Preserving Voices from the Past

Today we are swamped with technology that enables us to listen to virtually any music and other recorded sound at anytime.  To capture and reproduce these sounds in extremely high quality we have, among many MP3 and computer devices; iPhones, iPods, iMacs, iPods, iShuffle, iNano and soon to come…iCloud.  Can an iPen and an iBiscuit be far behind? My guess is that they, and other unthinkable devices are on the drawing board as we speak.

We have become numbed to the ever-contracting half-life of technological advancements.  It took almost 100 years to move from 78/33.3/45 RPM records to magnetic tape in the 60’s and almost 40 more years to introduce digital sound to a wide audience.  Only a short 10 years ago Apple introduced the iPod that made digital sound the dominant way music is played today.  And when you buy the latest and greatest music device it is almost obsolete before you get its battery charged

Comparatively speaking, little remains of early sound recordings…and much of what remains is either; lost in dusty attics, soon to disintegrate from age and poor storage or waiting to be discarded as meaningless by a generation with little understanding of these historical gems’ value.  And that is very sad.

But Knoxville is blessed with two archivists possessing hearts for preserving vintage images and sound, the winsomeness to attract people to their cause and the skill to correctly preserve this heritage for future generations to appreciate and enjoy. Bradley Reeves and his wife Louisa Trott founded and operate Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound (TAMIS), which functions as a part of the East Tennessee Historical Society.  Brad, a Knoxville native, is a graduate of the L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, and has worked on film collections at the National Archives, Library of Congress, and the Archives of Appalachia.

They ply their unique and much sought after craft in a climate-controlled laboratory at the Museum at the corner of Clinch and Gay Streets in Knoxville.  Brad is surrounded by both vintage and state of the art equipment that he uses to preserve and transfer both images and sound to more stable and lasting materials.  His ever present smile and excitement is contagious when he talks about being given film and recordings by many desiring that the heritage contained in them be chronicled for future generations.  He shares that passion with many.

When researching for KNOXVILLE HERITAGE and a WW2 Web site project that will be launched in a few weeks, I came in contact with Brad.  We have enthusiastically shared both information and vintage materials over the last few months.

For the last 67 years our family has protected a cherished recording of my Uncle, Lt. Ross W. Perrin – Bombardier on a B-17, being interviewed by the BBC in November of 1944.  This recording was broadcast on WROL Radio in Knoxville on November 23, 1944.  It proved to be the last words we heard from him and the only remaining reproduction of his voice as he was killed on December 11, 1944 in a bombing raid over Mannheim, Germany.  The poignancy of this recording is greater because it has allowed his daughter, Rosalind Perrin Davis, born on January 16, 1945 to hear her Dad’s voice.  The recording is not crystal clear as today’s digital reproductions are, but the crackles and scratches give character to the voice and help us to be mentally transferred to an earlier and meaningful period as we listen.

Brad told me of a show entitled “The Vinyl Frontier” that he, Louisa and Jim Childs host on FM station WDVX 102.9 FM in Knoxville on Monday nights.  Rosalind and I were thrilled when Brad asked if he could highlight the recording on his show this Monday night November 21, 2011 from 9:00 to 11:00 PM.  The Ross Perrin segment will be broadcast at or near 10:00 PM.  For those in Knoxville it can be heard on WDVX 102.9 FM.  It can also be heard over the web at  Simply click on “LIVE Listen Online” and the show can be heard crystal clear.

As you listen, or even if you don’t, consider two things.  First, recapture your family’s old recordings and film and contact Brad to see if he would be interested in using it in expanding his search for documentation of Knoxville’s past.  Second, listen to The Vinyl Frontier on Mondays…it will carry you back to a calmer time and in so doing, warm your heart as it does mine.

Thanks Brad and Louisa for your dedication to preserving Knoxville’s heritage!

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