Archival Screening: A Retrospective on WGBH and Experimental Television, 1968-1970

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The WGBH Media Library and Archives team has begun hosting quarterly archives screenings in 2019 as part of the WGBH Insiders Screening Series. Last week’s screening offered a unique look into WGBH’s role as one of the first public media stations to explore television as an artistic medium. Over 100 members and guests screened segments from video art works created between 1968 and 1970, including What’s Happening, Mr. Silver?; Madness and Intuition, The Medium is the Medium, and Violence Sonata.

Panelists included:

• Fred Barzyk, the original producer of WGBH’s series New Television Workshop

• George Fifield, Founder and Director of Boston Cyberarts Inc.

• Aldo Tambellini, Multimedia artist who created work for WGBH/Public Broadcasting Laboratory’s 1969 production called The Medium is the Medium

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From left to right: Peter Higgins, Ryn Marchese, Fred Barzyk, and George Fifield

 

The event was moderated by Ryn Marchese, Engagement and Use Manager for the American Archive of Public Broadcasting, and Peter Higgins, Archives Manager at WGBH Media Library and Archives. Digital Archives Manager Leah Weisse curated an exhibit of relevant production and promotional materials to provide context to the evening’s focus. MLA thanks Elizabeth Hagyard for her support and collaboration on the event, as well as other staff in events, legal, marketing, and engineering, and WGBH volunteers who helped make the night a success!

 

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Leah Weisse, WGBH Archives Manager

 

Event slide deck:

From thousands of tapes to 17

On March 11, 2013, WGBH Media Library and Archives’ Archives Manager Keith Luf and Digital Archives Manager Michael Muraszko loaded 7,010 tapes from the WGBH vault onto 12 palettes, which were then shipped via an 18-wheeler to be digitized at Crawford Media Services in Atlanta, Georgia for the American Archive of Public Broadcasting.  Only a few months later would the WGBH MLA in collaboration with the Library of Congress be selected as the permanent home for the American Archive collection, an initiative to identify, preserve, and make accessible as much as possible the historic record of public media in America.

WGBH’s tapes were stored in 306 archives boxes, totaling 459 linear feet (longer than 1 1/2 football fields!) and comprising more than 6,400 hours of content. In many cases, the archives staff knew only the program title of the tapes — they often knew nothing about the recorded participants. The content dated back as early as March of 1947 and was as recent as 2005. The MLA sent material on 15 different video and audio tape formats, the majority of which had exceeded the manufacturer’s intended lifespan. MLA’s Keith Luf compared the situation to a child’s 18 year old cat, which everyone knew wouldn’t — and couldn’t — be around much longer.

In June of this year, WGBH’s 6,400 hundred hours of content was returned. In addition to the original 7,010 tapes, the content was delivered as digital files on a second copy — on 17 LTO-6 tapes…. stored in one box!

From 7,010 tapes to 17!
From 7,010 tapes to 17!

And with the digitized material came a new ease of accessibility — the MLA staff have been able to easily watch or listen to the digital files and discover content they never knew had been sitting in the vault for all these years. Among the new discoveries includes a 1967 10-minute monologue by American historian and activist Howard Zinn on the social unrest of the times; a recorded speech given by JFK in either 1962 or 1963 at the Armory in Boston; and a 1975 video recording of a cello class taught by Harvard professor Mstislav Rostropovich, who during the recording asked a graduate student in his class “What kind of a name is Yo-Yo?”

As additional funding has become available, the MLA has recently coordinated with Crawford on the digitization of 800 more hours of 3/4″ videotapes and 1/4″ audiotapes, which will be shipped out next week.  Who knows what we’ll find next!?

Robert the Intern's Story: Road Trip

by Robert Johnson

During my internship at the WGBH Media Library and Archives I was given the opportunity to travel to New Hampshire and Connecticut with my supervisor to talk to public media stations (both television and radio) about participating in the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s American Archive Content Inventory Project.  WGBH is administering the project, which hopes to survey the archives/collections of PBS stations across the country.  Individual stations or statewide networks can apply for grants from CPB to fund a survey of their holdings.

Everyone was interested in participating but one station seemed almost thrilled at the prospect of being able to take a survey of the thousands of video tapes in their basement.  There was a little uncertainty involved at points and maybe even a little fear.  Depending on the size of the station there may be tens of thousands of films, video tapes, audio cassettes and digital files that need to be surveyed. That can be overwhelming but WGBH is working to make the process simple and understandable.

In my capacity as an intern, I basically went along as an observer.  I probably said no more than two dozen words at the three meetings I sat in on.  But it was a great experience nevertheless.  These were my first official business trips and even though I was only responsible for shaking hands, smiling and nodding, I would like to think I learned something I can put to use later in my career.