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This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.

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By Cort Vitty
(From Radio Recall, June 2006)

Author, historian, RR editor and all around good guy Jack French recently asked if I’d jot down a few words about a web based service that actually makes research easy. Since I’m new to MWOTRC, I figured I’d better comply before Jack makes me stand on a table and sing my college fight song!

ProQuest is an amazing research tool, which allows a historian to access archival material from major publications, while conveniently working at your own computer. I first became aware of its power as a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (or SABR for short.) Access is available as a SABR benefit and for over a year now, I’ve been amazed at how fast I can research literally any subject.

Essentially, ProQuest provides back issues of major newspapers including the New York Times; Washington Post; Chicago Tribune; Los Angeles Times and Atlanta Journal and Constitution. It is a subscription service and depending upon the level of subscription, census records and magazines are also available; new material is added periodically to the content of the library. A new section on “Obituaries” contains data from major national newspapers back to 1851. See their web site at www.proquest.com

Key words are entered into a search field and results are returned. A search can be customized by individual paper, specific dates or range of dates; it’s even possible to do a cumulative search of all data; sometimes this can return thousands of pages of material.

On Jack’s behalf, I volunteered to research actress Peggy Allenby, in her role as Phyl Coe, Detective. I retrieved over 50 articles from the aforementioned papers. In a short span of time, we verified she starred in the series and learned several other tidbits about her interesting background and professional life. Documented were stories about her lengthy stage career; two marriages; even an appendicitis attack that hospitalized her. It took me about 45 minutes to find, read and send the articles to Jack; we even found a nice photo or two.

Despite expressing my delight with the capabilities of the service, I’ve got to offer two points of caution for users. The first has to do with very obscure performers or shows; if little or nothing was written about a show in its day, your search will not return any results. The second point is that the line listing of a show in daily radio logs will come back as part of your search; fortunately this can be filtered out through keywords or setting preferences for the search.

The web site for ProQuest provides costs associated with a subscription to the service. If you’ve got a couple of extra bucks, you may want to consider signing up. This is certainly not a paid endorsement on my part; it’s merely my singing the praises of the finest research tool I’ve found in the thirty plus years I’ve been out of school. If you’re seriously into research, the time savings is well worth the investment, not to mention the gas expense while traveling to the library. I’m sure more of these services will start appearing on the web, but this has got to be one of the best.

Editor’s Note: Getting to use the services of ProQuest may be as easy as ambling over to your public library, many of whom have it available free to their patrons. In addition, some educational and fraternal organizations are adding it to the “perks” list for members. The University of Wisconsin Alumni Association, to which I belong, recently gave access to ProQuest as part of the member benefits for renewing.