Voices from the Field: PBPF Elizabeth Meads’ Experience at the University of Alabama Center for Public Television and Radio

Being a Public Broadcasting Preservation Fellow has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. I will be forever grateful for the experience I gained in part by GBH and the American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB). Doing audiovisual archive work during the COVID-19 pandemic has been anything but easy. I was placed at the University of Alabama Center for Public Television and Radio (CPT&R) for my fellowship. In Fall 2021 our immersion workshop had to be done remotely – students at their stations across the country and instructors in their homes. Over a year into the pandemic, my station had put in several health measures to mitigate the spread of the virus – it also helped that my workspace had a sliding door that I could lock from the inside. My first day of the workshop, I kept thinking to myself “Elizabeth, what have you gotten yourself into? You are in way over your head!” However, the instructors put my concerns to bed by maintaining frequent contact and answering all the questions I had. Throughout my time in this internship, I gained valuable skills in digital archiving, troubleshooting, and lots of patience.

Tannehill Grist Mill, at the Tannehill Historical State Park, home of the Alabama Iron and Steel Museum, as discussed in “Uptown and Country” episode “Gone for a Soldier”

The materials I digitized came from a few different series, as well as some stand-alone episodes/features. All the tapes I digitized were Betacam:SP tapes. The series that most of my content came from was “The Alabama Experience” – a series that explored the cultural, historical, and folkloric aspects of Alabama and what makes the state so unique. I am from Alabama, specifically the Wiregrass Region (southeast Alabama) and every day that I went in to transfer tapes, I learned something new about the state I call home. One of the episodes of a series I transferred – Uptown and Country – inspired me to visit one of the state parks located near Tuscaloosa: Tannehill Grist Mill and State Park.

There have been several lessons and skills that I have developed in the year that I have been doing work as an intern at CPT&R. First and foremost, always check your computer for software updates! There were a few times when I would go into the station and then be halted abruptly in my work to update the software or programs used for digital transfer. Second, always try to have a plan when working with audiovisual materials. At first, it was overwhelming to adjust video and audio settings, capture video,  and do metadata. However, I was able to implement my own workflow that allowed me to get the most of my time at the station. I would first jog the tape a few times which allowed me to see the duration of the media. I would then utilize the “tone and bars” at the beginning of the tapes to adjust my audio and picture settings. After that, I would fast forward through the tape, stopping to jot down notes about the credits and contributors, as well as the broadcast date or other pertinent information. This also allowed me to see how my adjustments to sound and picture looked throughout the video. Lastly, I would begin my capture process and copy my hand-written metadata into the Excel spreadsheet, along with the description of the episode/program and its respective genres.

Tools of the trade: Betacam tapes on the cart; adjusting audio and picture settings during digitization; one of the machines used to digitize tapes

Some of the programs I digitized include:

Holy Smoke Over Birmingham

One of the most culturally diverse foods in the United States is Barbecue. This program features chain-restaurants, as well as locally owned business, in Alabama that put their own creative touch into the techniques and traditions of smoking meat.

Holding on to History: Alabama’s Archive

In this episode of “The Alabama Experience,” host Tom Rieland explores the state archive of Alabama. Located in Montgomery, the Alabama Department of Archives and History is critical in preserving the history of the state and its citizens.

Two Zoos

Alabama is home to two zoos, located in Birmingham and Montgomery. This episode of “The Alabama Experience” ventures to both facilities to explore all these parks and attractions have to offer.

On the Azalea Trail

This episode takes viewers to the historic Bellingrath Gardens in Mobile, Alabama and explores the local, state, and national impact of the gardens and related festivals.

The Ghosts of Selma

This episode of “The Alabama Experience” features interviews from local citizens of Selma, Alabama. They share stories about folklore of the Selma area, particularly about ghosts. Acclaimed author Kathryn Tucker Windham is also featured in this episode.

These featured episodes are just a few of the programs I digitized. As stated previously, I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to be a part of something so much bigger than any one individual – preserving the audiovisual heritage of Alabama. I have learned so much during my time in the Library Science program at the University of Alabama, and even more through my time as a public broadcast fellow with GBH. I have already had some interviews where my experience working with audiovisual materials has come up and I always get so excited to talk about it. I could never express my gratitude deeply enough to the incredible support staff at GBH in Boston, as well as from professors at the School of Library and Information Studies.

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