Pop Up Radio Archive is open-source software to help producers preserve sound, painlessly

The Knight News Challenge winners want to help radio producers archive and organize their raw tape with simple web-based software.

By Andrew Phelps

Journalists, especially those who collect sound and pictures, are hoarders. To dump raw material onto a hard drive is effortless, thoughtless. To delete it — what if you need something again some day? — is harder. And to find that something again some day is, often, excruciating.

Anne Wootton and Bailey Smith, winners of a $300,000 Knight News Challenge grant, are the creators of Pop Up Radio Archive. They are building open-source software and partnering with the Internet Archive to streamline the entire workflow of a radio producer — from ingestion to cataloging to eventual distribution.

“What’s closest to our heart is saving oral history. It’s actually easier to lose your material that’s digital than it is to lose something that was on a tape,” Smith told me. Data gets corrupted, or just lost. Thousands of files called 000001.WAV become meaningless to humans.

Wootton and Smith developed a plugin that integrates Omeka, the open-source archiving and publishing software, with WordPress. First, the user drops the raw audio files into a Dropbox folder or FTP site. The files are stored at the Internet Archive, which has agreed to host the of audio free of charge and forever. SoundCloud will also host any audio meant to be shared. The user tags those files with rich metadata (record date, air date, location, interviewer, interviewee) using a web-based form.

Wooton and Smith said their software is in alpha. Their first test case is The Kitchen Sisters, Nikki Silva and Davis Nelson, a pair of independent radio producers who have 30 years’ worth of tape, the last decade of it digital.

“They are a relatively small shop that, like many in public media, survive largely on grants and private funding, private donors and…lack any sort of archivist or technologist on staff,” Wootton said, “and yet are looking — especially as their production workflow is increasingly digital — to refine

Read more at niemanlab.org

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.