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By Kirsty Fife on

Insight: Collecting zines at the National Science and Media Museum

As well as books and journals, our library is home to self-published zines covering community broadcasting and pirate radio.

The library at the National Science and Media Museum is a fantastic resource for anyone interested in the history of light and sound-based technologies. We have a collection of over 26,000 books and editions of over 600 periodicals and journals. As part of my role here as Curator of Library and Archives, I am currently spending a lot of time reviewing what we hold here and what we should be collecting to diversify our collections.

Self-publishing is a part of our library collections that we are keen to develop more. During our recent review, we uncovered a selection of pirate and community radio zines from the 1980s among our 1,000+ other periodical titles.

What’s a zine?

A zine is a self-published pamphlet or booklet. Zines are generally made by people without formal design skills, so they often have a haphazard aesthetic. Self-publishing booklets and pamphlets have been produced for centuries (for instance, in radical and political movements), but the term zine was coined later in the 20th century. The term is shortened from the longer ‘fan-zine’, initially used to describe handmade magazines produced by fans of genres of film (like science fiction).

Zines are mainly produced in very short runs and they can tell us a lot about counter-cultures, contemporary language, subcultures and spaces that might not otherwise be documented in formal records. They have been produced by a lot of diverse communities and cultures in the last century including football fans, punks, anarchists, LGBTQ communities, television and film fans and feminists.

The zines we found in our library date from the 1980s and focus on community broadcasting and pirate radio, something Bradford has an amazing legacy of producing!

Monitor and Offshore Echo’s are small press publications about offshore radio and radio technologies. The issues we hold are published in the 1970s and 1980s and include candid insights into offshore broadcasting practice and technologies. The issues include plans of offshore broadcasting ships, photographs of interiors and technologies used in broadcast, as well as informal accounts of these practices. The regularity of these publications also helps us to understand how hobbyist and ‘amateur’ or community broadcasters communicated with each other through columns, self-publishing and letters.

Cover of Offshore Echo’s no. 54
Cover of Offshore Echo’s no. 54
Page from Offshore Echo’s no. 54 including column “On Board the Communicator” focusing on offshore radio ship The Communicator
Page from Offshore Echo’s no. 54 including column “On Board the Communicator” focusing on offshore radio ship The Communicator
The zine includes a plan of the ship
The zine includes a plan of the ship
Cover of Monitor, no. 35
Cover of Monitor, no. 35

Relay is a small magazine about community radio and broadcasting, of which we hold a small amount of issues. This publication has articles about black community radio, are well as queer community radio (including the excellently named Gaywaves), and women’s radio groups. The perspectives contained in small press like this help us to understand how these groups used alternative and community broadcasting to create feminist and queer spaces in broadcasting.

Cover of Relay magazine
Cover of Relay magazine
Inner pages from Relay magazine
Inner pages from Relay magazine

In the last year also we’ve started actively collecting new zines relating to photography, film, television and sound technologies. Here are a few examples of the zines we’ve taken on:

Good Fuzzy Sounds is a zine about the history of fuzz (or distortion). The zine is made by Simon Murphy, who describes it as follows:

It covers my own first experiences of fuzz and DIY pedal-building, a detailed two-part history of early fuzzy sounds on records  up to 1961, leading to the Maestro Fuzztone in the US and the Tone Bender in the UK, the growth of internet fuzz geek networks, the mythology of the mojo transistor, and interviews with Pepe Rush, an early fuzz innovator on the London scene, and Devi Ever, graduate of the internet DIY pedal scene and modern fuzz goodess. Plus ‘my favourite fuzz’, a true life story comic strip, drawings of all 33 of my fuzz pedals, and fuzz luminaries such as Gary Hurst, Vic Flick, Big Joe Sullivan, Lee Hazlewood, Glenn Snoddy, Craig Anderton and many more.

Cover of Good Fuzzy Sounds by Simon Murphy
Cover of Good Fuzzy Sounds by Simon Murphy
Pages from Good Fuzzy Sounds by Simon Murphy—this article explores the history of internet forums for distortion or fuzz hobbyists and producers
Pages from Good Fuzzy Sounds by Simon Murphy—this article explores the history of internet forums for distortion or fuzz hobbyists and producers
Pages from Good Fuzzy Sounds by Simon Murphy—this article explores the history of internet forums for distortion or fuzz hobbyists and producers
Pages from Good Fuzzy Sounds by Simon Murphy—this article explores the history of internet forums for distortion or fuzz hobbyists and producers

Secret, Secret is an oral history zine, which is another really useful way to use zines. The zine contains interviews with pirate radio broadcasters who were active in Hull in the 1990s and early 2000s. Collecting zines like this helps us to insert the perspective of the creators of pirate radio content into our library collections.

Cover of Secret, Secret zine
Cover of Secret, Secret zine

We’re interested in collecting more zines that relate to photography, film, television and broadcast, and sound. We’re particularly interested in hearing about suggested titles relating to DIY (do-it-yourself) uses of technologies in these mediums. This might include resources for learning how to take photographs or make films, or record sound! We’re also interested in zines about subcultures, independent broadcasting (blogging, community and pirate radio), and fan-zines about film and television programmes.

If you have any suggestions for us of current or older titles, please get in touch with us at research@scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk.

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