Plans in Place for Digitization of Historic Arkansas Videotapes

by Joanna Kauffmann  on Monday, Nov. 29, 2010 12:00 am  

After learning that KARK-TV, Channel 4, had gotten rid of their film archives U.S. Sen. David Pryor could looked to a different station to find a collection of the state's most important events: KATV-TV, Channel 7.

There, Pryor found a collection of videotapes that Tom Dillard, the head of special collections at the University of Arkansas Libraries, referred to as the "King Tut's tomb of Arkansas history."

Pryor and his wife, Barbara, had always been interested in Arkansas history, and in 1999 the couple donated retired campaign funds to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, which led to the creation of the David & Barbara Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral & Visual History. From the beginning, the main goal of the Pryor Center has been to document the cultural history of Arkansans, and a news station's broadcast archives seemed like the perfect way to do that.

"Pryor was dismayed to find out that Channel 4 had dumped all their old film," said Kris Katrosh, the director of the Pryor Center. "He began to pursue a way to permanently save the Channel 7 archive."

Katrosh joined in that pursuit when he was brought on as director in January 2007. "I immediately began working with David and Barbara to try to find a way to get the Channel 7 archive donated to the center," he said. Katrosh and the Pryors worked with Randy Dixon, news director at KATV, and Dale Nicholson, president of KATV, to try to broker the donation.

After years of negotiations among the University of Arkansas, KATV and the station's parent company, Allbritton Communications Co. of Virginia, an agreement was reached.

In May 2009, Nicholson announced a partnership with the Pryor Center in which the station would donate its video archives, known as the KATV Master Cassette Recording Library, and the Pryor Center would be responsible for undertaking the digitization and preservation of the collection. A ceremony was hosted by Sen. Mark Pryor, David and Barbara Pryor's son, in July 2009 in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the station's donation, with members of the Pryor family and the Allbritton family in attendance. 



The formation of the KATV collection began in 1961, when Jim Pitcock, news director at the station, began to build an archive of local newscasts. Today, the collection contains literally years of film and video footage of Arkansas history, dating back five decades and including such events as Elvis Presley's haircut at Fort Chaffee and the desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock.

The station has accumulated broadcasts that provide a broad and varied look at the state: sportscaster Bud Campbell interviewing Frank Broyles, Sam Walton's introduction to the Arkansas public, Bill Clinton's appearance on the political scene.

Many of the older tapes are nearing the end of their lifespan, however, making it even more important for the Pryor Center to begin conserving the content of the tapes. The center is in a good position to make such a project possible, in part because of a gift it received five years ago from a family that is very much a part of Arkansas history.



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