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University Of Wisconsin Aims To Preserve Nearly Century-Old Public Radio


EVERETT MITCHELL: "The National Farm And Home Hour" comes to you today from the University of Wisconsin in Madison.


The first crackles of public radio. In the early 20th century, WHA in Madison brought weather news to farmers and advice for women who worked at home on "The Farm Program" and "The Homemakers' Program," shows carried by radio waves out over the prairies of Wisconsin. Those programs were recorded on transcription discs, some of which are almost a century old. University of Wisconsin just received a grant to preserve those recordings funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Cat Phan is a digital and media archivist at UW Madison. And she and her team will restore some 250 transcription discs similar to vinyl records.

CAT PHAN: It was made of a softer material then maybe a vinyl record that most people are familiar with. And you can visibly see the coating cracking. Sometimes, it looks like bubbling. And the coating will start to flake off the core of the disc. So there is a clock ticking on all this. We know that it's starting to deteriorate.


MITCHELL: Cabbages have developed a serious ailment. And thousands of acres turned yellow and died in midsummer.

ERIKA JANIK: "The Farm Program" was really kind of a daily lifeline to farmers who were listening to this radio program.

SIMON: Erika Janik is a historian and former executive producer of "Wisconsin Life" on Wisconsin Public Radio.

JANIK: It was where they heard about the weather. It's where they got market reports, help with your gardening, advice for farmers on storing crops.

SIMON: She says "The Homemaker Program" was a spinoff of "The Farm Program." Hosted by Aline Hazard, it aimed toward women who worked on the farms of rural Wisconsin.

JANIK: They're often living miles away from their nearest neighbor. And so the radio was really a companion for them. And so a lot of people really identified Aline Hazard as their friend, you know? She was this person that came on every day on the radio.


ALINE HAZARD: Today, we have with us in the studio an authority on one of Wisconsin's most important products - cheese.

JANIK: This being Wisconsin, she, of course, did a program about cheese. She also talked about how to make salad dressings.


HAZARD: Mr. Galley, there is variety in salad dressings, isn't there?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Definitely. Salad dressings in oil is the secret of success.

SIMON: Erika Janik says when she talked to people about the homemakers show, a lot of people remembered their parents tuning in. They look forward to hearing these programs once they're restored.

JANIK: It's telling a chapter of our nation's history and of women's history that I think a lot of people don't know about. You know, it might seem a little antiquated because it was called "The Homemakers' Program." And maybe we wouldn't use those words today. But a lot of the things that she was covering on her program are things that you still see on television and see in magazines today.

SIMON: And you know what? BJ Leiderman did their theme music, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.