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:

WGBH Receives National Endowment for the Humanities Grant to Support Preservation of Historic Public Broadcasting Materials

Helping to preserve public media history, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has awarded WGBH a $750,000 Infrastructure and Capacity-Building Challenge Grant to support the work of the WGBH Media Library and Archives (MLA). Today’s announcement will allow MLA to develop a digital asset management system, improve Open Vault, our public access website, and support the digitization of 83,000 WGBH-produced audiovisual recordings that are currently stored on obsolete and deteriorating media formats.

The grant was one of 218 grants announced yesterday by NEH, totaling $43.1 million. These are the first awards made under NEH’s new Infrastructure and Capacity-Building Challenge Grant program. Totaling $13 million, these grants will support infrastructure projects at 29 U.S. cultural institutions in 20 states and the District of Columbia, including the work of the MLA.

“There is a rich history that has been chronicled over the years by public media. Yet, as the years go by, this record of our nation’s news, culture, science and more becomes increasingly more vulnerable,” said Karen Cariani, the David O. Ives Executive Director of WGBH’s Media Library and Archives. “This grant will help our continued pursuit of preservation, ensuring this content remains a rich historical resource for researchers, academics, journalists and the public.”

As America’s preeminent public broadcasting producer, the source of fully one-third of PBS’ prime-time lineup, WGBH has been on the front lines of history for nearly seven decades. WGBH productions – from local radio and television to nationally distributed programming – have documented our collective cultural heritage in moving images and sound. Programs to be preserved as part of this grant include Save the Planet with Meryl Streep, The Machine that Changed the World, Julia Child and Company, All Our Children hosted by Bill Moyers as well as American Experience, NOVA, FRONTLINE and many more.

In 1979, WGBH became the first public broadcasting station to develop an archive, staffed by professional archivists. For more than 35 years, MLA staff have preserved, cataloged, and provided access to materials produced by WGBH. The group currently manages and preserves nearly 1 million audio, video, film, and digital assets dating back to 1947.

The National Endowment for the Humanities and WGBH together: Exploring the human endeavor

About WGBH

WGBH Boston is America’s preeminent public broadcaster and the largest producer of PBS content for TV and the Web, including Masterpiece, Antiques Roadshow, Frontline, Nova, American Experience, Arthur, Pinkalicious & Peterrific, and more than a dozen other primetime, lifestyle and children’s series. WGBH’s television channels include WGBH 2, WGBX 44, and the digital channels World and Create. WGBH TV productions focusing on the region’s diverse community include Greater Boston, Basic Black and High School Quiz Show. WGBH Radio serves listeners across New England with 89.7 WGBH, Boston’s Local NPR®; 99.5 WCRB Classical Radio Boston; and WCAI, the Cape and Islands NPR® Station. WGBH also is a major source of programs for public radio (among them, PRI’s The World®), a leader in educational multimedia (including PBS LearningMedia™, providing the nation’s educators with free, curriculum-based digital content), and a pioneer in technologies and services that make media accessible to deaf, hard of hearing, blind and visually impaired audiences. WGBH has been recognized with hundreds of honors: Emmys, Peabodys, duPont-Columbia Awards and Oscars. Find more information at


Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at:

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!?

WGBH Celebrates Preservation Week!

This week libraries and archives nationwide celebrate Preservation Week, highlighting the great conservation, preservation and migration work that is necessary to keep our cultural heritage materials alive and accessible for our users.

Here at the WGBH Media Library and Archives, we are using the opportunity to review some of the materials we have been able to save over the past year, with generous support from several grant funded projects:

For the Vietnam Project, funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services:
This project focused on the Vietnam: A Television History collection from which we reconstructed and transferred over 360 hours of film recordings. The 360 hours represent original footage filmed in Vietnam shortly after the war, stock footage gathered for the series, and 270 unique interviews conducted by the filmmakers. The reconstructed interviews include soldiers on both sides of the conflict, as well as leaders such as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Vietnamese premier Pham Van Dong, and recently deceased “first lady” Madame Nhu. The entire collection is accessible on Open Vault at

For the American Archive Pilot Project, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting:
This project focused on cataloging, transferring and digitizing materials related to the Civil Rights Movement. Highlights from this collection include original broadcasts from Mississippi Freedom Summer, 1964 and interviews with Malcolm X, James Baldwin and Martin Luther King, Jr. All told, we preserved over 41 hours of television material and 109 hours of radio for this project. Rights permitting, we are working to make these newly preserved materials accessible.

For the March on Washington Project, from WGBH Radio, funded by the Save America’s Treasures program:
As part of the Educational Radio Network, WGBH broadcast over 15 hours of live coverage of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in Washington, D.C. This collection includes not only Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech, but also interviews with marchers, commentary by journalists, and recordings of musical performances heard that day. This material was preserved from 1/4″ audio tape to digital audio files.

For the Boston Symphony Orchestra Charles Munch DVD release:
40 original 2” videotape broadcast masters, spanning the years 1957-1980, were reformatted and preserved as an initial step toward commercially releasing DVDs of legacy full-length Boston Symphony Orchestra concerts featuring conductor Charles Munch.

For the Boston Pops retrospective project:
As part of a celebration of the anniversary of the Boston Pops Orchestra, a televised retrospective of the program Evening at Pops incorporated material from 6 newly preserved 2” videotape broadcast masters. These tapes, unseen since their initial broadcast in the 1970s, included performances by Marion Anderson, Roberta Flack, Glen Campbell, and one of the first ever concerts to utilize Moog musical synthesizers.

For our “Radio Highlights” project:
Collection gems such as Dancing Disco (1979), James Brown in Concert (1968), and Zoom (1972) were transferred from obsolete formats and digitized for this project and then, through the great work of WGBH Radio and Producer Elizabeth Deane, re-purposed into interstitial messaging for our radio stations!

In addition, here at WGBH, we regularly ingest born digital and digitized materials into our Digital Asset Management system which stores and replicates the files across several systems. In this way we have multiple copies available, should one file be corrupted or lost. In the past year alone we have ingested into the system over 4000 video files, 7000 electronic documents, 600 audio files, and over 32,000 images. We expect these numbers to increase greatly in the coming years as current productions like FRONTLINE, Antiques Roadshow, The Callie Crossley Show, Greater Boston, and Teachers’ Domain continue to deliver their production archives digitally, and as other productions move to a “tapeless” digital workflow.



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