Colorado station builds vast archive of its history, helps others preserve theirs

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Laura Sampson, founder of Station's Archived Memories at Rocky Mountain Public Media, interviews a longtime fellow volunteer. The archive includes more than 200 interviews with station staff and volunteers.

Realizing that the 60-plus-year history of Rocky Mountain Public Media, founded in 1956, is rich and unique, a group of dedicated volunteers organized a project over 17 years ago known as Station’s Archived Memories (SAM). Established in 2000 through a CPB grant, the mission of SAM is to identify, document and preserve the history of Rocky Mountain Public Media relating to its volunteer, programming, community outreach and administrative operations.

Rocky Mountain Public Media volunteers pose for a photo on the station’s birthday (Jan. 30) in 2015.

Over the years, a rotation of at least 200 volunteers have continued to give freely of their time to create, develop and maintain the archives. The volunteer group averages 35 people annually and is subdivided into several topic-specific committees. Monday through Friday, volunteers can be found in the SAM Office at Rocky Mountain Public Media organizing and digitally preserving local productions, photographs, memorabilia, station documents and oral histories. The accomplishments of this remarkable volunteer group are staggering.

As of September 2017, over 95,600 items have been numbered, electronically archived and preserved for Rocky Mountain Public Media. Every archived item is photographed or scanned and assigned a unique accession number. All known details about the items are entered into the SAM database.

  • 60,000 photographs
  • 16,400 station-related documents
  • 3,800 memorabilia items
  • 204 oral history interviews
  • 776 local productions have been preserved to DVD
  • 14,500 tapes of local productions have been inventoried

Along with archiving historic and current information, SAM maintains a directory of all employees of Rocky Mountain Public Media since its inception in 1956. The directory contains a photograph of each staff member and lists their names, job titles, years of employment and, if known, current contact information. Additionally, a 130-page ongoing timeline of the station’s history is regularly updated as milestones are discovered or achieved.

The archives are used in countless ways, such as:

  • Material for publications by Rocky Mountain Public Media
  • Responding to viewer questions
  • Photographs for print, special events, or online materials
  • Historic presentations to staff, governing board members, community and more
  • Public or in-house displays at special events, luncheons and more
  • Clips, photographs or DVD copies of footage or entire programs
  • Historic information for researchers and friends of Rocky Mountain Public Media
  • Information about local productions since 1956
  • Providing a secure home for donations of personal memories related to Rocky Mountain Public Media (memorabilia, photographs, etc.)
  • Providing material and information to the American Archive of Public Broadcasting

Rocky Mountain Public Media staffers peruse a 2015 exhibit organized by the station’s archives.

Any public media station could easily replicate the volunteer-driven SAM Project. In 2003, the volunteers authored a complete SAM Toolkit explaining their organizational structure and procedures and distributed a copy of the toolkit to every PBS station in the country. After 17 years of experience, archive methods and procedures have changed, but the basic premise remains the same.

Does your station have an upcoming milestone anniversary or event? Would you like to have an archive about the entire history of your public media station? The volunteers of Rocky Mountain Public Media welcome all inquiries about creating and organizing an archive project. Please contact Volunteer Coordinator Susan Barber for further information.

Laura K. Sampson is the founder of Station’s Archived Memories at Rocky Mountain Public Media and has been a volunteer at the station since 1974.

This essay appears as part of Rewind: The Roots of Public Media, Current’s series of commentaries about the history of public media. The series is created in partnership with the Radio Preservation Task Force, an initiative of the Library of Congress. Josh Shepperd, assistant professor of media studies at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and national research director of the RPTF, is Faculty Curator of the Rewind series. Email: shepperd@cua.edu