Thoughts on tagging OTR MP3 files

Collectors of Old Time Radio shows in MP3 format have different ways of managing their files.  The usual convention for naming MP3 files by the OTR community is to use a filename that includes the show title, date (year-month-day) and episode title.  In my mind, this method has several limitations if you have a large collection of shows and makes it difficult to browse shows on a portable mp3 player or a media-management device, such as the Playstation 3.

I use iTunes to manage my MP3 library and have found it more useful in many ways to take a different approach with filenames and use the MP3 tags for information about the show.  So, for what it's worth, here's my method of naming and tagging OTR MP3 files for use in iTunes and on portable media players or in software such as Windows Media Center.  (Note that I use iTunes for tagging my mp3 files, but you could use pretty much an modern mp3 management software to do the same thing.)

First off, understand that you can edit the MP3 tags in iTunes itself - just click on the song name, artist or album and enter the info you want. What's interesting is that, in the default settings, you can have iTunes "manage your music library". What this means is that iTunes automatically changes the name of the MP3 file based on the Song Name tag; in addition, it automatically creates folders based on the Artist tag and, within those, folders based on the Album tag.

So, in it's simplest form, my MP3 tags look like this:

  • Song Name: 1934-03-04 116 Duel in the Graveyard
  • Artist: Jack Benny Show
  • Album: Jack Benny Show (The Chevrolet Show)

For genre, I use OTR-genre (such as OTR-Comedy, OTR-Variety, etc) and for the Composer tag, I use the name of the network, Syndicator or individual radio station (NBC, Cardinal Syndication, etc.)

What this allows me to do is a) keep neat folders and subfolders of OTR series that are grouped together and b) to do sorting of shows by date, series, genre or network when viewing my library in iTunes itself.

I based this scheme on the idea that the tags have a broader meaning beyond their use with songs.

There are some details to the system to make it work and conventions I use. In the Jack Benny show example, you see the date, program number in the series, and title of the show:

1934-03-04 116 Duel in the Graveyard

Another example might use the guest if there's no name for the episode:

1949-06-03 Guest Mrs Lou Gehrig

If I know the decade of the show, the entry looks like this:

195x-xx-xx Dumb Luck

For a syndicated show, I'll use the year it was first syndicated:

1931-xx-xx 04 Arriving in England

With most shows, the Artist and Album are the same. However, I use the album field to distinguish "sub series" within a larger one. Some examples:

  • Amos N' Andy (CBS Sitcom)
  • Amos N' Andy (NBC Serial)
  • Amos N' Andy (Syndicated Serial)
  • Amos N' Andy (Commercial Recordings)
  • Jack Benny Show (The Grape Nuts Program)
  • Jack Benny Show (The Jello Program)
  • The Goon Show (Series 04)

On the Composer field, I use a convention so I can spot airchecks, with the network name followed by a dash and the station name (such as "CBS-WXXX").

I work for Duke, and I started using iTunes heavily when they gave all the Freshmen and many of the staff iPods. I have about 1300 MP3 files in iTunes using this format that I've assembled over the past few years.

It makes everything really organized and easy to sort, even if you're not using iTunes, but it can be a real bear to enter the info. iTunes does let you change several MP3 files at once, so you can put in a Series Name/Artist or other field on many files at the same time, but you have to do the Song Name/Epsiode Date and Title individually.

The end result of all this tedious work is that I can bring up iTunes, click on a column and all my shows will sort by date, series name, genre or network. Or, if I go into the iTunes folder, my shows are neatly arranged into a series folder, a series subfolder and then with individual episodes arranged by date based on the MP3 file title.

In some cases, if I have the time and info, I put a plot synopsis and names of performers and other info in the Comments field. iTunes does have a search function, but doesn't search comments - if it did, and I had all the info there, I could bring up all the shows I have by a particular performer.

So, for what's its worth, that's the system I use.