The news is said to be our first crack at writing history, but generations without the internet could hardly make use of it while working on subsequent drafts. Enter Jeremy Spracklen and Scott Martin, who, over the last year and a half, have been turning a large, cold warehouse filled with old local news reels into usable, digital footage, providing us glimpses of the goods along the way.
The archivists, who work at the G. William Jones Film & Video Collection at SMU, started with the collection’s WFAA stash. It contained a wealth of big-haired, mustache-y video footage from the 1960s and 1970s. Their days are filled with loading up the 16mm films in a machine that would’ve cost about $1 million new in the 1990s, watching hours of old news clips while tweaking coloration and condensing blank air.
The best stuff gets put on Twitter and YouTube, some of it eventually bouncing around the internet and ending up on blogs like FrontBurner. Spracklen recalls how an unbelievably 1970s interview with English rock band Uriah Heep spiked traffic in Eastern Europe.
Whereas past Jones curators have focused solely on SMU’s old movie footage, Spracklen, who has worked in theatre and film but is educated in history, took an immediate interest in the news reels. Most of it hasn’t been viewed since it aired some 40 or 50 or more years ago. “This is one of a kind,” he says. “There’s no other collection. No other copies of this stuff exists.”
Spracklen and Martin are about three-fourths of the way through the WFAA stuff, which they expect to finish this summer. Some flooding from a burst pipe in September caused a delay. While nearly all of the footage was salvaged, the guys have had to move their office for the time being.
Next, the two would like to turn their attention toward video from what was then KRLD-TV, a collection that is as much as 1,000 hours larger than the WFAA one. They’d also like to go forward with KERA film, making exhibition copies of a Tyler Black Film Collection, and restoring rare 16mm and 35mm films. All kinds of random footage has been donated to SMU through the years and sits inside the temperature-controlled storage space, things like old commercials from local companies and an extensive collection related to the original Benji, which was filmed in North Texas. But how and whether Spracklen and Martin continue their work has much to do with funding, which isn’t guaranteed.
Let’s hope it comes through. The digitizing is already making an impact. WFAA clips will be featured in upcoming documentaries about Jeff Dunham and Charlie Pride. It was used in the Netflix original Bobby Kennedy for President. It’s been used in a TV show about the Dallas Cowboys cheer squad.
This week, Spracklen and Martin hit a milestone: 1,000 hours digitized. Below are a few of the highlights the two have uncovered, a combination of some of the most viewed as well as their personal favorites:
WFAA Film of A Great Baseball Fight – Rangers vs Indians 1974
The week-before lead-up to the “Ten Cent Beer Night” fiasco in Cleveland, and the most-viewed video so far in SMU’s WFAA collection.
Bill O’Reilly (The Irish Flash) Attempts to Score on the Dallas Blackhawks Goalie – October 1975
The Bill O’Reillys and Skip Baylesses of the world used to be hungry local reporters doing weird stuff like this.
Social Scientist Tells Bill O’Reilly What Different Cars Say About The Driver in 1976
“The Cadillac, for the guy who’s made it, who wants to let all the neighbors know that he got promoted to Vice President or who’s suddenly had a big increase in income.” One of the most viewed items in the collection.
Uriah Heep – Dallas October 1975
Have you ever seen a hair-‘stache combo so glorious?
Opening of Six Flags Mall In Arlington – August 1970
“More than just a shopping facility, the mall is also an economic indicator—it seems to refute the contention that the Mid-Cities area is being severely effected by the national economic slump.”
Bubbles Cash Runs For Governor
The former stripper who altered the history of the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders runs for governor—there’s no audio in this one.
Dallas Watches Nixon Resign in 1974
A split crowd reacts to the resignation of President Nixon.
Goff’s Hamburgers Refuses to Serve Patrons With Long Hair
No words here either, but no words needed, man.