future of ART?
I hope to encourage people, in far parts of the United States and Canada, to get involved with audio drama. ART wants to bring OTR stories back to life, and encourage new writers of audio drama. A friend of mine, in Toronto, Canada, asked me recently, "Gee, Joy, is there a branch of ART up here?" We have a chapter of actors in Lexington, and individuals who are part of ART in Eugene, and Santa Rosa, Cal, not to mention Birmingham, England. The challenges of telling a story using only sound presents different ways of doing things.

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