Edward R. Murrow's audio essays with the famous -- and not-so-famous -- have been digitized and put online

They represent a slice of American cultural history, says project engineer from Iron Mountain

More than 800 oral essays from Edward R. Murrow's iconic 1950s radio series, This I Believe, have been digitized and placed online for public use by Tufts University.

The digitization project, carried out by Iron Mountain, included nearly 800 reel-to-reel tape recordings with historical giants such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Robinson, Harry S. Truman and Adlai Stevenson.

But, Murrow's radio series also included the everyday teacher, butcher and social worker.

Each person was given five minutes to "talk out loud about the rules they live by, the things they have found to be the basic values in their lives."

The recordings are three to five minutes each. In all, there were 200 reel-to-reel tapes -- countless hours of "priceless, irreplaceable primary source documents that were nearly lost forever due to natural wear and tear from more than 50 years in less than ideal storage," Iron Mountain said.

Cleaning the tapes
Plastic tape backing attracted moisture (binder hydrolysis) that eventually made the tape sticky. Here, an engineer cleans the "gum" off the tape.

Some of the lesser known, but no less impactful and fascinating, personalities Murrow hosted included: Tom Dowd, an engineer credited with inventing multi-track recordings; Nancy Astor, Briton's first female member of parliament; and Frank Lloyd, a director, producer, screenwriter and founding member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The tapes also include Murrow's own introduction to the program.

Tufts' Edward R. Murrow Center for Public Diplomacy commissioned Iron Mountain to digitize the recordings, something that took six months to complete.

"We use a lot of vintage tape machines because we're restoring vintage tapes, so we want to get as close to that era as possible," said Rae DiLeo, studio manager at Iron Mountain's Entertainment Services.

Iron Mountain's digital studios, where the restoration work is performed, is located two miles deep in a tunnel under a mountain in Pennsylvania. The underground facilities, also used for long-term archive storage, were once a limestone mine.

Iron Mountain's underground facility
The mine shafts in Iron Mountain's underground facility are supported with huge limestone columns.

Iron Mountain's Entertainment Services group includes a team of audio engineers and digital conversion experts who've also restored content for the John F. Kennedy Library, the Grammy Museum and the majority of the nation's recording labels, movie studios and cable networks.

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