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Historical Recordings Fading Fast

To read the text of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech is to read poetry, the perfect use of language to illuminate human truths. To hear it takes it to that next level; the emotion in Dr. King’s voice and the crowd sounds in the background are the sounds of revolution itself.

But the latter of the two ways of absorbing Dr. King’s speech might be in trouble, as some of our history’s great audio is fading away due to poor digital media conversions.

Now, we will always have certain historic moments like Dr. King’s speech simply because of the number of copies digitized and floating around. But what historians are slowly discovering is that all the digital archival work done to save space, moving recordings to CD-Rs from tapes, is dying.

Most of radio’s first decade – 1925 to 1935 – is lost already. Shows by [lastfm]Duke Ellington[/lastfm] and [lastfm]Bing Crosby[/lastfm] are gone. And much of it has to do with the fact that digital media does not have as long a shelf life as tape-based media.

As technology changes, old recordings have to be moved to new mediums, and that transfer process has to be updated on a regular basis. Not even the Internet is immune to such data loss.

“I think we’re assuming that if it’s on the Web it’s going to be there forever,” said Sam Brylawski, co-author of a study outlining the problem. “That’s one of the biggest challenges.”

The key to solving the problem? The study recommends more of a focus on digital archiving and a loosening of copyright restrictions on archival copies.

We can’t even imagine a world without some of these classic moments…

[Source: Associated Press]


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