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November 22, 2013 8:24 PM   Subscribe

In a storage unit somewhere in Philadelphia, 140,000 VHS tapes sit packed into four shipping containers. They contain 35 years of TV news recorded single-handily by Marion Stokes. She thought it would be a good idea to record every "network, local, and cable news, in her home, one tape at a time," beginning in 1977, "until the day she died in 2012 at the age of 83."
posted by stbalbach (53 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite

 
All I can think of are the vintage regional commercials...
posted by mykescipark at 8:28 PM on November 22, 2013 [31 favorites]


That's amazing, and quite strange. How much would this have cost her, just in tapes?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 8:29 PM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's a labour of love. I hope they are able to recover them and they prove useful.
posted by arcticseal at 8:32 PM on November 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm glad the tale started by telling me that it was already in the hands of someone who would do something with it; I couldn't have dealt with not knowing that reading through it.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:49 PM on November 22, 2013 [9 favorites]


I feel like I'm in the cold opening to a show, but not sure which one.
posted by The Whelk at 8:53 PM on November 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


MCMike is more patient than I am; four paragraphs was not close enough to the top for me! And so glad to hear it is the Internet Archive. Hate to do the sales pitch, but if you think this sort of thing is important, they're happy to take your money and do great things with it.
posted by louie at 8:57 PM on November 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


Amazing story and an interesting woman. Wonder if she was a quietly proud fan of Oprah Winfrey. (Come to think of it, I wonder what Winfrey has in a storage unit somewhere in the US.)
posted by de at 8:58 PM on November 22, 2013


They had home VHS recorders in 1977? Neato!
posted by Renoroc at 9:08 PM on November 22, 2013


35 years of videotaped news is impressive, sure. But a senior citizen who knew how to program a VCR? That's a bloody miracle...
posted by Strange Interlude at 9:14 PM on November 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


Wow, and she also had 192 Macintosh computers? Quite the collector/archivist.
posted by zsazsa at 9:23 PM on November 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Whelk: "I feel like I'm in the cold opening to a show, but not sure which one."

I'm envisioning a sequel to the V/H/S series.
posted by Strange Interlude at 9:28 PM on November 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


I have to smile at the idea that Vanderbilt's user are researchers who borrow the DVDs. Technically, perhaps, but the majority of their users are documentarians looking for newscasts to use under Fair Use.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:28 PM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


All I can think is "good thing some anti-clutter-hoarder-paranoid person didn't get a hold of her..."
posted by stormyteal at 9:38 PM on November 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm more surprised that that a videotape that's been sitting in a box in an uncontrolled environment since 1977 is still good. I would have thought the bulk of the work would be about restoration, not simply popping the tapes into a player for digitizing.
posted by ceribus peribus at 9:39 PM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Since 1977 you'd think the tape would've rotted away. Guess it was nice and dry in there.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:45 PM on November 22, 2013


She considered herself an archivist and had enough resources to own "multiple apartments" and six-digit numbers of VHS tapes...it's not out of the question that she considered/had the resources to implement good storage conditions for these tapes. (This is also what would differentiate her from a hoarder, imho.)
posted by Earthtopus at 9:51 PM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


They had home VHS recorders in 1977?

Oh, Hells yeah! I used this Panasonic until 1998 when finally the sound died. It weighed at least 60lbs, and the eject popped the tape out with a violent CLUNK like a car door being slammed shut.
posted by CynicalKnight at 9:52 PM on November 22, 2013 [12 favorites]


I think it's sort of interesting that in all those years, she never upgraded her technology, even though she obviously had an interest in and aptitude for it. How much simpler her daily routine would have been with the advent of the PVR especially now that they record 8 shows at once.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:58 PM on November 22, 2013


would that she had recorded even more indeed.
posted by Earthtopus at 10:05 PM on November 22, 2013


They had home VHS recorders in 1977? Neato!

VHS came out in 76, Betamax in (looks) 75.

By 1979, they were pretty common in the overseas military community as the only way to get US tv shows that weren't on AFN/AFRTS was for someone in the US to tape them and mail them to someone else overseas, at which point they'd get copied a zillion times.

I think we may have had CynicalKnight's Panasonic; we used it until sometime in the mid/late 80s.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:14 PM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is how I imagine The Daily Show keeps track of all the hipocritical and contradictory things in political media.
posted by Brocktoon at 10:35 PM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


What a fascinating story and terrific woman. I hope wherever she is now, she is talking to Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite and all the great TV journalists of her generation.

.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:44 PM on November 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


They had home VHS recorders in 1977? Neato!

Put that together with a teenage boy and channel J, and you know why I had my own mini archive.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:47 PM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh hell, it contains local Boston news from 1977-1986?

...Jack and Liz!!!

...Chet and Nat!!!

and...
...Ummm... whoever was on channel 7! RD Sahl? Hrm...

posted by not_on_display at 11:07 PM on November 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Damn, this is too late for it to have any of the missing Dr Who episodes in it. *Sigh* Somewhere.
posted by Canageek at 11:45 PM on November 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Reminds me of that TV weirdo in Slacker.
posted by zardoz at 11:48 PM on November 22, 2013


Now I'm trying to remember what famous broadcast we only have because some dude in the Chicagoland was taping the broadcast. I thought it was the Watergate Tapes, but my clumsy googling hasn't turned up anything.

I did work with a guy once where he and his brother kept six VCRs running 24 hours per day, recording everything they thought the might ever want. I tried to point out that, just by math, they'd never have time to watch it all, but that only got, "But what if we miss something!"
posted by klangklangston at 12:34 AM on November 23, 2013



This is how I imagine The Daily Show keeps track of all the hipocritical and contradictory things in political media.


At some point I read that their main setup consisted of a wall of Tivos and a table full of carefully labeled remotes.
posted by anazgnos at 1:02 AM on November 23, 2013


Now they have a search engine that lets them zero in on Fox anchor being homophobic or whatever without having to watch all the footage themselves.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 1:19 AM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, apparently they're using SnapStream nowadays.
posted by JohnnyB at 1:46 AM on November 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


35 years of Larry Kane. The future people will only wonder.
posted by three blind mice at 2:45 AM on November 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


There was a fascinating Metafilter post about a company that records all the television all the time so people like The Daily Show can get their hands on content. US company, lots of stuff about digital video recording and servers, can't find it now.
posted by alasdair at 2:49 AM on November 23, 2013


British comedian Bob Monkhouse did the same, but he taped everything: his daughter turned over his archive to the British Film Institute after his death and it turned out he had recorded episodes of many series long tought to have been lost forever.

Mind you, at the time the tv and movie business was not happy with his taping and in 1979 he was charged with attempting to defraud film distributors of royalties when he loaned out a tape to a friend. He won that case, but in the process his collection was seized and partially destroyed...
posted by MartinWisse at 3:25 AM on November 23, 2013 [9 favorites]


35 years of Larry Kane.

Jim O'Brien, rest his soul.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:24 AM on November 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


VHS came out in 76, Betamax in (looks) 75.

There's a 1976 episode of Columbo in which William Shatner's villain uses his new VCR to create an alibi (he invites a friend over to watch a baseball game, gives him a Mickey Finn, records the game, kills someone, comes back and plays the tape so when the friend wakes up he thinks it's just the third inning or whatever). Columbo asks him how much the VCR cost: $3,000.
posted by payoto at 5:46 AM on November 23, 2013 [12 favorites]


Now they have a search engine that lets them zero in on Fox anchor being homophobic or whatever without having to watch all the footage themselves.

That's just a TV tuned in to Fox News, right?
posted by graventy at 6:08 AM on November 23, 2013


Now I'm trying to remember what famous broadcast we only have because some dude in the Chicagoland was taping the broadcast.

The Max Headroom incident?

posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:10 AM on November 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Wanted for questioning
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:27 AM on November 23, 2013


my first thought was wow, i wonder if I'll have to explain youngins one day that there was not always 24hr news so this project was actually possible.
posted by sio42 at 6:41 AM on November 23, 2013


I've always found it really amazing how much the preservation of minute details of history depend on hoarders citizen historians.
posted by Spiced Out Calvin Coolidge at 7:20 AM on November 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


I was not surprised to learn that she was a librarian.
posted by box at 7:56 AM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Vanderbilt people are nice enough, but I have to say I was so jazzed to read that the Internet Archive people are handling this. They are heroes, too. It is Thanksgiving, so I should probably think about making whatever meager contribution my budget can allow. Not that it's really even charity; it's as selfish as anything else, since I can't wait until they have this all digitized, online, and browseable.
posted by koeselitz at 8:16 AM on November 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh, Hells yeah! I used this Panasonic until 1998 when finally the sound died. It weighed at least 60lbs, and the eject popped the tape out with a violent CLUNK like a car door being slammed shut.

I had a similar one and we used it to launch Inter Room Ballistic toilet roll Missiles.
posted by srboisvert at 9:03 AM on November 23, 2013


I'm glad the tale started by telling me that it was already in the hands of someone who would do something with it

We have top men working on it right now.
posted by Naberius at 9:09 AM on November 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


35 years of Larry Kane.

Jim O'Brien, rest his soul.


Jessica Savitch, gone too soon.
posted by scalefree at 10:29 AM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


35 years of videotaped news is impressive, sure. But a senior citizen who knew how to program a VCR? That's a bloody miracle...

Well, she probably just kept using the same system she learned when she was...48? Wow. That was some pretty cutting-edge technical skill for a 50-year-old woman in 1977.
posted by straight at 10:32 AM on November 23, 2013


Renoroc: "They had home VHS recorders in 1977? "

Not only were VCRs around that early they had an amazingly quick up take as there was a HUGE demand for back catalogue material (and porn of course). Renting movies (and the player for those who weren't at least moderately well off) was a well provided market by the early 80s.
posted by Mitheral at 11:45 AM on November 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh, Hells yeah! I used this Panasonic until 1998 when finally the sound died.

A decent VHS deck will last way longer than most DVD players. Ah, analog era.
posted by ovvl at 2:57 PM on November 23, 2013


Wait, could we find better footage of The Max Headroom incident from this? That would be cool.
posted by Canageek at 3:45 PM on November 23, 2013


I'm more surprised that that a videotape that's been sitting in a box in an uncontrolled environment since 1977 is still good.

I posted an AskMe about an audio cassette considerably older than that; it had been kicking around loose for decades and was just fine (as I mentioned then, the biggest hassle was digging up a player). I found this especially interesting as I have many many CD-Rs of music that were unplayable a year after being made.

I did work with a guy once where he and his brother kept six VCRs running 24 hours per day, recording everything they thought the might ever want. I tried to point out that, just by math, they'd never have time to watch it all, but that only got, "But what if we miss something!"

The first friend of mine to buy a VCR (back when we were in high school more than thirty years ago) at last report still has a couple of them and still is filling up tapes, albeit slightly less freely given that his supply of blank ones is dwindling*. His stated reason is that he records the shows that look interesting to him so he can go back and watch them at his leisure. His scheme is less than perfect, though, as his filing system is far from organized (essentially scrawl something on a label and toss it in a box). In years past, I used to try to make use of his nominally capacious library, but the flaws became evident to me, if not to him:
"Hey, this show Fringe just ended its first season. I know little about it, but it sound like it might be my kind of thing. Have you seen it?"

"Oh, yeah, I have them all taped."

"Cool. Can I borrow the first few to see if I like it?"

[A week passes]

"Okay, I had a look, and I have the third episode, the eighth and tenth, and the last half of the twelfth. Can't find the rest. Want to pick them up tomorrow?"
*When I got rid of my last VCR maybe ten years ago, I had a box of maybe forty storebought tapes kicking around that I had recorded various things on just because I was out when, say, Politically Incorrect was on and Maher had a good guest that night. I passed on the tapes to him so at least he would have a few more tapes for his dwindling supply. So far as I know, he has never used any of them, because he wants to watch them all -- at least a few hundred hours of random TV shows -- to see if there is "anything interesting" on them.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:15 PM on November 23, 2013


Does this mean additional Bud Dwyer footage?
posted by whuppy at 8:11 PM on November 23, 2013


Perhaps this will at least put paid to that gerbil story.
posted by Miko at 8:15 PM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I actually came into the thread planning to do a "Paging jscott" comment, but that's redundant now. This made me finally get off my ass and donate a bit to the Internet Archive. Awesome job, guys!
posted by ymgve at 1:22 PM on November 24, 2013


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