Digitizing Public Media: PBPF Fellow Valeria Dávila’ Experience at Oregon Public Broadcasting

Hi, there! Thanks for stopping by. I’m Valeria Dávila, a Master of Library & Information Studies student at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa (UA). In this blog post, I’ll walk you through my experience preserving Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) legacy media as part of my EBSCO Scholarship in Audiovisual Preservation & Archiving.

OPB is the primary television and radio public broadcasting network for Oregon and southern Washington, turning 100 years in 2023! It’s origins can be traced back to 1923 in the Corvallis campus of the Oregon State University (then the Oregon Agricultural College) when students created the KFDJ-AM radio as part of a physics experiment. Renamed KOAC two years later, the radio programmed music, lectures, reports of athletic events, and student programs. 

KOAC building constructed in 1941 when the radio’s power increased from 1000 to 5000 watts.

Several years later, in 1957, the network established KOAC-TV, administered since the early 1980s by the agency we now know as OPB, the name it adopted in 1988. Initially dependent on the state, since 1993 OPB operates as a community-licensed organization supported by its over 100,000 members. Some outstanding programs it produced include Oregon Field Guide (1990), Oregon Experience (2006), Think Out Loud (2008), and Seven Days (1996), this last which I digitized partially during my internship.

Seven Days logo

Seven Days, the show and the collection

Seven Days (1996-2003) was a news talk show produced by Morgan Holm, and moderated by Stephanie Fowler, featuring news reports accompanied by discussions with expert panelists on current events in Oregon. The environment, politics, education, health, and business were central themes, and some of the debates, such as school shootings, abortion, and the legalization of marijuana, continue to be relevant today. The episodes were typically 30 minutes long, although a few hour-long specials were made during the show’s time on the air.

Housed at the OPB archives in Portland, the Seven Days collection comprises over 230 Betacam and Betacam SP tapes that account for approximately 135 hours of invaluable content.

My journey digitizing Seven Days 

Being placed at OPB felt a little like the working of the fickle finger of fate: my first film preservation undertaking at the OSUL was with the In Our Care series (1959-60), produced by … yes, KOAC-TV! 

Apart from the anecdote, something distinctive about my internship was that instead of completing it onsite like most of my classmates, I did mine remotely using my former office at the Oregon State University Libraries (OSUL), where I worked prior to starting this internship. The AAPB and the UA came up with this solution as I’m based in Corvallis and commuting to Portland was unfeasible.

At my digitization station at the Oregon State University Libraries.

Being a first for all the parties involved, this workaround ––made possible thanks to the resourcefulness of AAPB, OPB, and UA, and the generosity of the OSUL–– didn’t go without challenges. There was no roadmap to follow, and I had to build up my digitization station from scratch. The OPB sent the tapes over to OSUL and the UA did the same with the digitization equipment; and I managed to set up the station guided by Jackie Jay, our AV Archives instructor at UA, via Zoom. Looking back, even with the setbacks, the undertaking was quite impressive. The collective effort added value to the experience and paved the way for future remote fellowships. 

Another ––uniquely physical and emotional–– challenge, was completing the first term of the internship in the Fall while being pregnant, and the second this Spring while being puerperal and with a little baby. Having a supportive supervisor like Stephanie Stewart, and a flexi schedule were critical to my success. Also helpful was that the learning curve with command line, vrecord, QCTools, and MediaConch occurred in the Fall, so in the Spring I was more comfortable, and confident with my time management, digitization, and metadata creation and ingest processes.

Audiovisual Artifacts

Among the challenges, perhaps the ones I enjoyed the most was finding audiovisual artifacts in a set of ‘97-99 Betacam AMPEX tapes, known for being problematic, and doing research and consulting the avpres community to identify them. 

SDI spike on Betacam AMPEX

One of the most common artifacts were SDI spikes, which I initially misidentified as analog line dropouts. According to the AV Artifact Atlas, they are caused by an “interference in the output of an SDI switch receiving several multiplexed SDI signals,” and cannot be fixed after being recorded. I wondered whether I was introducing these errors during the digitization process. However, not being present in all the other tapes, indicated that they were most probably recorded-in-source.

Video head clog artifacts on Betacam AMPEX.

Another artifact that puzzled me (but is actually fairly common) was the video head clog, which appears when the tape improperly contacts the video head due to an accumulation of oxide or dirt, creating all kinds of visual distortions. Just like with the SDI spikes, I wondered whether this was an introduced or recorded-in-source error. Feedback from the avpres community pointed to a chroma head clog or TBC processing artifact. To find out, I had to disarm and clean the deck and re-digitize the tape with the TBC turned off. Not only the artifacts persisted, something was different about the colors in the recaptured video. This seemed to indicate to me that the artifacts were recorded-in-source, and the color-shifting was a result of turning off the TBC.

Original video capture (top row) vs recaptured video (bottom row) frame-by-frame comparison.
Betacam deck with the first lid removed.

Now the internship is over, I’m left with the satisfaction of having helped preserve and make accessible approximately 13.5 hours of local Oregon history recorded in 25 Betacam and Betacam SP tapes, where around half was marked as a high priority for preservation by my station.

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