OKLAHOMA CITY – Packed back in a storage room of the Oklahoma History Center are boxes filled with rare 16 millimeter tapes.
All containing images from WKY-TV, one of the first television news stations in the country.
The early films have been hidden away for decades but now we’re getting our first look at 7,000 reels of our history as a state and a television station.
Corey Ayers, with the Oklahoma Historical Society, said, “I’m definitely aware that we’re doing something special.”
The king of rock and roll performing at the Oklahoma City Civic Center for a fevered crowd of fans.
Scenes of a cowboy and an astronaut who mesmerized young audiences are just some of the images that have been unseen for decades.
Some of the reels focused on the airport before it became known as Will Rogers, as entertainer Bob Hope prepared to take to the skies.
Ayers said, “We think of the 50s as this ‘Leave It To Beaver’ time but it’s real life.”
The boxes, stacked with real life images that are now being revealed in a montage of history.
Glimpses of the past that many thought they would never see again; delivery of the first oral polio vaccine, a young John F. Kennedy and even sit-ins in Oklahoma City, which used teenagers to peacefully end segregation.
Joyce Henderson said, “We weren’t afraid and I can’t tell you why.”
The tapes take you back to John A. Browns, a downtown department store as protestors take seats that are usually denied to them.
Among the demonstrators was Henderson, who believes the television coverage actually helped end segregation.
She said, “The television made it more real because they could identify with persons who participated. More so, a lot of sympathy because children took the leadership in the civil movement.”
Television changed a lot in the 1950s and 1960s.
Viewers became eyewitnesses to events captured on film, some were even one-of-a-kind.
One such image is a 280 millimeter atomic cannon that was being test fired at Ft. Sill with a dummy shell.
The WKY footage will take you to a place few had reason to see or experience, including the electric chair at the prison in McAlester.
The executioner said, “My part of the job is just like the judge and the jury and the other men who work here. It’s just part of the job in the overall picture.”
In all, 82 inmates were executed in the electric chair.
Nearly 50 years ago, WKY reporter Gene Allen took cameras behind prison walls for that story.
Allen said, “You never knew when you walked into the newsroom on a shift exactly what you were going to run into.”
The WKY crew also had video with Miss America, 20-year-old Jane Jayroe, when she visited Vietnam.
Jayroe said, “The most meaningful thing that I did and the most rewarding, without a doubt.”
Her visit brought moments of peace to men in war.
She said, “The most valuable thing we did was one-on-one talking, shaking hands. How are you doing? We were just home to them.”
Home was just what these young soldiers needed.
Jayroe said, “Oh yes, I jut can’t help but get emotional about that. They were so grateful and it was their sacrifice. They were the ones who were there for years and we were there for two weeks.”
All are astonishing images that have been in storage, until now.
Dr. Bob Blackburn said, “The WKY Film Collection is a treasure trove of information. That’s not just the facts. What happened, but it’s almost like an eyewitness account. You’re there when you see that footage.”
Johnny Shannon, now 87-years-old, shot the first news film at WKY.
He said, “Everything you did, nobody had ever done it before.”
Shannon was one of the pioneers in this new thing called television, who came up with the blueprints for things we now take for granted, like football coaches having their own shows.”
Bud Wilkinson said, “Football coaching is teamwork, just exactly the same as playing the game.”
OU’s legendary Bud Wilkinson had the first college football coaches show in the nation and Johnny Shannon shot all the game films.
Shannon said, “We flew back to Oklahoma City, processed the film, worked all night to get it ready for Sunday afternoon.”
He never stopped to think he was recording history and making it.
He said, “I didn’t think about it. I just went out and did it.”
Johnny’s work, and the work of others at NewsChannel 4, make up 7,000 reels of news film.
The single best collection in the nation, which is now available for a new generation of viewers.
The Oklahoma History Center is transferring those films to the Internet, which will take about seven years.
However, there are hours of vintage video already available.
For a complete list of the videos online, head to the WKY/KFOR archives YouTube channel.