$1.16M Grant to Let Arkansas PBS Digitize 26,000 Tapes

$1.16M Grant to Let Arkansas PBS Digitize 26,000 Tapes
Courtney Pledger has persevered through five not always smooth years as chief of Arkansas PBS, formerly the Arkansas Educational Television Network. “I’m nothing if not stubborn,” Pledger said.
(Hannah Jobe)

Arkansas PBS will preserve a half-century of original public TV content — from the earliest “Arkansas Week” program to “Governor’s Quiz Bowl” — by digitizing 26,000 magnetic tapes with a $1.16 million grant from the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council.

The money will let the state educational network and its affiliate, the nonprofit Arkansas PBS Foundation, save the network’s vast archive for future generations, and in turn preserve the history it reflects, Arkansas PBS Director Courtney Pledger said.

The tapes are now at risk of degradation and loss, but after they are digitized, an archive comprising decades of Arkansas history, politics and culture will be available online for historians, educators, students and the general public.

“For more than half a century, Arkansas PBS — Arkansas’s only statewide media network — has served as the Natural State’s storyteller and chronicler of history, telling stories of this region from the earliest days of our statehood, through the current events that reflect our place in national and world history,” Pledger said in a statement, adding that the archives of finished productions and programs “as well as a vast treasure trove” of never-used footage, will serve as a public library of source material.

According to a news release from Conway-based Arkansas PBS, the tapes will go through a four-step process.

First, the tapes will have to be viewed and inventoried, then digitized by reproducing the sound and images as digital recordings through a computerized process. Magnet tap has a finite lifetime before degrading, and obsolete playback equipment is rapidly disappearing.

After the digitized programs are digitized, metadata tagging will make the archive searchable by Arkansas PBS staff and the public.

The network will the offer the material in the form of a landing page on the Arkansas PBS website. There the archive can be shared or linked to other sites, including other archival centers across the country, the network said.

“Our ultimate goal is to preserve this extraordinary resource, and to make it accessible to current and future generations,” Pledger said in a news release. “This project will include all existing tape recordings by Arkansas PBS, leading up to the transition to digital recording which began approximately eight years ago.”

Original local programming by the network includes “Arkansas Week,” a political affairs program long hosted by veteran Little Rock TV journalist Steve Barnes, and “Exploring Arkansas,” featuring former KTHV roving reporter Chuck Dovish. The “Arkansas Governor’s Quiz Bowl,” a competition among high school students, is another old favorite, having made its debut in 1995. Two Arkansas PBS-produced programs, “Arkansas Outdoors” and “Aging Successfully With Dr. David,” starring Dr. David Lipschitz of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, were distributed for public television syndication nationally.

Arkansas PBS is Arkansas’ only statewide public media network, and it has focused more intently on producing in-state programming during Pledger’s tenure as director. She was named director of the Arkansas Educational Television network in March 2017 by Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

In an interview with Arkansas Business a year ago, Pledger cited accomplishments like the network’s technical modernization with broadcast towers now reaching nearly all of the state, and success with a refined mission to educate and inform, certainly, but also to tell Arkansas stories as a public entity on TV airwaves, online and streaming devices.

“Over the past five years we have managed to transform what was a legacy linear broadcaster to a multiplatform public media network,” Pledger said, “a network with really deeper connections to the community.”

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