Frames Per Second: Selections from the OHS 16mm News Film Collection, 1969-1981

Scans from the KOIN and the KPTV 16mm News Film Collections

July 16 – February 24, 2019

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The prints in this exhibit are scans from the KOIN and KPTV 16mm news film collections held at the Oregon Historical Society (OHS) Research Library. Every three frames of 16mm film represents 1/8 of a second — or just faster than the blink of an eye.

In 2014, OHS film archivists pulled approximately two hours of this footage for the Oregon Experience program “Lift Ev’ry Voice” — a co-production between OHS and Oregon Public Broadcasting. In a film archive, a “pull” refers to a single footage request, usually around a specific topic, that first requires research in to what might exist in the collection. The available stories are then physically located, pulled, and spliced (taped) together onto larger reels around that one subject. For this pull, relating broadly to civil rights and the African American experience in Portland, only a small portion of the footage made the final edit of the documentary.

Identifying news stories within the OHS news collections requires familiarity with the resources created by the news organizations themselves. In Portland, stations included KOIN, KPTV, KGW, and KATU – all of which have at least some film in the OHS collection. Subject matter varied and included topics such as the Rose Festival, Blazer games, and urban development. Not all of the stations maintained easily searchable indexes to aid in pulling the film. At KOIN, the news stories were organized by subject and year. KPTV stories, however, are listed by date only. It is possible to search a variety of KOIN subjects with the main requirement being that it was noted as being “newsworthy” at the time. Some of the search terms for this pull included: Albina; Union Ave riots; “Don't Choke 'Em. Smoke 'Em"; E. Shelton Hill; Black United Front; Kent Ford; and Black Panther’s Dental Clinic. For this project, archivists pulled enough stories to fill seven reels in total, each approximately 20 minutes in length. These stories represent, in part, the day-to-day events that helped shape Portland from 1969 to 1981.

Beginning in the early 1960s, stations across the country started using 16mm film to document news outside the studio. With the ability to capture synchronized sound and a capacity to record up to 11 minutes per one 400-foot reel, 16mm film allowed for on-location reporting for the first time. Reels from the early 1960s were often shot on black-and-white negative stock, but as the decade wore on, stations shifted to color reversal film, often Kodak Ektachrome. The benefit of reversal stock was that there was no negative to process; the film in the camera was the image used for broadcast. Needing only to develop the camera original saved both time and money. Until the late 1970s, when analog video tape became more accessible, 16mm film was news stations’ format of choice.

The prints in this exhibit are scans of camera originals that were donated by the news stations to OHS in the late 1980s.