The audio began, “This is Archives of the Air.” It was followed by a 50-second description of the occasion when Kenpachiro Satsuma was struck with appendicitis while filming Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster. With no time to lose, doctors operated on Satsuma while he was still wearing the 100+ pound Godzilla costume!
For the Clarke Historical Library’s Bryan Whitledge, what was more interesting than Godzilla’s emergency appendectomy were the secrets of how Wyoming Public Radio produced this program and others. The behind-the-scenes information was explained by staff from the University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center (AHC) during a presentation at the 2019 national meeting for archivists. The presenters explained how their partnership with Wyoming Public Media allowed them to showcase some of the interesting stories found in their archives—stories most people never realize are right in their backyard. Even while the presenters were talking, the wheels began turning in Bryan’s mind. He thought about all of the material held by the Clarke Historical Library and how his library could form a similarly fruitful partnership with Central Michigan University Public Media, WCMU.
Bryan brought what he learned back to Mt. Pleasant and talked it over with John Fierst, the Clarke’s Public Services Librarian. John was intrigued, and the two contacted colleagues at WCMU to see what they might be able to do. Bryan and John invited WCMU staff members to the Clarke to show them some “gems” and to share a few of the anecdotes buried in the archives. Following the advice of the archivists from Wyoming, Clarke staff left it to WCMU to come up with the best platform for delivering those stories to their audiences.
After meeting at the Clarke, WCMU’s Matt Ozanich and Mike Horace came up with the perfect way to share the wonders of the Clarke: “Let’s Go Back ”—a semi-monthly series to be uploaded to the WCMU website and aired on the radio. Based on what they saw, Mike and Matt suggested a couple of ideas they thought would make for great first stories: Bay City’s Aladdin kit homes, a first edition of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the Bingham Family Papers about life in Sault Ste. Marie in the first half of the 1800s, and more.
The “Let’s Go Back” team had two ingredients to make a good idea: interesting materials from the Clarke and the research skills and knowledge of the Clarke staff. Turning that good idea into a great production involved an additional ingredient: the storytelling and editing magic of Matt and Mike at WCMU. For each program, they conduct extended interviews with John and Bryan, recording all of the interesting facts and stories about the objects on display. Then, back at the studio, they edit the audio to piece together the essential two-to-three-minute story that will grab listeners’ attention when the piece is aired on the radio.
With video, they add more color to the tales by showing the objects and using graphics to highlight the key aspects of the stories. By combining the audio with the film of the interview, footage of the objects, and eye-catching special effects, the final productions are an excellent way to introduce the people of Michigan to some of the special items found right here in their backyard.
“Let’s Go Back” airs in the 7:00 am hour and 6:00 pm hour every other Wednesday on WCMU Public Radio. The installments are available anytime via the WCMU website (https://radio.wcmu.org/term/lets-go-back) and on WCMU’s YouTube channel.