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OTRRpedia - A Vision for the Future

[The following article was written by Larry Husch, the webmaster of OTRRpedia and appeared in the March/April issue of the The Old RadioTimes.]

February 2009 marks the two year anniversary of the start of OTRRpedia by Jim Beshires. His vision for the website was described in his welcome note:

What we are doing in this group is create a database for otr similar to the movie database, with as much information about each series as possible. We need people who will commit on a regular basis to pull the info for each series from the various publications. A template has been created for you to use. You'd put the info into that template and upload it to the Yahoo Group Site as you finish or on a weekly basis, which-ever is best for you. I'll have others who will merge all info into one pdf file, which will be uploaded to our website. This will give people a 'one stop shop' to find out all available info on every radio series we can locate. An ambitious project - yes - but one that could have far reaching results.

Developing the website RadioWebLinks, I attempted to pull together internet links for otr and sort them by series. Thus, I was quite interested in what Jim was proposing, joined with him and eventually integrated what I had done with the results of the efforts of the group.

After seeing how much work there was in writing individual web pages for each of the series on RadioWebLinks, I decided to see how I could use a database program, MySQL, and a programming tool, PHP, to develop this website. Terry Flynn had suggested such a proposal back in 2007 on the forum OTR Trade. An interface that let the members put the information directly into the database was written.

In two years, OTRRpedia has expanded to include information on over 7800 programs and over 12,100 radio personalities. There are also over 3,900 news clips, over 23,000 links to other websites, and over 33,000 references to printed works. There are over 300,000 different webpages on OTRRpedia; of course, this is really a meaningless number/statement.

Does this mean that we are close to the 'one stop shop' that Jim envisioned? The answer is NO in any sense of an answer to this question - we're not even close in any way. A lot more work needs to be done. Over 30 volunteers have worked on this website with 6 others who have contributed information and many others who have agreed to have their information listed on OTRRpedia. We thank them all! Some of these are listed on http://www.otrrpedia.net/acknowledgments.php

Have there been problems? Quite a few - programming and design of database have been modified a lot, problems with multiple names representing the same programs and the same people, conflicting data, problems with some editors quoting sources without attribution, etc.

As a retired professor, I have high respect for proper attribution and for copyright law. I demanded this from my students when I taught (and for myself when I published). I feel that the fair use doctrine applies to OTRRpedia. Last year, I went to seek the advice of a copyright lawyer, had his firm examine OTRRpedia and answer a number of questions that I had. Since most of the information on OTRRpedia does not meet the "minimum threshold of originality," as, e.g., dates, names of programs, names of people, links, references, etc., this information could be published on OTRRpedia. The above-mentioned news clips are from magazines whose copyrights were not renewed and thus are in public domain and, again, could be published on OTRRpedia. The only possible problems were with the Series Synopses. As many of these were short quotes from copyrighted works, one could argue that the fair use doctrine applied. However, as an example, if one takes a short quote from the descriptions of each program in an encyclopedia-type work as Dunning's On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, then the thousands of quotes would not satisfy the fair use doctrine. As a consequence, I have removed all Series Synopses from public view of the website. Guidelines need to be set before we can include that section again.

Where do we go from here? Wikipedia now has many articles on programs and radio personalities. Do we want to become the Wikipedia for otr? I don't think so; I won't go here into the issues related to Wikipedia. Recall what I believe is the important part of Jim's statement above:

'one stop shop' to find out all available info on every radio series we can locate.

Does this mean that we have to have all of this info on OTRRpedia? NO! All that we have to do is to provide the listing of the sources of this info - the person who is seeking this info then will know where he/she can find this info. The model that I am thinking of is a resource that was very valuable in pre-computer days, Reader's Guide for Periodical Literature, which only listed the bibliographic information of articles sorted by topics. It is unfortunate that we chose the name OTRRpedia for the website; the name conveys the idea that the website is an encyclopedia of some form. Why not an enclyclopedia? To write an article for an encyclopedia requires a lot more expertise than just listing the sources for such an article. There are many journals, like the Old Radio Times, which are better vehicles for such articles. Why should we duplicate the many fine encyclopedia and encyclopedia-type works that already exist?

One of the problems that we face with information about otr - quite often data is conflicting. Providing references is a lot easier work than verifying which information is correct. Which one do we choose? I periodically work on a project to compare the information from four sources: New York Times, Radio Guide, Summers' A Thirty-Year History of Programs Carried on National Radio Networks in the U. S. 1926-1956 and Shapiro's Radio Network Prime Time Programming, 1926-1967 for a particular week in 1935. I am surprised by the discrepancies. In addition, a lot of the information about programs is contained in various libraries that require you to personally visit in order to see it. These should be checked if one is writing an authoritative article about a program. Only with this thorough investigation, can one decide whether the information is correct. Again, the journals are better vehicles for such articles so that, in particular, the researcher is acknowledged for this work. It is NOT our goal to compete with the journals, encyclopedias, and other books but to provide references to these.

I feel that these comments define a mission for OTRRpedia that just refines that which Jim originally stated. As we continue to work on OTRRpedia, I feel that more adjustments will be made. We encourage you to join with us and work on this important project.