Education

‘Film at 11,’ 1955 to 2000, at Business & Media Archives

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The materials at the core of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society’s Business & Media Archives represent the “pre-eminent multimedia collection of a community’s history,” a member of the family that donated those materials says.

The historical society, which is celebrating its 140th anniversary, held a press event Tuesday to mark the relocation of the archives to its new home in the Carriage House behind the Arms Family Museum on Wick Avenue.

The core of the collection is related to WKBN Broadcasting Corp., said Bill Lawson, MVHS executive director.

The Business & Media Archives was established in 1994 as a partnership with WKBN, MVHS and Youngstown State University. It followed the discovery of the materials by the family of WKBN’s founder, Warren P. Williamson Jr.

Lowry Stewart, Williamson’s grandson, returned to the area and the family business in 1991, when he “found a vast amount of historic stuff in our garage,” he recalled.

Among the discoveries were the old film files, which he was familiar with having worked for the television station as a news photographer starting at age 17. He subsequently met Lawson and they began to discuss how to preserve the collection, leading to the formation of the Business & Media Archives.

The partnership lasted until 2006, when the collection was turned over to the historical society. Before the move to the Carriage House, which housed the society’s archives library until it relocated to the Tyler History Center, the business and media collection was “offsite and not in a very high profile location,” Lawson said.

“It’s really interesting how full-circle this move represents,” he remarked. In the late 1970s, when the historical society was considering what to do with the Carriage House — at the time being used as a storage building — Williamson was the society’s president. “That’s when the idea came to create an archives library at this location,” Lawson said.

“My grandfather believed very strongly in the Youngstown community and the businesses and the people who made this community work,” Stewart remarked. “To be able to preserve this history was very important to him.”

“The boss,” as employees referred to Williamson, “would have loved this,” said Lynn Williamson, his granddaughter and also a former employee of WKBN.

The collection includes more than 2.5 million linear feet of news film and more than 2 million linear feet of videotape from WKBN, from 1955 to 2000. “So what you have is every daily news story at WKBN-TV for 45 years. That’s one of the best documents we have for understanding our history in the second half of the 20th century,” Lawson said.

Stewart described the collection as the “preeminent multimedia collection of a community’s history” and said it would be difficult to find another one in the United States.

“Most TV stations didn’t have the capacity to be able to preserve that footage,” Stewart said. “We were fortunate. We established procedures early on that kept that film in good shape.” In addition, the materials were indexed and those reference materials remain with the collection.

The WKBN collection also includes radio recordings, and the archives has since expanded to include contributions from other local news organizations.

Familiar figures, landmarks and events were featured in a video playing on monitors during the news conference, including the former Idora Park and the late James A. Traficant Jr. and Don Hanni Jr.

In addition to the news footage and recordings, display cases at the Carriage House feature various artifacts from local broadcast stations, from the sound effects tools used during radio’s heyday to the mailbox from the children’s program “Romper Room” to the video cameras, mobile phones and other equipment used over the years.

“It’s a unique collection of not just videos. There’s audio records. There’s equipment. There’s two-dimensional things such as photographs and paper,” said Connie Jones, project manager for the Business & Media Archives. “The great thing about this move is it’s allowed me to get it in an organized fashion that I hadn’t been able to do before.”

Since the archives was established, staff has worked to put the materials into newer formats to allow the public better access, Lawson said. “The technological changes are so rapid that we can’t keep up. Ultimately we want to have hardware and server space here so that everything will be digital and we won’t need videos or a disc or tape or equipment,” he said.

The public is invited to a free open house Saturday at the Arms Museum, where they can also visit the new home of the media archives.

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Pictured: Lynn Williamson, Bill Lawson and Lowry Stewart at press event announcing new home for the Mahoning Valley Historical Society’s Business & Media Archives.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.