Nerd Alert: A Digital Cuban Radionovela Historical Archive Will Be Available to the Public By End of Year

Come December, you’ll be able to access a digital archive of Cold War-era Cuban radionovelas that haven’t been heard by the public since they first aired in the 1960s and 1970s. The files will be published by the Latin American Library at Tulane as part of the project “Bringing Back the Soaps,” whose team has been arduously digitizing a portion of an extensive archive called The Louis J. Boeri and Minín Bujones Boeri Collection of Cuban American Radionovelas.

The collection, named after two prominent radionovela figures, contains nearly 9,000 audio reels from 135 different radio soaps. Tulane’s researchers plan to digitize about 2,500 of the reels that they feel best represent the Radionovela Collection and its significance to the geopolitics and culture of the Cold War period. Ida Schooler, the researcher leading the digitization project, suggested to NPR that the radionovelas’ primary use would be for research purposes, but also shared that they could be utilized as clips for Spanish-language learning programs or even as a road trip audio. She admitted, though, “Sometimes it’s really dated and you kind of groan, and you have to just accept that it is of its time. But then sometimes it’s really timeless and feels really modern.”

“Bringing Back the Soaps” initially received funding in January of 2018 from CLIR, the Council on Library and Information Resources, with a grant amounting to nearly $230,000 to cover a two-year period of work. Cuba was a powerhouse in radio programming in the early 20th century; following the Cuban revolution, many of the talents behind the Cuban radio shows immigrated to the U.S. — many to Miami — where their work continued to flourish, evolving into radionovelas. The Radionovela Collection includes a total of 135 radio soap operas, encompassing radionovelas that were aired on over 200 radio stations in the Americas and in Spain in the ‘60s and ‘70s, none of which had been heard since they originally were broadcast on the radio.

In a statement announcing the grant last year, the university pointed out that the commercial programming around the radionovelas targeted homemakers from a predominantly “pan-Hispanic” and female audience, something that had never been done before. Overall, the archive will be an important resource for historians, media scholars, and feminist and Latin American studies. “They provide important insights on the rise of the U.S. Spanish-language media, the construction of a U.S. Hispanic audience and feminist media criticism in particular, as well as the history of Spanish and Latin American radio and advertising, popular culture and performing arts in the post-1959 Cuban diaspora, among many other topics.”

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