OKLAHOMA CITY – Deep in storage at the Oklahoma History Center is a mountain of boxes full of memories of the stories of our state and our city, written on film and videotape.
“When we had the chance to get the WKY collections, I was all over it,” said Dr. Bob Blackburn, Executive Director of the Oklahoma History Center.
They have agreed to be the archivist for the massive News 4, KFOR, collection. Tens of thousands of daily news stories, specials and documentaries dating back 70 years to 1949, when Channel 4 became the first TV station to go on the air in Oklahoma.
“We start with the story of WKY, the predecessor to KFOR, because they were the pioneers in television in Oklahoma, not just Oklahoma City, and really had more of a regional footprint than most stations,” said Blackburn.
Thousands of daily local stories, some huge with national and international implications, others just a snapshot of what would have been of interest to Oklahomans.
Blackburn calls it a treasure – a gift of immeasurable value.
“Now we have this deep well of wealth in terms of historical information told by people like Jack Ogle, Ernie Schultz, Bob Dotson. These pioneers of telling stories about what’s going on in our community now that we historians 40, 50 years later, 60, 70 years later, with your anniversary, can say, here are the ways those stories were told when it wasn’t history, it was news,” Blackburn told News 4.
The history center is transferring the entire archive, from 3D Danny to Foreman Scotty, college football games, specials and the Science Rock and Roll dance show, and from all walks of life to the most famous on the planet.
“We know we have footage of Elvis Presley when he gave one of his early concerts here,” Blackburn said.
Blackburn says the real value of the collection is its entirety – a Rosetta Stone of sorts to understand our commonality.
“Broadcasters were collecting the story of the community one day at a time, and if you look at history as little dots that we historians try to connect, we connect through time, we connect it horizontally, what’s affecting everything else,” Blackburn said. “What you broadcasters are doing is collecting that story of the community every day and as you step back and get perspective, and you take all these little dots and these pieces of the mosaic, then you start seeing a tapestry. So what I saw with the collections of WKY at the time was the story of Oklahoma City, and Oklahoma, one day at a time, captured in a unique format that could speak to people in the modern age.”
It would speak to people in ways that changed our perspectives, our relationships, even our values, like our coverage of the Civil Rights Movement in Oklahoma City.
“I say the effectiveness of Clara Luper and the sit-ins of 1958 was so great was because of television. Television was bringing this struggle for civil rights and the inequality that was part of the DNA of Oklahoma from the very beginning it was a racist, segregationist state. But as long as there was distance, it wasn’t part of our lives,” Blackburn told News 4. “Television brought that struggle into our living rooms, started affecting not just our minds but our hearts. Why are we doing it to our fellow citizens? And suddenly, society starts changing. Television helped drive the changes, it was covering the news, it was making it a part of all of our lives so those newscasters like Jack Ogle and Ernie Schultz were part of our family. They were there live in our living rooms talking to us, fellow citizens of this community. Here are the things that are wrong, here’s what’s happening and then the commentary that would be added to it. It was changing history as it was covering history.”