Bay Area TV Archivist Sifts Through Local News Archives

By Merrill Knox 

KQED profiles Alex Cherian, a Bay Area television archivist who recovers historical news footage in San Francisco. Cherian operates out of the San Francisco State library and is currently working on finding the last interview Robert Kennedy gave before he was assassinated. Cherian offers details of his operation:

Cherian says most of the local programming in the Bay Area from the 1950s is gone, along with about 40 percent from the ‘60s and ‘70s. The ‘80s are even worse — a black hole, he says. That’s when stations used a type of tape that degrades quickly. But even today, long after stations started preserving their material, many lack easily searchable databases or digital backups.

The Bay Area TV Archive is mostly a one-person operation, and Cherian says without a staff, he just doesn’t have the ability to go through it all, about 4,000 hours from local stations KTVU, KPIX, KRON-4, and KQED, among other sources. Even though he’s been at it for three years, Cherian has only been able to put about 4 percent of it online. He says “some of the film will be in the wrong can, some will be unlabeled, who knows what we have.”