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Ancient Pre-Internet Message Boards Unearthed at Harvard


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While hanging out with the folks at Harvard's student radio station for a story about a long-running specialty show, Phoenix music editor Michael Brodeur was shown a shelf filled with grade-school-style composition notebooks dating back to the early 1980s. Since first coming on the air in 1984, DJs at WHRB's Record Hospital have been keeping meticulous records of every night, every playlist, every song (or non-song) they've ever played. (And let's face it: any radio station that can go 24 years without playing "Sister Christian" deserves a closer look.)

The hand-written journals, which were kept in the studios and became the primary means of communication between dozens of DJs, reveal that many of the tropes that we tend to associate with message boards -- the snarky put-downs, the punning screen-names, the long-running flame wars -- were actually alive and kicking at least a decade before the Web browser. It's kind of like finding AIM chats in a cave painting. Note: the images below are merely thumbnails -- click on the links to see the pages in their full context/splendor.

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This playlist from September of ’84 demonstrates the Hospital’s penchant for mishmash--like throwing the local likes of the Del Fuegos, The Neats and The Neighborhoods in with Corrosion of Conformity, Let’s Active, and tons, tons of Hoodoo Gurus--which seems so odd for some reason. Maybe I just need to listen to Hoodoo Gurus. Thanks, Record Hospital!

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Most DJs would kill to have 42 listeners call their underground punk radio show in the middle of the night. Change that to “42 requests for bullshit Dio and Scorpions tracks” and it doesn’t sound as appealing.

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Some nights were slow, and gothy blocks were interrupted by tropical daydreams.

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The RCB (Rock Communications Book) is an ongoing communique between Record Hospital DJs, hand-scrawled over volumes and volumes of 99-cent composition notebooks. Journal entries are marked with “symbols” identifying their writers and intended audiences (though surely much of the fun was watching the turmoil of others unfold from a safe, anonymous distance). This, plus the eerily pre-internet references to “flaming” (and this is ’84, not ’94), make these notebooks an eye-opening peek into the makings of modern messageboarding.

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PWNED: The RCB was also a great way to call out flakey DJs. Oh! You’re a Harvard freshman and have a lot of studying to do? Well Jesus, Ron, we’re all just blown away over here.

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Another tie to the online forums of today: The private humiliation of unwitting members of the public.

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NO FAIR!: One major advantage to the analog approach: You can edit the living hell out of your posts.

-- Michael Brodeur

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