DIY Preservation

The Incredible Story Of Marion Stokes, Who Single-Handedly Taped 35 Years Of TV News:

She’d feed a six-hour tape into the recorders late at night. She’d wake up early the next day to change them (or conscript family members to do the same if she wasn’t home). She’d cut short meals at restaurants to rush home before tapes ended. And when she got too old to keep up, she trained a younger helper named Frank to run the various recording equipment.

Having researched television news over the years, it’s surprising where you’ll find some of this material. I’ve seen some tapes for sale at flea markets or on eBay. Sometimes a rogue producer will donate a copy of a news program to a library or museum. A television station will submit a program for an award, such as a Peabody Award, and the material was kept. And where would we be if not the for the television news archive at Vanderbilt University? And weren’t they once sued for copyright infringement?

Sadly, the producers of these programs are often a last resort either because they simply don’t have the material or they’ll charge an exorbitant amount of money to access this footage. After begging and promising not to publicize the material, I once paid NBC News $75 for a thirty-minute, episode of Chet Huntley Presents from 1963 that I used for a conference paper.

According to this story, the Internet Archive is going to digitize the material and make it available on their website. That sounds great but also really daunting. Let’s look at the math. If indeed Stokes recorded 140,000 Extended Play tapes, at six hours each, that amounts to 840,000 hours, or 35,000 full days, or almost 96 years of video. Digitizing analog material, such as VHS, happens in real time, plus the time it takes you to load the tape, press play, and start the recording. That’s going to take a lot of VHS decks, each connected to video capture card and a relatively zippy computer.

Crowdsourcing might be a solution. I have a VHS deck and an Elgato analog video capture card lying around. Can I sign up to digitize 100 hours or so of this? Or will a donation suffice?

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