Monday, May 18, 2015

Sixty Years of Legislative Recording

On April 29, the 109th Tennessee General Assembly adjourned sine die for the year. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the legislative audio recording program in Tennessee. In 1955, TSLA began the program to lend greater accountability and access to our legislative body, as well as provide an avenue of research for those interested in Tennessee law.

That year, Senate Joint Resolution 6 addressed the concern of the Tennessee General Assembly "that an official record of the proceedings of the Senate and House be made for the protection of its members and the benefit of the students and other persons interested in the field of history and government." The resolution called for a system of recording official records of the legislature and established that the responsibility for creating and maintaining those records belongs to the State Library and Archives.

In the same year, House Joint Resolution 24 established the "rules governing the availability and release of the recorded proceedings of sessions of the General Assembly by the State Archivist." Tennessee was the first state in the nation to regularly record its state legislature. These records serve as a major primary resource for Tennessee’s legal community and they provide a window into the legislative process of our state.

Early correspondence from Dr. Dan M. Robison to Aubrey L. Epps of the Aubrey Epps Calculating and Office Service describing the need for an audio recording system. Epps provided a year of experimental service in 1953; however, the service was discontinued after that year.
Record Group 34 Box 1 Folder 12. Tennessee State Library and Archives.

Recording was not easy in the early days. The first recording system, the Gray Audograph, used more energy than the electrical wiring in the state capitol could produce. The wiring on many occasions became overloaded and with no control of the voltage, the Audograph’s discs would sometimes turn at abnormally low speeds. Purchasing voltage regulating equipment solved this problem and allowed the discs to turn at a normal pace. William T. Alderson, the state librarian from 1961 to 1964, wrote in a report that the low speed “did not make the recording unintelligible, but did cause a rather humorous change of sonorous bass voices into Donald Duckish tenors when the disk was played back at normal speed.” To further correct the problem, independent wires were led directly into the Audograph units in 1957. The state used the Gray Audograph from 1955 to 1974 to record House and Senate sessions, as well as Democratic and Republican conventions and special hearings. The recordings were used mostly by legal staff and legislators looking for political intent.

An early Gray Audograph still in occasional use by staff of the Tennessee State Library and Archives.

TSLA began recording on cassette tapes in the mid-1970s and transitioned to digital recording in 2008. In 2006, the legislature mandated that all committees and subcommittees be recorded on a regular basis in addition to the full sessions of the House and Senate. Through the 1980s and 1990s, legal staff and legislators still represented the majority of researchers; however, there was a steady increase in officials from other government departments and private practice lawyers who utilized the recordings. Today, the legislative records are used widely by students, historians, genealogists, and anyone interested in the history of law-making in Tennessee.

If you would like to learn more about TSLA’s recording program or have a Legislative History research request, please visit our website:

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

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