Sound and Vision digitises its transcription discs

The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision (Nederlands Instituut voor Beeld en Geluid) has one of the largest audiovisual archives in Europe. In july 2012 the institute started to digitize its large collection of transcription discs (gesneden platen).  

The archives of Sound and Vision contain over 750,000 hours of radio, television, music and film. One of the least common parts of this collection are the so called transcription discs. Gesneden plaat van glas These records are not to be confused with commercial recordings (handelsplaten). Transcription discs or lacquer discs go back to the times before taperecorders did exist. They were used to prerecord radioprograms with or to record broadcasts. In general they look like ordinary records but the content is quite unique. The records themself consist of a core, mostly glass or aluminum, coated with a black lacquer. When the recordings starts, the grooves would be engraved into this lacquer surface. These instantaneous discs could be played immediately after the recording. Most of the transcription discs are unique, because they have not been duplicated and have been used for one single broadcast. Sound and Vision has about 25,000 transcription discs, well stored in it's basement in Hilversum, dating from the mid-thirties until around 1969. They usually are 12 inch in diameter and play at 78rpm. A lot of the older ones play inside out and have more than one hole in the middle.

Dutch History

The content of these discs not only teaches us a lot about Dutch people and their history but it also reflects the complicated Dutch broadcasting system with their so-called 'omroepen' (broadcast organisations with members). For example the catholic broadcaster KRO did record a lot of masses in churches everywhere in the country. The socialist organisation VARA spent a lot of reports on the socialist party PVDA. Their party-congress from 1953 covers 23 records. An interesting category are the so-called ' klankbeelden', reports made specially for the radio. Like the one about Christmas in war year 1943 or a report from 1940 recorded in the famous Dutch glass factory Leerdam. From a special importance are the recordings made during the Second World War. The Sound and Vision collections includes a lot of programs made by the occupied, pro-German national radio. But also from Radio Oranje, the Dutch radio which broadcasted from out the BBC studios in London. On these special BBC discs, with only one side playable, you can hear somebody like the Dutch Queen Wilhelmina. The Dutch royalty was a popular subject for recordings on transcription discs. Not only speeches but also lots of official proclamations such as the birth of princess Beatrix in 1938.

Images For The Future

The digitizing of transcription discs is part of the big project Images for the Future (Beelden Voor De Toekomst). This digitizing program is a joint project with a few Dutch institutes, like Eye (the Dutch film museum). It started in 2007 and it will end in 2014. The aim is to digitize the audiovisual memory of the Netherlands. The transcription disc project is a collaboration between Ericsson (former Technicolor broadcasting facilities) and Sound and Vision. Harry Coster, specialized in sonic restoration of old (pre-1960) recordings, plays an important role in educating of the operators and the tools they work with.

As one of the digitizing operators I shall be posting regular blogs to inform you about details and the progress of this transcription discs program.