Radio shows copyright

From: Jeff Joseph <sabucat[_at_]sabucat.com>
Date: Fri, 16 Feb 2001 22:25:46 -0800


Friday, February 16, 2001
Web Battle Is Latest Episode in Old-Time Radio Serials  One firm is carrying on the fight to enforce copyrights, much to the dismay of collectors and Internet users.

By ERIK SMITH, Special to The Times

     A little more than two years ago, when the digital music revolution was just beginning to take hold, an entrepreneur from Boston had an intriguing idea: If everyone else was putting music on the Web, why not old-time radio shows?

     Pete Kenney, or "Boston Pete," as he calls himself on the Internet, created a Web site that allowed people to download recordings of old-time radio programs, everything from "Gunsmoke" to "The Shadow," and he racked up thousands of "hits" a month, winning a loyal following among fans of old-style radio drama. He also got an angry e-mail from the country's biggest seller of old-time radio programs on cassette--Carl Amari.

     Amari, president of Illinois-based Radio Spirits, accused Kenney of trampling on copyrights he controlled and threatened to take him to court. Kenney promptly shut down his Web site, and so did dozens of other Web site operators who had followed his lead.

"Everyone thinks this stuff is in the public domain," Kenney says. "A
lot of us cried and gave up."

     It was the opening blow in a battle that rages today, maybe not quite as loudly as the war between the music industry and fans of MP3, but over many of the same issues. Over the last two years, tens of thousands of old-time radio programs have been made available over the Web in the downloadable MP3 format, free to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection. Some collectors even sell home-recorded CDs on EBay and their own Web sites, with as many as 50 or more shows on a single disk. Meanwhile, Radio Spirits maintains that it has sewn up the copyrights to just about every program that ever aired, and what the enthusiasts are doing is illegal.

     But collectors have been trading and selling these old-time radio shows for more than 30 years, with a wink at copyright laws, and they argue, with some justification, that if it hadn't been for them, most of the programs would have ended up in the dumpster. Some see the company's effort as an attempt to corner the market on old-time radio shows that not so long ago were thought to have no value whatever.

     It's been nearly 40 years since anyone saw any value in old-time radio, at least in a commercial sense. The first network broadcasts came 75 years ago, and soon the entire country was gathering around the radio to hear Franklin Roosevelt, "Amos 'n' Andy," and the war news from Europe. Then television came along, sponsors and stars deserted radio, and the last few programs were canceled in 1962. Since then, a few revival attempts notwithstanding, radio drama has been as dead an art as whalebone scrimshaw.

     But when old-time radio died, thousands of recordings were left behind. Though most shows before 1950 were live, virtually every network program after the late '30s was recorded for reference purposes or rebroadcast, usually in the form of pizza-sized records known as electrical transcriptions. Networks and sponsors destroyed these records by the thousands in the 1960s and 1970s, simply to clear storage space. Some records made it into libraries, and others wound up in the hands of private collectors who contacted performers and producers, prowled dusty radio-station storage closets and sometimes smuggled them out the back door.

     No one knows how many shows survive, but 150,000 would be a good guess, says author Jay Hickerson of Connecticut, whose "Ultimate History of Network Radio Programming" attempts to catalog every radio program in existence. That's "barely 1%" of what aired, he says. But it's enough to fuel a war today.

Received on Sat Feb 17 2001 - 06:27:48 GMT

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