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:

Joyous Kwanzaa! 1973-1978

Three archival videos on Open Vault invite you to learn about the development of Kwanzaa and its roots in Black Power and black nationalism in the United States. Developed by Maulana Ron Karenga in the late 1960s, Kwanzaa is a harvest festival honoring African American history and culture. Over seven nights, seven candles are lit to observe the seven principles of Kwanzaa:

  1. Umoja Unity
  2. Kujichagulia Self-Determination
  3. Ujima Collective Work and Responsibility
  4. Ujamaa Cooperative Economics
  5. Nia Purpose
  6. Kuumba Creativity
  7. Imani Faith

Three excerpts from Say Brother, WGBH’s longest running public affairs television program by, for and about African Americans, celebrate and explain the meaning of Kwanzaa:

In a 1973 clip, “Ron Karenga and the origin of Kwanzaa,” Brother Imara discusses the validity of Kwanzaa and how the holidays was created. The next year, Brother Imara came back to Say Brother to teach the principles of Kwanzaa as seen in “The meaning of Kwanzaa.”

Finally, a 1978 Say Brother segment “The Art of Black Dance and Music perform dances from the harvest festival Kwanzaa” demonstrates the artistic expression of Kwanzaa.

You may be also interested in this 2003 Interview with Maulana Ron Karenga on NPR’s Tavis Smiley Show. Nearly 30 years after the founding of Kwanzaa, Karenga discusses how the rituals and messages of the holiday have sustained their significance for the black community.

Boston Local News Project Funded!

Happy Holidays! Santa came early to the WGBH Media Library and Archives: we’ve been selected for a grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Program to fund our Boston Local News Project! This project, also funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services, will be able to officially launch in 2011.

The project, a partnership with the Boston Public Library, Northeast Historic Film, and Cambridge Community Television, will make a catalog of 4 local television news collections available online. In addition, we will digitize 40 hours of material, selected by our users. These 4 collections (WHDH, WCVB, WGBH and CCTV) cover over 40 years of local Boston history as well as national stories.

For progress to date on this project, see our intern’s posts on his important work this fall, and watch this space for more news from this important and exciting project!

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.

Robert the Intern's Story: WHDH-TV Card Catalog

by Robert Johnson

One of the most interesting things about working on the WHDH-TV collection was being able to read about news stories in Boston during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Each of the estimated 39,000 cards in the WHDH card catalog corresponds to one piece of 16mm film footage (occasionally more than one) that is located in one of 2,300 film cans. Each can holds multiple reels of film, however, and each reel apparently can be composed of many different pieces of footage spliced together. Nobody is quite sure yet because we haven’ t yet been able to look at all of the reels of film.

I have been transcribing some of these cards into a database in order to make them searchable and sortable. Perhaps my favorite index card I transcribed was the one about a “bizarre kidnapping and hold-up attempt” at the Brockton Fair in July of 1970. The next card was for an interview with a seven-year-old kid about the hold-up. Was he the victim? The culprit? I have no idea. I would love to be able to watch the actual film for these two cards.

There were also a dozen or so cards about Judge Brogna, who was implicated in a bribery scandal in late 1971/early 1972 and later censured for accepting phone calls from a fellow judge (who himself was disbarred for accepting bribes) and not reporting them. According to news articles I found online he was never accused of being offered or accepting a bribe. Nonetheless, the governor of Massachusetts at the time asked him to resign. He refused.

There are also more than 20 cards about two robberies involving Brink’s trucks: one in 1968 and the more famous one in 1950 (The Great Brinks Robbery, as it is known). Boston University the topic of many cards, as was Boston City Hospital and the Boston Redevelopment Authority. Senator Edward Brooke had lots of cards, too, as did Francis X. Bellotti and William Baird. Can you tell I was in the “B” drawer? One of the Bellotti cards referred to him as a “victim of Harold Stassen syndrome” and I did not understand the reference until I learned that Stassen was a politician known for his numerous failed bids for president of the United States.

There are also a number of cards about the NASA, the Apollo 11 mission and astronauts. And plenty of celebrities: Alan Alda, Carol Burnett, Cid Ceaser, Imogene Coca and Doctor Spock. As someone born more than a decade after WHDH-TV ceased to exist, there were many occasions when political figures both local and national were unfamiliar. I often found myself doing research that may not have necessarily had any impact on the database I was building but certainly helped me understand what many of the news stories were about. Someday, when all of these card describing the collection are digital and online, I can only imagine the value they will offer to students and researchers alike!



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Public Television Quality Group Conference at WGBH

In November, I presented at the Public Television Quality Group’s conference in Boston. Over 300 people showed up at the two day conference to learn more about the transition from analog to digital broadcasting. The workshops offered education and training on the best practices for production from shooting to final delivery.

The presenters ranged came from a wide range of productions and experiences:

  • Mark Schubin, a film historian
  • Jeff Cronenberg, the series editor for Antiques Roadshow
  • Douglas Trumbull, effects supervisor for movies such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner
  • Steve Audette, award winning editor for FRONTLINE and NOVA
  • Ben McCoy, cinematographer with 20 years experience shooting docs and programs such as FRONTLINE and NOVA
  • Chris Fournelle and other FRONTLINE folks discussed different aspects of their jobs and what systems they had set up to deal with file-based media.

Many of the documents, video, power points and other output from the workshops can be found on the Quality Group web site.

My workshop discussed how productions can organize their materials with the aid of Media Production Organizational Tools that are freely available on Open Vault. My slides are available here: “In the Beginning: It’s all about Metadata”

I also mentioned if you catalog and archive your materials, you can then re-use them. Some examples of what WGBH does besides the series websites are:

  • Open Vault – is a way of making materials available to the public, primarily for educational purposes
  • Teacher’s Domain – Resources for teachers to incorporate media assets into their curriculum
  • WGBH Stock Sales – A revenue generating site providing documentary filmmakers access to WGBH media.

There will be another conference on January 13th which I would urge production folks near Nashville to attend!

For more information about the conference, I recommend Chris Portal’s Blog.

— Alison Bassett, Compliance Manager, WGBH Media Library & Archives

Robert the Intern's Story: The News Project

by Robert Johnson

The main project I’ve been working on during my internship at the WGBH Media Library and Archives is the Boston TV News Digital Library: 1960-2000. It is a collaboration between WGBH, the Boston Public Library, Northeast Historic Film and Cambridge Community TV.  Each of these institutions has collection of news footage from a local Boston television station. The idea is to eventually create a central catalog of the 4 collections so that they can inform one another and share metadata.

I focused on the Boston Public Library’s collection of film from the now defunct WHDH-TV (Channel 5), which it acquired in 1975.  The collection consists of some 2,300 film cans, each filled with a number of reels of 16mm film, and 39,000 index cards that document individual pieces of footage.  I spent part of my time entering these index cards into a Filemaker database.  I had never used Filemaker before but since all I was doing was copying text from the card and typing it into a pre-existing template, I found it pretty easy going.

Ultimately, I entered about 2,200 of the 39,000 WHDH-TV index cards into the Filemaker database. Still, with 2,200 records, the database was large enough to show that the collection is arranged roughly chronologically, with news stories from late 1972 located in the last of the estimated 2,300 film cans.  Nobody was quite sure how the news stories were arranged and even now there is always a chance that the can numbers on the index cards do not correspond to the actual film cans.  That has long been a concern of mine but hopefully when the collection is finally processed it will not be an issue.

I was able to visit the Boston Public Library, which has a small portion of the film collection on-site, twice during my internship.  The BPL also has as a wooden cabinet filled with the index cards.  While I was there I spent an hour and a half photographing about 300 individual cards.  Later, it was discovered that the index cards were microfilmed at some point and hopefully this microfilm can be digitized, meaning no more photographing.

I also put together a timeline of WHDH-TV using Google News, compiled a list of reporters named on the index cards, and wrote down some thoughts and ideas about a finding aid for the collection (while WGBH does not use finding aids, this project calls for them).  Once the project is fully funded, the preparation work I have done will be useful as a starting point for the project moving forward.

Notes from AMIA 2010

Last week several staffers from the WGBH Media Library & Archives attended the annual conference of the Association of Moving Image Archives in Philadelphia. Always a productive time for us, we presented, worked, networked, enjoyed rare archival film screenings, and consumed many a cheesesteak!

cheese steak

Our director Karen Cariani chaired two popular sessions – one which featured a panel of funders discussing their priorities for funding moving image projects, and one which featured legal experts discussing the challenges faced by archivists trying to make materials accessible online.

WGBH Legal’s Jay Fialkov provided an overview of copyright and Christopher Bavitz of Harvard’s Berkman Center presented on their work for our Boston TV News Digital Library: 1960-2000. Chris outlined 4 sections of law which the Berkman report will address: copyright, trademark, state law (privacy, defamation, etc.) and contract law. Both panels were well received for their practical bent and slides from the copyright panel available here:

Opening the Archives for Access
Jay Fialkov – Understanding Copyright Barriers (ppt)
Christopher Bavitz – Legal Issues for Media Archivists (ppt)

Other highlights of the conference included a strong presence by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s American Archive Initiative, the opportunity to network with our public broadcasting colleagues from Wisconsin to Louisiana and a visit to WHYY, Philadelphia public media station, to discuss our American Archive Content Inventory Project.

Read more about the conference in this Philadelphia Inquirer article, “Film restorers focus on timeless home movies at Phila. convention.”