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Preserving Community Voice: HBCU Radio Preservation Project at Elizabeth City State University

Nearly one-third of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the United States operate radio stations. Many have been on the air for over 50 years, providing an incredible collection of primary source materials that offer invaluable insights into the Black experience during pivotal historical periods, such as the Civil Rights era. However, much of the original programming on magnetic tape and obsolete media is at risk of deterioration. Even present-day digital material is at risk, highlighting the urgent need for reformatting and sustainable preservation efforts.

Recognizing the cultural and historical significance of these collections, the Mellon Foundation has funded the HBCU Radio Preservation Project. This collaborative initiative between WYSO Archives and the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) promotes preservation efforts at HBCU radio stations to safeguard audio collections and bolster resilience by connecting and supporting the institution’s radio and archives staff (press release).

In 2022, Elizabeth City State University (ECSU), home of WRVS-FM, participated in the project’s pilot program. During the pilot phase, NEDCC worked closely with the university’s radio and archives staff on an audio collection assessment, laying the foundation for preservation goals and follow-up training based on their needs. As the project gains momentum and welcomes new participants, this story explores ECSU’s accomplishments and offers insight into the considerations involved in preserving audio collections.

WRVS: Wonderful Radio Viking Style

Located in North Carolina, ECSU was founded in 1891 to train African American teachers. Since then, it has grown into a nationally recognized institution offering 30 degree programs. In 1986, the radio station was initiated through the efforts of ECSU’s Chancellor Jimmy Jenkins, who hired David C. Linton as Special Assistant to the Chancellor for Media Development. As an experienced broadcast manager and program director, Linton worked with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), engineers, and others to get the station on the air. He is also credited with coining the original moniker "Wonderful Radio Viking Style" and the original slogan "Making A Difference in Your Life." Alongside Linton, the original staff included Paula Sutton as the public affairs director and on-air personality; Andre Smith as the news and sports director; Dorothy Keith as the traffic director and gospel announcer; and a group of talented students.

WRVS began transmitting on March 18th as station 90.7 FM. The inaugural broadcast featured the 1979 hit "Ain't No Stopping Us Now,” along with interviews from prominent local figures, including Chancellor Jenkins. WRVS swiftly became Elizabeth City's pioneering radio station and an early adopter of high-definition radio technology in northeastern North Carolina. As a training facility for ECSU students in radio broadcasting, WRVS alumni work at esteemed organizations like iHeart Media, Radio One, WHUR, and Voice of America. The station continues its legacy with a blend of local programming, NPR news, and a mix of gospel, jazz, and R&B music.

Audio Collection Assessment

ECSU and NEDCC began collaborating in 2022 during the pilot phase of the HBCU Radio Preservation Project. Bryce Roe, the director of Audio Preservation Services at NEDCC, traveled to ECSU’s campus to meet with Melba Smith, the director and general manager of Radio and Television Services, along with Cynthia Wise, the circulation librarian at the G.R. Little Library. The goal of the first visit was to identify the current inventory of radio station recordings, learn about the preservation strategies within the university archives, and assess the archive's infrastructure to collaborate with the radio station in caring for historic materials and digital recordings. With audio materials located in drawers, closets, and potentially in the nearby homes of beloved station alumni, the group anticipated insightful discoveries in the years ahead.

Roe’s visit resulted in a written assessment with observations and recommendations for preservation, including guidance on inventorying the analog and digital recordings, moving items into available spaces to protect them from light, possible water intrusion, or accidental damage, and ultimately, planning for reformatting. The report also recommended collaboration with preservation experts on campus, and echoed Wise’s internal advocacy for a full-time university archivist.

Prioritization for Reformatting

Jenohn Euland joined NEDCC and the HBCU Radio Preservation Project as a field archivist in 2023 to continue site visits and support participants with prioritization for reformatting. Magnetic and optical audio carriers are particularly important because they are at a high risk of loss due to equipment obsolescence, along with chemical and physical instability. The best strategy to ensure long-term access is to transfer them into a digital format that can more easily be carried into the future.

“There are multiple factors to consider when prioritizing items for digitization,” Euland explains, including the historical or cultural significance, level of use or access, and the risk of deterioration or loss over time. In supporting the prioritization process, Euland assessed the various formats stored in ECSU’s archive, library, and radio station facilities, such as Digital Audio Tapes (DATs), compact cassettes, CDs, open-reel tapes, and vinyl records. She noted the accompanying metadata written directly on the media or its housing for any significant information regarding original programming. Additionally, she evaluated the physical condition of the carriers, looking for signs of degradation. Notably, four open-reel tapes showed signs of mold, making them a high priority for reformatting.

Understanding the typical usage of each format was also helpful in determining which carrier likely contained original programming. For example, DATs typically host unique content because of the nature of their recording capabilities, while vinyl records primarily featured commercial music. As a result, the former were prioritized for the first round of reformatting efforts.

Guided by the question, “What contributes to the legacy of the HBCU community and the legacy of the station?” Euland shared her findings with Smith and Paige Hendrickson, the newly hired university archivist at ECSU. Based on the metadata, risk of deterioration, and unique content typically found on DATs, the group selected 47 DATs and the four moldy reels for reformatting.

Reformatting at NEDCC

Before reformatting, NEDCC performed mold remediation on the open-reel tapes. Then, Hannah Rose Baker, an audio preservation engineer at NEDCC, performed 1:1 fully attended transfers of the DATs and open-reel tapes, listening to each carrier as it was being reformatted. This approach ensures 100% quality control, confirming that the reformatting was successful. This workflow saves ECSU from investing staff time in reviewing hours of content for accuracy.

Moreover, according to Baker, “This was particularly useful for this project because I was able to provide notes identifying which programs were likely original versus NPR, house fundraising, or promo spots.” Ultimately, this workflow will help ECSU identify which formats have original programming.

The Value of Preservation

For ECSU, the basic idea and early goals of the HBCU Radio Preservation Project allowed for conversations between WRVS Radio and the University Archives as they laid the groundwork for relocating and rehousing WRVS’s recordings, materials, and legacy equipment. However, the specifics, detailed inventories, and other minutia take longer to develop.

Through NEDCC-led training, informed conversations, and many hours of work, the University Archives began to make collection-specific observations and decisions. Moreover, the pilot assessment shed light on critical needs, prompting quick action to address issues such as mold contamination and environmental concerns.

“The project not only set WRVS and the ECSU Archives in the right direction towards preserving the station's history, but also provides practical training opportunities for staff and students to support this initiative in perpetuity,” notes Melba Smith, the director and general manager of ECSU Radio and Television Services.

ECSU’s overarching goal of access for researchers also led to broader conversations about accessibility. Based on the pilot assessment, the University Archives wrote and won grants that allowed for additional expert assessments and the acquisition of new environmental regulating and monitoring equipment. The archives have also procured proper archival housing for some of the specialized materials and will soon be reformatting more of the WRVS recordings.  

One additional advantage of the project is the assistance provided with conducting thorough inventories. This task is typically carried out by a single archivist along with several student assistants. For ECSU, these inventories serve to document the station's musical history, providing valuable insights into the diverse playlists curated by each director. By documenting this history, they gain a better understanding of WRVS's significant influence on both the campus and the wider community.


By participating in the HBCU Radio Preservation Project, ECSU has made important advancements in preserving WRVS's valuable history and ensuring its availability for future generations. ECSU's involvement also highlights the project's flexibility in tailoring preservation training to meet the specific needs of the institution. In summary, the HBCU Radio Preservation Project presents a distinctive chance to create a significant influence through teamwork. We invite those interested to reach out!

Written by Hannah Rose Baker (NEDCC Audio Preservation Engineer), Jenohn Euland (NEDCC Field Archivist for Audio Collections), Ryn Marchese (NEDCC Marketing Manager), Bryce Roe (NEDCC Director of Audio Preservation), Melba Smith (ECSU Director and General Manager of Radio and Television Services). March 2023.

Elizabeth City State University
Elizabeth City State University (ECSU) was founded in 1891 to bring a world-class education within reach of African American students. ECSU ensures access to excellent, student-centered, experiential learning. ECSU offers bachelor's, professional, and master's degrees. Through practical education, applied research, and public and private partnerships, we prepare a diverse student body for personal and professional success to positively impact the region, state, nation, and beyond. Learn more at

University Archives:
Radio and Television:

HBCU Radio Preservation Project
Funded by the Mellon Foundation, the HBCU Radio Preservation Project works with HBCU radio stations and archives to preserve historical broadcast media. By doing so, the HBCU radio legacy remains available for scholars, researchers, students, faculty, community members, and media producers in the future. Learn more at

The Northeast Document Conservation Center was founded in 1973 as a non-profit devoted to improving the conservation and preservation efforts of libraries, archives, historical organizations, museums, and other repositories; provide the highest quality services to institutions that lack in-house conservation/reformatting facilities or that seek specialized expertise; and provide leadership in the preservation and conservation fields.

Bryce Roe, Director of Audio Preservation, [email protected].

Through its parent entity Miami Valley Public Media (MVPM), WYSO is the administrative hub and fiscal agent for the project on behalf of the Center for Radio Preservation and Archives. WYSO will contribute technical expertise in conducting oral histories and producing media with historical audio. While the WYSO/MVPM mission is local, its vision and core beliefs speak to a greater leadership role that encompasses projects such as this.