Collecting Old Time Radio Safely: USB Thumbdrives and External Hard Drives

The Old Time Radio hobby is about collecting, storing, and sharing a great deal of audio content. In the beginning, this meant collecting fragile acetate or shellac discs that were often too delicate to be played more than once or twice. When the technology became available, these programs were saved on magnetic tape. This meant that in the Seventies and Eighties, a hobbyist might have bookshelves filled with dozens if not hundreds of cassette tapes.

And then came digital. Once a show was saved as an MP3 file, a huge number of them could be saved and shared on a Compact Disc or DVD. This saves even more space, but optical drives (CDs) are less common in modern home computers and laptops. 

A single USB thumb drive or external hard drive can hold terabytes of data. Solid-state devices such as flash drives and external SSD drives have no moving parts to wear out, which means your data is much safer from loss with faster access.  However, there are inherent dangers to the USB format.

The relative cheapness of the USB thumb drive is one of its greatest strengths but can lead to a danger for users. Meanwhile, external solid state hard drives are also increasingly less expensive and reliable. Unfortunately, it is very easy for a bad actor to load a thumb drive with malware and then share the physical device with unsuspecting victims.

Never plug in an external hard drive or thumb drive into your computer from an unknown source.

Offers have appeared online touting thousands of shows loaded onto a USB device for a relatively cheap price. This is well within the technical capacity of a vendor, so the offers seem legitimate, but when the consumer connects the device to their computer, the Autoload takes over and their network is flooded with viruses, Trojans, malware, and other nasty stuff.

Many consumers would like to assume that the Anti-virus software that shipped with their computers would protect them from such attacks, but hackers have an easy time getting around such protections. This does not mean that USB tech is not useful for OTR hobbyists, but there are some important things to keep in mind:
  • NEVER PLUG A USB FROM AN UNKNOWN SOURCE INTO YOUR COMPUTER. This seems obvious, but thumb drives have become so ubiquitous that it is easy to forget.  If you don't know the person shipping or handing you the external hard drive or thumb drive, DO NOT PLUG IT INTO YOUR COMPUTER.
  • Do not use the same thumb drives between work and home network computers. Although the USB is a convenient way to carry data between computers, it can also carry a risk of cross-contamination.
  • Keep your software up to date, especially security software. The older your software is the more chances hackers have had an opportunity to find a way around it.
Backing up your collection of old time radio shows on a thumb drive or external hard drive is a great way to enjoy the hobby. The shows can be heard over many audio devices and files shared between car stereos and cell phones. 

We recommend ordering MP3 CD or instant download MP3 files directly from trusted website such as Old Time Radio which has been a trusted OTR vendor online for 20+ years.  The archive quality CD media servers as a great backup in the event of failed hard drives and storage devices.

Additional reading on the dangers of USB thumb drives and external hard drives:


  1. I bought a hard drive of radio shows on eBay which I though was a deal. it was not. my lovely grandson had to come over and help me get all the viruses off my computer. we ended up throwing out the hard disk drive. glad my grandson knows about computers.


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