Recorded relics sought for museum collection

Seattle's Museum of History & Industry and KPLU-FM launch a scavenger hunt today, calling upon anyone within earshot to scour their attics and search through boxes for nuggets of recorded sound that spin tales of the area's past.

Recordings judged historically significant will become part of MOHAI's permanent audio collection and may be borrowed as one of KPLU's "Soundscapes," a recurring 30-second segment that features sounds of the Pacific Northwest. Those who submit selected recordings will win annual memberships to MOHAI.

"The audio should tell a story while helping people learn more about the region's past," said Feliks Banel, MOHAI deputy director. "We'll be looking for artifacts, not antiques."

1950s Puget Sounds

Ivar's radio ads:
· Brain food, :38
Real (195K) | MP3 (852K)

· Lovely Puget Sound, :50
Real (657K) | MP3 (150K)

· The Viaduct, :43
Real (744K) | MP3 (170K)

Norm Hoagy Orchestra with Marge Whaley:
· The Seattle Song, 2:03
Real (2M) | MP3 (485K)

Museum officials are keeping an open mind while at the same time not wanting to be buried under recordings of just any old thing.

The selected sounds, for example, could be old political speeches, local band performances or radio newscasts of regional or national events. Or they might be as simple as audio from a birthday party in the 1950s — as long as they present the past in an interesting and contextual way.

"They do not necessarily have to be significant moments in history," said John Kessler, who produces "Soundscapes" for KPLU (88.5). "There is value in learning how regular people lived 50 years ago."

MOHAI librarian Carolyn Marr, who will screen submissions, said sounds that reflect the region's industrial past, such as recordings about fishing or logging, would particularly pique her interest.

"I will be looking for sounds that speak something about this region," she said. "The sound should evoke images of the history of this area."

The recordings can be tucked within just about anything, including obsolete formats such as reel-to-reel tapes or transcription discs, which are 16-inch vinyl records popular in the mid-20th century for preserving sound. A recording also could be submitted in the form of the audio track of a film, video or even a home movie.

Banel said the museum looks forward to expanding its current audio archives, which feature several treasured recordings from the 1950s. They include transcription discs of the late Ivar Haglund ad-libbing as pitchman for his Ivar's Acres of Clams restaurant on Pier 54.

"Clam-happy greetings," the restaurateur begins in one advertisement in which he half-jokingly blames Seattle traffic problems for hurting his business. Haglund croons:

There's a traffic problem in Seattle

That's causing lots of trouble to me.

Our customers get on that Alaskan Way viaduct

And there's no way off that they can see.

Haglund encourages listeners to get off the viaduct and follow Alaskan Way to the foot of Madison Street to eat at his restaurant.

Some of MOHAI's collection already has been lifted by Kessler in creating segments for KPLU's weekly "Soundscapes" series, which began airing last summer.

Kessler described "Soundscapes" as the local spin on National Public Radio's Peabody Award-winning "Lost and Found Sound" series, which runs on "All Things Considered," the network's weekday afternoon news and entertainment program.

"I have no idea whether the submissions will result in five or 50 new 'Soundscapes,' " Kessler said. "I think it will be on the high side because people tend to keep things they know are precious."

Banel said recordings accepted for MOHAI's permanent collection either will be copied or obtained under arrangements with the owner.

Stuart Eskenazi: 206-464-2293 or