Saving Bay Area TV History

At San Francisco State's Bay Area Television Archive they've rescued some 4,000 hours of historic news film. Much of it hasn't seen the light of a projector in half a century. Now comes the important part: sharing it with the rest of us.

Alex Cherian holds in his hands a silver can containing a reel of 16mm film, approximately 20 minutes in length. The label on the front of the can says "We'll Do It Ourselves."

"We'll do what ourselves?" asks Cherian, archivist for the San Francisco Bay Area Television Archive. "We'll do political reform ourselves? We'll knock down a building ourselves? I literally have no idea until I open this up and have a look."

Such is the dilemma Cherian faces on and almost-daily basis. The archive, housed at San Francisco State University, contains roughly 4,000 hours of news film from Bay Area television stations from the 1950's through the 1970's. Much of it has not been put through a projecter since it was first aired, half a century ago.

As news gathering technology changed over the years and film was replaced, first by video tape, then digital recording media, the reels upon reels of film were at first, unused, and later unwanted. Much of it was thrown away.

What did survive came to the archive with little, or no, paperwork attached to it. The labels on the cans, if there are any, are often generic or flat out wrong.

So, it's Cherian's job to slowly sift through the material, choose what he believes to be most likely to contain footage of historic importance, then start the laborious job  of cleaning and digitizing the material.

To see just some of what he has uncovered, and how much more is left to sift through, watch Garvin Thomas' story above.

The explore the archive youself, go to:

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