posted April 22, 2004

Recordings from 1947 Tell Holland History

A radio program created to celebrate Holland's history more than 50 years ago has been preserved so that it can be enjoyed again by a new generation.

The Joint Archives of Holland, based at Hope College, has transferred from LP to compact disc the broadcast program "Echoes of a Century," which was prepared in commemoration of Holland's centennial in 1947. The program is available for purchase from the archives as a three-disc set.

The transfer project has been made possible through a grant from the New York-based Netherland-America Foundation.

"Echoes of a Century" was professionally recorded by the Netherlands Information Bureau (NIB) to illustrate the story of Holland, from the origins of the Dutch settlers' decision to immigrate to the New World to the then present-day.

"It's practically like any book you'd find on Holland, Michigan," said Geoffrey Reynolds, director of the Joint Archives of Holland. "It starts with the separation in the Netherlands and follows the history up to 1947."

Reynolds describes "Echoes of a Century" as similar to an old-time radio show, complete with narration, in-character portrayals, reenactments and music. The program, originally presented on seven over-sized, double-sided, 33 rpm LPs, consists of 13 episodes: "Prologue," "The Promised Land," "The Great Adventure," "Trail of Hope," "Their Faith Is Like Abraham's," "The Wilderness Beyond," "Little Holland," "Memoirs of the Kolonies," "Silver Anniversary," "Beloved Inheritance," "One Hundred Years After," "Tulip Time in Holland" and "Epilogue: Generation of 1947."

"Echoes of a Century" is narrated by Ben Grauer (1908-77). As a radio announcer for NBC, his career included narrating several programs, among them episodes of "Ellery Queen." His national program "Pot O' Gold," which randomly called people and gave $1,000 (in 1939 dollars) to those who answered, gathered so many listeners that theatre owners complained of low attendance during the Tuesday night broadcasts. He reported the arrival of the New Year from Times Square in New York for NBC radio for several decades.

A schedule for the community's Aug. 13-16 centennial celebration notes that selected episodes of "Echoes of a Century" were played daily in Centennial Park. Reynolds is interested in learning other ways that the program might have been presented, including from area residents with long memories. "The records are scarce and we may have the only complete set in existence" he said.

Scarce, too, were the original records themselves. Reynolds was aware of the program for several years, but... "I had never seen the full seven-record set until a donor gave it to us," he said.

With the program now in-hand, Reynolds was interested in making it available more broadly. The compact disc project is the result.

The transfer from the original records was conducted by Dr. David Schock, associate professor of communication at Hope.

The primary challenge, Schock noted, was finding a way to play the originals and then get the 1940s-era and 21st century technology to communicate. Fortunately, through the years he had collected period equipment including a high-end transcription table and stylus capable of handling the 16-inch, deep-grooved records. He ultimately linked the antique equipment through an analog/digital converter to modern software packages and an iMac.

"I love working with old recordings: the idea is that there's a signal trapped there, a signal we can't get to unless we go both backward and forward in time and technology," he said.

Reynolds is pleased that the material is now more widely accessible. "Now it will be available for the first time since 1947, and on digital format to local schools, colleges, libraries and researchers, as well of course to anyone else who enjoys local history," he said.

The cover design for the set is by Hope sophomore Aaron Powell of Palos Heights, Ill. The CDs themselves are being printed to feature the original record label.

Copies of "Echoes of a Century" are available for $19.95 (Michigan residents must also add six percent sales tax for a total of $21.15), plus $5 for shipping and handling. The Joint Archives of Holland is located on the ground level of the Van Wylen Library, and can be e-mailed at archives@hope.edu or called at (616) 395-7798.

The Netherland-America Foundation seeks to strengthen the bonds of friendship and appreciation between the two nations through exchange in the arts, culture, education, business and policy-making. The foundation's mission is supported by donations from individual and corporate donors to provide grants for dance, chamber music, jazz, historic preservation and architecture, visiting professorships and educational exchange, including Fulbright Fellowships.

The "Echoes of a Century" transfer is one of two Holland projects supported recently by the foundation, which has also provided funding for the "Manhattan Project" at the Holland Area Arts Council. The April 30-June 18 mixed media exhibition emphasizes the similarities between Holland and the U.S.

The Netherland-America Foundation has a strong local connection. The foundation's executive director, Joan Kuyper, is the wife of L. William Kuyper, a 1961 Hope graduate who was originally from Holland. L. William Kuyper, the son of Dr. Lester J. and Helen Kuyper, is a French hornist with the New York Philharmonic.