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How We Got Here

BBRM Director Bob Friedman on

“HOW WE GOT HERE”

May 18, 2018

In 1992, my fourth year in Birmingham Alabama and my third year at WJLD Radio - 1400 AM - I decided to commemorate our station’s 50th anniversary with a brochure.  I had the luxury of the airways, and among those who came in with stories, were retired announcers… with their scrapbooks. Using pictures, stories, sit downs and the beginning of collections, I produced a brochure  with a sketchy history of WJLD radio and room for congratulatory ads... I felt that the history of Black radio in Birmingham was a story worth exploring. I began to refer to the collection - and our destination - as a museum, the Birmingham Black Radio Museum. I became its first Director.

From the first interviews came the mention of other announcers, earlier announcers, earlier stations, first stretching back to the 1950’s, then the 40’s and 30’s. Artifacts continued to be donated to the BBRM throughout the 1990’s. The news of our nascent collection was tracked by Dr. Brian Ward in England who would author a book on radio’s role in the civil rights movement in the U.S. south, with a few contributions from the BBRM collection.

With the help of a local law firm, the BBRM received its tax exempt status in 2004.  We shared our artifacts and ephemera with historians from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute who instructed us on preservation techniques. The Daniel Foundation gave us a small donation to purchase necessary preservation materials.

By 2007, we had made contact with historians from UAB and UA, as well as the Alabama Archives in Montgomery. A partnership began with Dr. Danny Wallace from UA’s School of Library and Information Studies - carried forward by Dr. Robert Riter - as well as with UAB’s history professor, Pam King. As the interviews continued, interns from both these sources would help us digitize, transcribe, and catalog our collection, a process that continues to this day.

In 2011, we began a relationship with Dr. Leah Tucker, Executive Director of the Carver Theatre/Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, which afforded us storage and display space as well as a work area for our student interns, for many, their first experience working in the heart of Birmingham’s historic African American community.

In 2015, with a SHRAB regrant from the Alabama Archives, we purchased necessary technology to centralize the collection, heretofore, spread amongst various media. Our ephemera collection numbers nearly 800 objects and is organized chronologically.  A finding aid was created by SLIS student Lindsey Reynolds interviewing me, creating provenance for the contents of over 500 folders. Then, the audio was turned over to another SLIS student - Michael Mitchell - for transcribing. Lindsey Reynolds created our finding aid from that transcription. When the BBRM website was first created in 2016 by our webmaster, Emily Bibb, the finding aid was one of its first uploads. We were learning a new vocabulary -  and methodology as well… that of library science.

Emerging as a museum collection with a distinct character and purpose, our identity was being redefined by its community members – interviewees, object donors and volunteers. We were emerging as a collection of collections – announcers, performers, political figures and authors, all with some connection to Birmingham.  Public presentations and performances at state based and local universities and high schools, as well as local libraries, were a self reflexive evaluative tool for us. Our work was assisted in 2017 by grants from the IMLS, the Daniel Foundation and the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham.

We are working to complete the cataloging and uploading of our collections as a contribution towards the celebration of the Bicentennial of Alabama. As well, our collection will be accessible via Alabama Mosaic and curatorial space will begin construction at the Carver Theatre in Birmingham in the summer of 2019.