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91.3 WYSO awarded $5 million to preserve HBCU radio archives

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A $5 million grant was recently awarded to 91.3 WYSO to fund the preservation of radio station archives for the 29 Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs, in the U.S. with a radio station.

The initiative, set to take place over the next four years, is a part of the HBCU Radio Preservation Project, on which WYSO will collaborate with Northeast Document Conservation Center, or NEDCC, The Margaret Walker Center at Jackson State University in Mississippi and the American Archive of Public Broadcasting to preserve Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

The $5 million grant is added to previously awarded $665,000 for planning support.

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Among the 104 HBCUs in the U.S. with a college radio station is the nearby Central State University, an NPR affiliate located just 10 minutes away in Wilberforce. CSU has the distinction of being the first HBCU to receive a Federal Communications Commission, or FCC license in the 1960s.

The HBCU Radio Preservation Project goals include assisting the stations with preserving audio collections and to “facilitate capacity-building and sustainability through connecting and supporting the stations and the institutional archives on campus,” according to the HBCU Radio Preservation page on the WYSO website.

Leading the HBCU radio preservation efforts is founder and Project Director Jocelyn Robinson, a Yellow Springs local and WYSO’s director of radio preservation and archives, and Community Voices producer.

Robinson led the station’s own archival efforts through “Rediscovered Radio,” a project that resulted in the digital archiving of almost 300 hours of WYSO radio broadcasts from the 1960s and 1970s. Robinson is also a member of the African American and Civil Rights Radio Caucus of the Radio Preservation Task Force of the Library of Congress.

“I made a commitment to not becoming an archivist but becoming fluent in the language of preservation through archives,” Robinson told the News in early February.

The seed for the HBCU Radio Preservation Project concept was planted at an Association of African American Museums conference in 2017, where Robinson presented on “Black Voices of Rediscovered Radio’’ as a panel participant.

“One of the things I discovered  was that YSO has a very strong collection of African American voices, both locally and nationally, and I made stories with as many of them as I could,” she said.

According to Robinson, WYSO’s Rediscovered Radio was a source of inspiration, serving as a foundational model for The HBCU Radio Preservation Project. After her experience through the WYSO process, Robinson suspected that there were archival jewels just waiting to be discovered.

“If WYSO has these hidden gems — because there are many [we found] through Rediscovered Radio — what do our HBCUs have?” Robinson said. “I got this project in the back of my mind, that I want to do, because the material is so rich. It’s primary source material, it is reflective of not just the campuses, but the communities that are served by the broadcast footprint of the radio station.”

After the conference, Robinson had the opportunity to apply for, and receive, a National Recording Preservation Foundation grant, which she used to conduct a survey to assess the condition of HBCU radio archives. With WYSO serving as the fiscal sponsor, the project lasted a little over two years. During that time, Robinson was also able to conduct site visits at some HBCU radio stations and offer small emergency preservation grants for the purchase of things like archival boxes and shelving.

“I get Survey Monkey and I start looking up information for all the radio stations, and I start sending out the survey to radio stations. One of the questions in there is, ‘Do you know your institutional archivist?’ and a lot of people didn’t know,” she said.

After the completion of the survey, Robinson created a list of recommendations taken from the information discovered through the process.

“Some of the recommendations include training, because institutional archivists in a lot of places, or whoever is in charge of collections, don’t necessarily have training or digital preservation training. I also recommended disaster preparedness training, because [most HBCUs] are in hurricane or tornado alleys,” she said.

Robinson’s ability to move the project forward demonstrates her own cross-section of education and professional qualifications, including serving for eight years as CSU’s Title III grant director. Title III funds are utilized to improve language proficiency of English learners.

“Interestingly, mass communications and the radio stations get their money from Title III. There are places where I tell people, ‘Do you have a relationship with your Title III director? Well, you need to take them to lunch,’” she said.

Robinson also served as executive director for the African American Museums Association, now called the Association of African American Museums, or AAAM, and established an early understanding of the need for preserving archival information.

“I was on the staff that opened the [National Afro American and Cultural Center] museum in 1988,” she said.

Robinson’s varied career includes teaching — she  taught African American/Africana literature for Antioch University online for 15 years. Robinson also has an art history degree, and a certificate in archives administration from Wright State University. She also earned a master’s degree in cultural studies with a concentration in race, gender and identity from Antioch University.

Robinson also had a stint working at WYSO in the early 1990s doing membership-related work, but she wasn’t bitten by the radio bug until after creating content for a 2013 Valentine’s Day piece that resulted in a blank recording after a day collecting interviews on local college campuses — a project she was able to save at the last minute by doing interviews at an event in Yellow Springs.

“I went downtown and I did a vox pop [clips of short interviews] — it was like ‘What does V-Day mean to you?’ And then I mixed that, and it was in executing that exercise, I realized I was bit by the bug, like completely. … It was complicated because it’s difficult to mix voice and music,” she said.

Through an ongoing partnership with NEDCC, the next push for Robinson was to implement the suggested recommendations through the Mellon Foundation funded HBCU Radio Preservation Pilot Project involving four HBCU radio stations, including, WRVS at Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina, WFSK at Fisk University in Tennessee, WHCJ at Savannah State University in Georgia, and WSSB at South Carolina State University.

The pilot included support for workshops on preservation, collections assessments and conference travel. Funding also extended beyond the participating schools, allowing for continued collection of HBCU survey responses and site visits to HBCUs with radio stations. The pilot also aided in designing the bigger four-year project that offers support to all 29 HBCU radio stations.

According to the website, the project will have three areas of focus:

• Training and education: providing “preservation training and workshops for campus stations, archivists, and community members. An intern will also be hired “for each year of the grant cycle.”

• Preservation: field archivists will work with “stations and campus archivists on collections assessments … and other preservation activities.”

• Public history: praxis involving oral history interviews and training in gathering oral histories, and “using historical audio in content creation.”

“We want to do a lot of public presentations, so we’ll be going to conferences. We’ll be writing proposals for presentations at conferences all the time, and then we are also mounting an annual symposium — we did a symposium at the end of the pilot project, and it was a day-long affair,” Robinson said.

Robinson is also inspired and bolstered by the support of her mentor, historian and museum director emeritus, John Fleming, Ph.D. Fleming, who also lives in the village, is responsible for establishing many of the nation’s African American museums, including the National Afro American Museum and Cultural Center in Wilberforce, the Ohio Freedom Museum in Cincinnati, and the National Museum of African American Music in Nashville, Tennessee.

“I have several [mentors], but he’s the primary person who has encouraged me all along the way in the last 30, no, 40 years,” she said.

In addition to Robinson, the team comprising the HBCU Radio Preservation Project includes “oral historians, field archivists, audio preservationists, archives fellows and interns.” Former CSU Dean of Enrollment and author Phyllis Jeffers-Coly will take on the role of assistant director, and former YS News editor Amy Harper will lend support as a project assistant.

The project will help HBCUs preserve their archives, “through the reformatting of obsolete materials into digital materials.” According to Robinson, the oral history portion of the project will be housed at the Margaret Walker Center at Jackson State University, and if the schools choose to do so, they also have the opportunity to house copies at the National Archive of Public Broadcasting, which is fully accessible to the public and funded through taxpayer money.

“Each institution is responsible for their own materials and retains ownership of those materials and control of those materials,” Robinson said.

Ultimately, the HBCU Radio Preservation Project will serve as a model for how any institution can preserve their material.

“One of the best things about this, is that through collaboration, we get to design a replicable model that can serve not only HBCUs, but ultimately college radio stations, tribal stations, rural stations, and other public community stations,” Robinson said in a presentation made on Feb. 1 during the project kick-off event.

Robinson also emphasized WYSO’s contribution to the process.

“WYSO has a role to play in undoing centuries of inequality” and we do this in part by “amplifying voices that have been historically excluded,” she said.

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