February 21st, 2017 Update: The Museum.TV Digital Archives have apparently been offline since November 2016. The limited searchable database remains available. It now includes over 19,000 records.
Remember when the Museum of Broadcast Communications (MBC) had some 8,500 hours of radio and television programs digitized and freely available online? Remember when the MBC had a searchable database of its entire collection? If you’re not familiar with the saga of the MBC Archives, here’s a quick refresher.
A Useful Resource Disappears
The MBC Archives used to be searchable online. Included were 100,000 hours of radio and television programming, 12,000 commercials, 3,000 photographs, and 2,000 artifacts. It was a valuable resource for historians, researchers, and radio/TV fans curious to learn if specific TV programs and episodes survived.
A selection of 8,500 hours of radio and television programming were digitized–as were thousands of photographs and images of artifacts–and could be accessed for free online. All you needed was a free registration. Those 8,500 hours included two episodes of Janet Dean, Registered Nurse, the 1981 PBS documentary special “Making M*A*S*H,” the wonderful 8-part documentary series Television from 1988, multiple episodes of various Star Trek TV shows, the “Miss U.S. Television Grand Finals” DuMont special from September 1950, and much more.
At some point in June 2011, the MBC Archives became inaccessible. They returned a few months later only to disappear again in mid-2013. An article in the Chicago Reader published in May 2015 revealed that “a ‘server crash’ destroyed access to the 10 percent of the museum’s archive of radio and television programming that had been digitized.”
Limited Access to Collection
That was the end of the story until last month when limited access to the MBC Archives was restored. The new MBC Online Collections Database contains just 7,485 records. Of those, 6,316 fall under the TV/Radio category. Another 1,527 are Artifacts.
(Yes, those two numbers add up to more than 7,485 records. There must be some overlap.)
(As of February 21st, 2017 there are 19,477 records. Of those, 17,292 are TV/Radio and 2,185 are Artifacts.)
Aside from only including a fraction of the old MBC Archives, the new online database is far from ideal. The interface is clunky and I don’t trust many of the dates. For example, an episode of Don McNeill’s Breakfast Club is said to be from 1944.
Some Digitized Content
A very small number of TV programs–just 74, by my count–can be watched online through the new Museum.TV Digital Archives. A free registration is again required. Nearly all of these are news or documentary programs. They’re are a mix of network and local Chicago programs. Here are a few samples:
- Elvis Presley Death Report
- CBS News: Pre-Democratic National Convention 1956
- City Desk: Ballot Box ’60
- John Palmer’s Israel
- Howdy Doody
- CBS News: The Tenement
Some of the dates here are wrong as well: coverage of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster is said to be from January 1982 rather than January 1986 while coverage of the 1960 Republican National Convention is supposedly from 1956.
Still, despite the issues, some access is better than no access. Hopefully, the MBC is hard at work on improving and expanding its new Online Collections Database as well as the new Digital Archives. The MBC is also seeking donations so it can recover and restore the 8,000+ TV programs that used to be offered online. Supposedly it will cost $40,000 to get that digitized content back online.