Audio-Visual Materials



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Audio-Visual Materials

The primary sources displayed here differ from the other sources in this exhibit in that they are equipment dependent – they are not directly accessible without a specific playback technology. Audio-visual resources on disc, film, magnetic tape, and digital formats require intervening machinery to access the information. Unfortunately, many of these formats as well as their playback mechanisms are rapidly becoming obsolete and some have disappeared altogether.

Documentary sound and video are among the most important resources available for understanding the experience of the 20th century. Both mediums have an intimacy and immediacy that make them ideal resources for an empathetic understanding of the past and indispensable for the preservation of historical events from the 1890s to today.

Sound is the most natural source of information for humans. The “humanness” and directness of sound allows an unmediated engagement with historical events and a more direct participation with the past. In some instances, the power of communication is carried by its sound rather than its text or image, as in the sound of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech that eclipses the video and text of the speech alone.

Acoustical recording was developed in the mid-19th century and moving pictures emerged thirty years later. The desire to combine and synchronize sound and image was not a commercial success until the 1920s. The composite audio-visual document has greatly improved our ability to apprehend past experience in direct and unmediated ways.


Displayed here is a radio transcription disc, sometimes referred to as an “instantaneous cut” disc – a special phonograph record intended for, or recorded from, a radio broadcast. Most commonly 16 inches in diameter and recorded at 33 1/3 rpm, the format was standard from approximately 1930 to 1960 and physically distinguishes most transcriptions from records intended for home use. Transcription recordings from major American radio networks became commonplace during World War II and these discs are the only form in which the broadcasts have survived.

Live broadcasts which were preserved on transcription discs include the crash of the airship Hindenburg in Lakehurst, New Jersey on May 6th 1937 (the well-known "oh, the humanity!" recording) and "The War of the Worlds" by Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater, broadcast on the CBS radio network on October 30th 1938. Before magnetic tape recorders became available, NBC Symphony Orchestra concert broadcasts were preserved on transcription discs. The transcription disc displayed here is a 1950 broadcast of the Fred Beck Show promoting the Los Angeles Farmers Market.

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Audio recording on magnetic tape consists of tape held on an open reel or tape securely contained within a cassette. Open reel formats can record at differing speeds while cassette recording speeds are fixed. Open reel recordings have advantages in sound quality and are easily edited, while cassettes provide ease of use and are highly portable. Both formats have varying sizes: open reel diameters and hubs differ and cassette shell sizes can be micro-sized. On display here is a 1974 interview of Lt. Randall “Duke” Cunningham of San Diego, the only Navy flying ace from the Vietnam War and later a Congressman convicted of bribery in 2006 (cassette); a recording of the “Rockwell Incident” in 1962 when the leader of the American Nazi Party was assaulted during his speech in SDSU’s Open Air Theatre (cassette); and a 7 inch open-reel recording of a 1967 meeting of the Citizens Interracial Committee of San Diego, a pioneering community dialogue group that helped San Diego avoid the extreme violence experienced by other American cities during the Civil Rights movement.

George Lincoln Rockwell (1962):


Lt. Randall "Duke" Cunningham:

Download the PDF transcripts: Part 1; Part 2.


Citizens Interracial Committee, September 1, 1967 (Reel #22-2):

Total running time: 2:11:44.


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After film, 2-inch quadruplex videotape was the first practical and commercially successful analog recording videotape format. Developed for the broadcast television industry in 1956, this format revolutionized broadcast television operations and television production. 2-inch quad is no longer used, supplanted long ago by easier-to-use, more practical formats like U-matic and Betacam. Digital video tape and high-definition have made most analog tape formats obsolete.

U-matic is an analog videocassette recording format developed in 1969. It was among the first video formats to contain the videotape inside a cassette vs. the various open-reel formats of the time. Inexpensive and easier-to-use, the format suffered from mechanical problems that would rub oxide off or wrinkle the tape causing distortion and loss of audio. It also had difficulty reproducing the color red. To minimize this technical flaw, actors were discouraged from wearing red clothing when recorded on U-matic. The U-matic recording displayed above is a unique15 minute clip of Verdi’s Rigoletto performed by the New York Metropolitan Opera in the 1970s.

The Video Home System (VHS) videocassette is a consumer analog recording format developed by   Victor Company of Japan (JVC). Although technically inferior, VHS overcame Betamax as the dominant television recording standard and home video format in the 1970s. Highly portable for its time, it was the camcorder format of choice and a reliable transfer and storage medium for obsolete video and film formats. The demise of VHS began in 1997 with the introduction of the DVD format. As with other analog recording formats, VHS can succumb to mechanical failures in the cassette mechanism as well as tape degradation syndromes. The VHS recording, shown below, is a transfer from film of a history of the San Diego Opera Guild from 1950-2005.


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The ability to capture movement in a photographic process was first developed in France in 1888. Film is essentially still photography that must be exposed and viewed at a specified number of still frames per second to replicate motion. The 16–mm film reel displayed here documents the San Diego State College commencement address given by President John F. Kennedy on June 6, 1963. The film does not include a sound track, which was recorded separately. The audio of Kennedy’s speech was thought to be lost, but was recently discovered and is now available through Special Collections and University Archives at  The other film reel on display here is the original footage (without sound) of the 1970 takeover of Chicano Park in San Diego.

President Kennedy Visits San Diego

Chicano Park Takeover

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Location: SDSU Library & Information Access, Love Library Room 150
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