Programming the Past: Integrating Network TV into #umwconsole

Early next week Michael Branson Smith (MBS) will be coming down to Mary Washington to help us get 1985 network  TV broadcasting in the Console Living Room Exhibit. That’s right, we’ll actually be creating at least one—and hopefully more—channels that are programmed with shows and commercials from 1985 that will actually be transmitted to the TVs in the exhibit. Awesome, right? MBS has been testing it out, and he provides a quick demo of the setup in the following video:

MBS has a Rasberry Pi that will automatically download YouTube videos from a playlist and then via the video out will transmit them through the HLLY TV Transmitter (I have my very own en route as I write this) on a specified channel that will then be picked up by the TV antenna. And seeing and hearing the Super Friends play through that television in the video is a blast from the past that is just the beginning of the madness. MBS has started a Saturday morning cartoon playlist from the era.

Watching the quick demo and perusing the playlist, I remembered a post from back in January 2008 in which I marveled about the fact that Wikipedia has a “comprehensive list of U.S. network TV schedules.” Coincidentally, the screenshot I took for that post featured the primetime network lineup for the 1984/1985 season. Could it have been a bava premonition of what was to come? More than seven years later I am seriously toying with the idea of trying to program an entire day—or week? month? year?—of network TV for the exhibit. It would take about four or five more TV transmitters, some serious research, and a ton of YouTube downloading (amongst other media resources) to do this, but it would be the next level of media studies for the console living room.

Additionally, I think such a setup could help make the argument that this exhibit is not just a nostalgic sideshow or cultural curiosity, but an example of what’s possible in terms of embedding a cultural media moment in an academic community for an extended period of time as an object of ongoing study. Such an approach would be a pretty compelling and unique way to study the history of media convergence, and much of it is made possible by the very changing nature of technology that is the object of study. That’s some high level shit right there.

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One Response to Programming the Past: Integrating Network TV into #umwconsole

  1. MBS says:

    Definitely in with you on this one. I’ve been interested in the idea of more detailed programming schedule which could be accurate to the period. I think one of the most interesting things that will come out of the research will be the regional nature of TV and the importance of independent stations at the pre-dawn of cable television.

    In Connecticut there were two channels 20 and 61 that in the early 80s made the decision to not affiliate with any of the networks. And all day they showed cartoons, off network series, and movies. These two channels were what I probably watched the most other than during primetime. Sunday afternoon Kung Fu theatre, the New Hollywood classics of the late 60s, and 70s, Gilligan’s Island, Brady Bunch, endless amounts of Woody Woodpecker and Looney Tunes. It was amazing.

    The wikipedia record is a great resource but to get at the metal, you’d need either a local edition of TV Guide magazine, or even better copies of the local newspaper’s Sunday TV listings for the week in a booklet. The Hartford Courant had TV Week, which I religiously replaced atop our television every Sunday. 🙂

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