Petition to preserve the CBC's musical archive

Spider Robinson writes concerning a petition to rescue the 100,000 items from the musical archives of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that are in danger of being purged: "To waste the precious musical treasure the CBC has painfully accumulated and indexed for us would be a self-inflicted cultural lobotomy, akin to burning down the Alexandrian Library to make room for a trailer park. It’s our national iPod, and we spent a bundle of money and decades of hard work to load it. Don’t let some imbecile erase it. Keeping its battery charged is a trivial expense. I really think this is an important cause, and I'd like to encourage you to add your signature, too. It's free and takes just a few seconds of your time."

The stated plan is to digitalize some recordings, but the timeline for disposal in one fashion or another does not allow anywhere near an adequate appraisal of the provenance or cultural worth of each artifact. Many of these recordings were rare to begin with and are impossible to acquire in any format today. Thousands were donated by erudite collectors and hosts. Album covers and liner notes will disappear. (For more information, see: and

Save CBC Music Archives


  1. And people thought that the shortsighted purging of broadcast archives was just one of the silly things they did in benighted eras of the past… (e.g., the “lost episodes” of Dr. Who).

    1. That’s only in Calgary’s collection. In other news, I still need to get my hands on a copy of the book “Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper”. I like the sound of the chapter titles, from …Double Fold’s chapter titles include “Destroying to Preserve,” “It Can Be Brutal,” “Dingy, Dreary, Dog-Eared and Dead,” “Thugs and Pansies,” “3.3 Million Books, 358 Million Dollars” and “Absolute

  2. Gah!  Can we put silly idea that digitized copies of media are as good as originals to bed once and for all?  If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times: if it’s worth keeping, it’s worth keeping the original!  

    Anyone remember reading about the idiot who raided NBC’s vaults for film so he could reclaim their silver?  Priceless stuff, like Carl Sandburg on the Tonight Show, all gone forever, all to save a few square feet of storage space.

    I have a collection of a few hundred 60’s-70’s era16mm educational films that came to me from a friend.  He had a job with the local school district to “archive” their film collection onto… wait for it… VHS tape!  Laughable, ignorant and truly sickening.  Once copied, the films were slated to be put into a dumpster.  My friend had the good sense to put them into the trunk of his car and save them all instead.  Meanwhile, I’ll bet you can’t find one operable VHS deck in the whole school district.

    What I’m reading about the CBC’s plan is unconscionable.  And, I’ll bet some hack will be allowed to make hasty digital copies by running the originals through crappy low-budget equipment, further degrading them before the final indignity of being sent to the landfill.  Unbelievable.  Barbarians at the gate, indeed.

    1.  I suspect you can find some VHS decks in tech archivist homes, in much the same way you find 16mm projectors. Neither is likely common anywhere else these days.

      1. Yep, you probably won’t have any trouble finding a top-of-the-line VHS player that can play those degraded, lossy, static-riddled tapes.

        And with truly top-of-the-line equipement, they’ll look at least almost half as good as the original media does when played on a cobbled together homemade projector, I’ll bet.

          1. I know you are being sarcastic, however if you talk to any archivist or someone who has to deal with very large amounts of original static documents microfilm is still very much a valid option. Digital isn’t always better in all situations. Digital on a large scale is expensive to create and to maintain. Also what format are you storing it in so you can read it still in 50 years. Are you updating all your digital files every 10 years or so? There are plenty of complex questions that need to be answered. Microfilm is old technology to be sure, but it is reliable, cheap, and easy. Most places that are clearing out archives for space, also don’t have the millions to design and build a system for scanning digitizing, storing, etc… hundreds of thousands of records or millions of records. Requirements for Microfilm are thousands of dollars, and a shelf or filing cabinet.

            In any case Wikipedia isn’t exactly static so it isn’t really relevant anyway (unless you just want a historical slice in time). It also already exists in digital format making it a bit of an odd choice. Of course microfilm also won’t really help 16mm, VHS, DVD, or any media other than print really.

  3. In the early winter there was a sale of  music from the Halifax CBC library. Hundreds of people waited in the cold for up to two hours, to get into a big room with miles of aisles of  mostly LPs and CDs. Everything (if I remember rightly) was a quarter. Folks came out with boxes of stuff. Who the hell knows what. 

    The point about losing the marginalia made by people on the liners is a good one – just like how an amazing history was lost when library card catalogues went online and all the notes by librarians, etc. were lost, as well as the pleasure of seeing and feeling sections of the card catalogue soft, swollen and dog-eared from popular use. I think Nicholson Baker must have brought this up in his book Double Fold. We never learn.

  4. When a friend of ours died several years ago, her belongings included hundreds of recordings, mostly of obscure, early, and ethnic/world music.  All on cassette.  But still, I contacted the local university’s College of Music to see if they’d like to have the collection for their own library.

    Well, yeah, except for two things:

    1) They were changing their music library to all-digital.  But that’s okay, because they hire some of the university students at a pittance to operate the equipment to convert old media into digital files.

    2) Oh, wait, no they don’t anymore.  Their budgets were slashed a few years ago, and those work-study students doing the conversions were one of the things eliminated.  Anything being converted to digital now has to be sent off-campus to a private business, at a cost ranging from $17 to $40 per recording.  And the new policy is that the person donating the old recordings also has to PAY THE COST for that conversion.  Which, for about three hundred cassettes, would have been about $5,000 at a minimum.

    I literally couldn’t give the collection away.  I’ve ended up paying the estate a small amount and kept them myself.  Over time, before the old tape degrades too much, I hope to eventually convert them to digital myself.  (Another massive time-sink of a project; can never have too many of those….)

    1.  I’ve been converting cassettes with an old Pioneer dual tape deck (originally designed for home cassette duplication) run into an Ubuntu PC over a Griffin iMic USB interface.  Audacity takes a little practice to learn, but after your first couple tries you can rip FLAC files  at the native resolution of CDs, so that there will be no further losses if you burn the FLACs to optical media.  You can do that, and also create .mp3s, pretty easily on Ubuntu.  It all works out of the box, on my hardware anyway.

      Remember to save the FLACs in multiple places, since commercial writable CDs only last a decade or so.

  5. Maybe Mr. Will Gates III will buy it up and license it back like he has photographic archives…  Wouldn’t that be a fine sum up of our age?!

    Yikes! It’s worse than that! Bought and to-be-sold off by a record store.

    Crap! I guess that’s a more apt commentary on the state of private business buying up any resource they can get their money bags on and turning a trick or a buck off it.

    And with it almost spring!

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