In 2001, Westwood One Radio Networks Inc. made a generous gift of nearly 900 cartons of audiocassettes and reel-to-reel tapes from the Mutual Broadcasting System to The George Washington University's Gelman Library System. Westwood One had purchased the Mutual Broadcasting System in 1985 but had ultimately decided to close its doors in 1999.
Founded in 1934, the Mutual Broadcasting System (MBS) ran continuously until 1999. Unlike the three other national networks of American radio's classic era, Mutual operated at first as a cooperative, which included more affiliates than any of the other big networks.
In 1953, eighteen years after its formation, the Mutual Broadcasting System became a wholly-owned subsidiary of General Tire when General Tire purchased the member stations in the cooperative. When General Tire sold the network five years later, Mutual lost its cooperative structure and adopted a more traditional, top-down management model. Over the years, Mutual changed ownership several times. When Westwood One purchased the network in 1985, it was the seventh owner in succession after General Tire.
Containing over 40,000 audiotapes from 1955 through 1999, the collection includes the recordings of well-known radio talk shows, such as the Mike Walker Show, 1990 to 1995; the Jim Bohannon Show, 1993 to 2000; and, perhaps most notably, the Larry King Show, 1970 into the 1990s. The collection also includes the Mutual Broadcasting System's various news programs, such as America This Week, 1990 to 2000; First Light, 1990 to 2000; The Week in Review, 1984 to 2000; Seems Like Yesterday, 1987 to 1989; Weekend Headliners, 1987 to 1999; Newsbreakers, 1985 to 1990; America in the Morning, 1984 to 2000; The World This Morning, 1978 to 1982; The World Today, 1958 to 1982; and Reporter Roundup, 1976 to 1988.
The collection also contains a treasure trove of recordings of prominent news stories including the first Persian Gulf War, 1991; the O.J. Simpson trial, 1994 to 1998; coverage of Ronald Reagan's presidency from 1981 to 1986, including the return of the Iran hostages in 1981 and the confirmation hearings of Reagan's cabinet nominees in 1981; coverage of George H. W. Bush's presidency from 1989 to 1992, including the Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas hearings, 1991; and coverage of Bill Clinton's presidency from 1993 to 1998.
At the time of the gift, this collection of recorded American radio shows threatened to overwhelm what was still a relatively young Special Collections program. By 2006, however, the department had built its staff and its professional capabilities to the point where it could handle such large collections of mixed-media formats, and Westwood One and The George Washington University began negotiations on a project to digitize the collection. As a result, the collection is being processed and each audio recording identified and described as part of what will be an on-going effort to digitize and make available the contents of the entire collection to generations of scholars.
Collection Profile and Overview: Steven Mandeville-Gamble
Illustrations: Jessica McConnell/The George Washington University Office of University Relations, 2007