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Where to find archival audio

As radio storytellers, we know the power recorded sound has to transport listeners to a specific time and place. The popularity of YouTube has made it easy to locate a vast amount of historic audio-visual content from speeches and interviews, to musical performances and television commercials. But not everything is on YouTube or easily surfaced through Google searching.

Here are a few more places to look for archival audio clips:

British Library Sounds

The British Library has made 50,000 of its 3.5 million sound recordings available online. Content includes interviews and oral histories, nature sounds, music, and very early historic audio from pioneers of recorded sound.

Before using British Library Sounds in your story, please review their legal and ethical usage statement. You may need to request a license.

The Internet Archive

The Internet Archive is home to many things, which can make it daunting to search through all the content. Here are a few particularly useful collections where you can search for audio:

TV News Archive

Searchable, closed-captioned broadcast television news from 2009-present. Includes both cable and network news as well as international broadcasters. Ideal for when you’re making a montage of reports from a major event, looking for interview clips, or need to find mentions of a name or place. 

News & Public Affairs

This collection includes WWII-era recordings, public and private presidential speeches, public police and fire scanners, and radio programming including the Pacifica Radio Archives.  

Old Time Radio

Radio dramas, readings, WWII news, and musical performances dating back to the 1920’s. This material is available through Creative Commons licensing, so please review usage terms of each program before using audio in your piece.

Prelinger Archives

Public domain commercials, public service announcements, and educational films dating back to the 1890’s.

Sports clips

Do you need tape of that announcer’s catchphrase or a replay of that winning touchdown/goal/shot/home run? In addition to ESPN, the ACC, MLB, NBA and NFL have excellent collections of sports broadcast highlights. (Review the usage terms before using sound from these archives.)

SoundTransit

NPR’s Neva Grant featured SoundTransit on Morning Edition in 2014. This database collects user-contributed content from around the world, which is indexed by geolocation. The content is primarily environmental ambience: street corners, public parks, wilderness and various forms of transit. It’s all available under a Creative Commons 2.0 License.

Pop Up Archive

In addition to developing audio transcription, tagging, and search tools, the Pop Up Archive also features a portal to content from the Studs Terkel Radio Archive, Pacifica Radio Archives, and Illinois Public Radio among others.

Need it fast?

It may be fastest to reach out by phone or email for help searching these sources. A media relations person, archivist or researcher will be able to quickly point you in the right direction and maybe even deliver your clip on deadline.  

Not on deadline?

There are a wealth of media resources that are not immediately available online. Try searching these databases for that impossible-to-find clip. Please note that turnaround times may be upwards of two weeks and digitization and licensing fees likely apply.  


Will Chase works with NPR’s Research, Archives and Data Strategy Team.