Tyson gives $1.5M to fund extensive archive of footage from Little Rock TV station

Pryor Center to preserve TV footage

Posted: November 3, 2017 at 2 a.m.

Barbara A. Tyson (center) sits between David and Barbara Pryor on Thursday during the announcement of a $1.5 million gift from Barbara A. Tyson and Tyson Foods Foundation Inc. to the David and Barbara Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History to create the KATV Preservation Project.

FAYETTEVILLE -- A $1.5 million contribution to The David and Barbara Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History in Fayetteville will help preserve 50 years of Arkansas history on film and video.

Barbara A. Tyson speaks Thursday during the announcement of a $1.5 million gift from her and the Tyson Foods Foundation to the David and Barbara Pryor...

The donation, from Barbara Tyson and the Tyson Foods Foundation Inc., will provide funding to catalog, index and digitize an extensive archive of video and film footage from KATV, Channel 7, the ABC affiliate in Little Rock.

Being able to see the footage, compared with just reading about the events, will make "all the difference in the world," Tyson said after a news conference Thursday at the Pryor Center in downtown Fayetteville.

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Every school in the state will eventually have access to the online archives, said Barbara Tyson, who was the sister-in-law of the late Don Tyson, a former chairman of Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale.

"I think it will be a learning experience for the people of Arkansas," she said.

The Pryor Center is part of the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

In 2009, KATV donated about 26,000 hours of footage to the Pryor Center dating back half a century. KATV had one of the largest local television archives in the country, including news, weather and sports footage, according to a news release.

The footage includes Elvis Presley getting a haircut at Fort Chaffee when he joined the Army in 1958, Johnny Cash singing at Cummins Prison in 1969, and John F. Kennedy speaking in Heber Springs at the dedication of Greers Ferry Dam a month before he was assassinated in 1963.

The events chronicled include the desegregation of Little Rock's Central High School in 1957, the Titan II missile explosion in Van Buren County in 1980, the UA claiming national championships in football in 1964 and basketball in 1994, and the swearing in of every governor from Sid McMath in 1949 to Mike Beebe in 2007.

"These are our shared stories and memories," said former U.S. Sen. David Pryor, for whom the Pryor Center is named. "There's a wealth of history in this footage," he said.

The collection is currently stored at the Arkansas State Library in Little Rock. The bulk of the footage has not been seen by the public since it was first broadcast, according to the release.

"Imagine what kind of footage is buried in these tapes and what sort of treasures will be found through the digitizing and preservation process," said Archie Schaffer III, retired executive and consultant to Tyson Foods Inc. and a member of the advisory boards for the Pryor Center and Fulbright College.

Randy Dixon, director of the Pryor Center, said digitization of the KATV collection has been a priority of the center for years.

"Many of the videotapes are fragile and the collection has been deteriorating with each passing year, so we felt a sense of urgency to complete this project as quickly as possible," said Dixon, who is a former news director at KATV.

Dixon said much of the collection was cataloged by Jim Pitcock, a former news director at KATV. The collection includes films that were acquired by Pitcock that weren't initially aired on KATV, such as a film of the second Hope Watermelon Festival parade in the 1920s, said Dixon.

"Floats going down a dirt road being pulled by mules," he said.

Dixon said the Pryor Center will contract with a company to digitize most of the tapes. How much that will cost and how long it will take isn't known at this point, but it will take years, he said.

Dixon said tapes from 1977 to 1980 will be digitized at the Pryor Center, because Pitcock hadn't gotten around to logging those.

"There are several years' worth of film that have not been cataloged," Dixon said. "That's what we're going to do here, so we can view it as it's being digitized."

Dixon said all the footage will eventually be online in a searchable format.

Nick Genty, the current news director at KATV, said he was happy to hear of the Tyson donation.

"I think this is outstanding," he said. "It's really documenting Arkansas history."

Genty said the concern was not only about the deterioration of videotapes and film, but also about how machines that play certain formats of video are becoming rare.

"Those machines don't last forever and they're not being made anymore," Genty said. "Once it's preserved electronically, it's saving history forever."

The Pryor Center was created in 1999 as an outreach service of the university's Department of History. The initial concept came from Pryor and his wife, Barbara, who provided seed money through a $220,000 gift.

A $2 million gift from the Tyson Family Foundation in 2005 created an endowment for the center, which was then renamed the David and Barbara Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History.

Todd Shields, dean of the Fulbright College, thanked Barbara Tyson and the Tyson Foods Foundation for the donation.

"Thanks to their generosity, our students, faculty members, historians, Arkansans and all future generations will be able to have access to this valuable, historic footage," he said. "The impact their gift will have is truly incalculable."

The donation is part of Campaign Arkansas, an ongoing campaign to raise $1 billion in private gift support for the university's academic mission and other key priorities.