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American Scene audio tapes, 1959-1964

Identifier: 036.05.04

"The American Scene" audio tapes, a series of recordings produced by Illinois Institute of Technology to accompany a weekly television program broadcast on WNBC-TV (Chicago). Audio recordings were subsequently re-broadcast as radio programs on WMAQ (Chicago).


  • 1959-1964


Language of Materials

Records are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

Restricted Collection: These recordings are in reel-to-reel format and need to be converted to digital format before they can be heard.

Collection Size

88 Audio recordings

Biographical / Historical

When John T. Rettaliata became the second president of the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1952, he initiated what would become two decades of expansion that transformed IIT's educational mission and physical plant into that which we recognize today. As part of his vision for the modern urban university, Rettaliata saw the potential offered by radio, and the young medium of television, to bring the University to the people. Rettaliata's comments on the dangers posed by the atomic bomb emphasized the urgent need for technically savvy leaders. His frequent speeches on the Soviet technical education system suggest both the need for an educated populace in a democratic society and the importance of higher education supported by free enterprise.

In 1955, Rettaliata served as Chairman of the Educational Advisory Board for Educational Television in Chicago. He noted the potential offered by educational radio and television for "advancing the spiritual and material welfare of the country," helping create a more culturally and technologically literate society. Furthermore, in an age when private higher education found it increasingly difficult to compete with public supported universities, educational broadcasting would also strengthen IIT's reputation as a first-class educational and research institution. The contacts made with business and industry for production of the television and radio programs could also prove valuable sources of patronage for the Armour Research Foundation and financial support for the university.

During Rettaliata's tenure IIT produced a number of high quality programs for broadcast on Chicago radio and television. As an indication of the scope of IIT's early efforts in educational programming, in 1952 and 1953 IIT produced 26 television programs for broadcast on WBBM-TV and 15 programs for WGN-TV. During that period IIT also participated in a project with four other colleges and universities in the Chicago metro called "Operation New Horizons." IIT, Roosevelt University, Lake Forest College, Loyola University, and the University of Illinois cooperated to fill a daily schedule of educational programming on WBIK-FM. This was all done before Chicago had an educational radio or television station. Chicago's educational Channel 11, WTTW, did not begin broadcasting until 1955.

In 1957 IIT created the Office of Radio and Television within the Department of Public Relations. It consolidated the three separate departments of Public Relations Radio and Television, Educational Radio and Television, and Visual Aids. As its head, John B. Buckstaff struggled to keep the work of the office independent of the demands of both the office of Public Relations and the academic branch of IIT. The Office of Radio and Television proposed ideas for radio and television series to local stations, and, if accepted, solicited program topic ideas from the faculty. The Office of Radio and Television produced the programs on the IIT campus, often with assistance from student technicians. Faculty members appearing regularly were either paid or received release time from their teaching duties as compensation.

The award-winning series Ear on Chicago was broadcast on WBBM radio from August 14, 1955 until March 8, 1958. The series continued on WMAQ as City in Sound into 1959. It covered a wide range of topics in the arts and industry in Chicago. The American Scene began in 1958 and ran for 5½ years on television station WNBQ, with a weekly rebroadcast on radio station WMAQ. In the beginning it covered topics related to the work of Chicago authors, artists, and scholars, showcasing IIT's strengths in the liberal arts. In later years, it reformulated as a panel discussion and broadened its subject matter into social and political topics. University Archives and Special Collections holds a substantial collection of audiotapes from Ear on Chicago, City in Sound, and The American Scene, as well as other programs from the 1950s and 1960s.

Historical Background researched and written by Tony Bremholm, IIT Archives Intern, 8/3/2001

Physical Location


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Formerly 1998.069

Related Material

1998.068 City in Sound series, 1998.067 Ear on Chicago series


Catherine Bruck, University Archivist

Part of the Paul V. Galvin Library. University Archives and Special Collections Repository

35 West 33rd Street
Chicago IL 60616
(312) 567-5993

Paul V. Galvin Library

35 West 33rd Street | Chicago, IL | 60616