The Richard Finnie Collection contains a variety of open reel tape recordings made by Richard Sterling Finnie (1906-1987), a documentary filmmaker, photographer, ethnographer, and historian. Finnie worked for the international engineering company Bechtel Corporation for 25 years. As a producer for Bechtel's industrial film division, Finnie recorded music from around the world, as well as sounds related to Bechtel's oil pipeline and refinery projects. This material was used in soundtracks for Bechtel films such as "Oil Across Sumatra," "Petrole de Zarzaitine," "Exploring Libya," and "Bechtel in Europe."
Finnie recorded traditional music in Korea, Libya, Tunisia, Sumatra, South Africa, Lebanon, Cambodia, Venezuela, and other countries, documenting the talents of local musicians and songwriters. Rights contracts are enclosed with a few of the tapes; in fact, Libyan composer Mohammed Murshan was hired to write a special "Petroleum Song" for Bechtel. Additionally, environmental sounds such as street noise, a call to prayer, mule cart sounds, and crowd noises at the Tripoli race track were recorded for sound effects and beds. Some of these field tapes also include Bechtel business matters, such as meetings and speech rehearsals.
In addition to his work with Bechtel, Finnie captured copious amounts of radio broadcasts on tape, particularly from Pacifica station KPFA, but also from programs on KDFC, KCBS, KEAR, and KKHI. These include Phil Elwood's jazz shows, New York Philharmonic and San Francisco Symphony performances, and rebroadcasts from classical music festivals such as Salzburg, Warsaw, Carmel Bach, and Vienna. Finnie's radio tapes are a testament to the richness of Northern California radio offered during that era.
Finnie, who lived in Belvedere, California, was also a jazz fan, and the collection contains some remarkable artifacts, such as original Earl Hines and Muggsy Spanier Club Hangover recordings (recorded off-air with Robert L. Ingram), informal jam sessions with local traditional jazz musicians, Turk Murphy at Grace Cathedral (from a KMPX broadcast hosted by Phil Elwood), the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at Marin Junior College in 1975, and the audio portion of a Coleman Hawkins memorial television program from 1969.
Most of the recordings were made by Finnie, though attribution is not always present. The collection also includes a few copies of commercially-released recordings, including shellac discs borrowed from the Indonesian consulate. Most tapes contain inserted material such as notes, photographs, newspaper clippings, review logs, Bechtel contracts, and correspondence.