Fort Wayne-area public-access cable TV shows from 1970s to get new life in digital format

Terry Doran, a longtime Fort Wayne filmmaker and host of the "Theater for Ideas" programs, holds one of 72 reels of videotape containing recordings of "Theater for Ideas" shows he hosted in the 1970s. Doran recently received a grant to convert the tapes, which were preserved in plastic cases, left, to a digital format so the programs can be viewed again on public-access cable TV. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
Videotaped recordings of "Theater for Ideas" cable-access TV shows from the 1970s were preserved in these plastic cases in the basement of the Allen County Public Library. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
Filmmaker Terry Doran of Fort Wayne has been cataloging the shows preserved on videotapes of the "Theater for Ideas" programs he hosted locally in the 1970s on the Citizens Cable system in New Haven. Doran applied for and received a grant from the Fort Wayne Cable Fund Advisory Board to convert the videotapes to a digital format so they can be shown again on public-access cable TV. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)

History that Terry Doran thought was lost now will be revived and made available to new generations.

Doran, a longtime Fort Wayne filmmaker and community advocate, worked through the nonprofit Friends of the Third World organization and the Cable Fund Advisory Board to make it happen.

Under the umbrella of the Friends of the Third World’s nonprofit status, Doran applied for a grant from the Cable Fund to convert reels of 1/2-inch videotape to digital hard drive, he said.

The videotapes contain recordings of local “Theater for Ideas” shows from the 1970s. After conversion to digital format, the recorded programs can be shown on public-access TV here and elsewhere, Doran said.

“These shows represent so much,” Doran said. “They represent a whole different era of technology. This was a struggle – period.”

The brainstorming that took place during the shows also raised ideas that other people sometimes turned into reality, he said. Examples, he noted, include the start of the women’s movement in the Fort Wayne area and the creation of the Johnny Appleseed Festival.

“These shows were part of that atmosphere,” Doran said, “and I think these shows helped create that atmosphere.”

REVIVING HISTORY

Doran originally applied for a grant of $3,600 to convert 28 videotapes to a digital format. The Cable Fund Advisory Board increased grant funding to $10,800 so all 72 tape reels can be converted to digital.

Doran’s “Theater for Ideas” events brought together people with knowledge about a community issue so they could discuss the topic. Doran also invited people from the community to sit in the audience and ask questions, which provided public input.

Doran, who still organizes “Theater for Ideas” programs today, began videotaping the “Theater for Ideas” events in the 1970s after John Bonsib asked him to bring the events to local cable TV in New Haven, he said. Bonsib had been awarded the cable TV franchise for New Haven and wanted to provide some local programming.

All of the “Theater for Ideas” programs preserved on reel-to-reel videotape had been shown on Citizens Cable in the mid- to late 1970s, Doran said. The programs often also played on a TV screen at Carl’s Tavern in New Haven.

Many of the shows were funded by grants from the Indiana Humanities Council, Doran said. Topics included “Big Brother is watching you”; “I love you, I think” on relationships; “You crazy, I sane” on mental health; “Hard Travelin'” with performances by local folk music artists; “Political crimes”; and “All the Lonely People” on loneliness.

A “Your candidates speak” series resulted in a national award for Doran for his interview with future U.S. Vice President Dan Quayle, who at the time of the interview was running for a seat in the U.S. Congress.

In the 1970s, The News-Sentinel called the taped-and-televised discussions “socially innovative,” Doran said.

HIDDEN GEMS

The reels of videotaped recordings of “Theater for Ideas” ended up packaged in plastic cases in the basement storage area of the Allen County Public Library’s downtown branch, Doran said.

The downtown library became the home of local public-access TV after Fort Wayne granted its own cable TV franchise. The Cable Fund grant money comes from part of the franchise fee the city charges cable system providers to operate here.

Doran doesn’t remember how the tapes got to the library, but he’s thankful they did.

“If it hadn’t been for the library, obviously they’d be gone,” he said.

Doran learned about the tapes’ existence from the late Erik Mollberg, a longtime local staff member of the local cable-access TV service, which now is known as Access Fort Wayne. Doran credits Mollberg with having the vision to save the tapes.

CONVERTING TO DIGITAL

Even after learning the tapes exist, Doran wasn’t sure they would ever be played again because that would require use of outdated equipment. Then Norm Compton, the current Access Fort Wayne director, told him the Fort Wayne City Council paid to have old videotapes of some of its meetings converted to a digital format.

Doran did some checking and learned the George Blood company in Philadelphia can convert the videotapes to a digital hard drive for $125 per tape. That’s when he applied for the Cable Fund grant to pay for the conversion.

Since receiving grant approval, Doran has been busy cataloging each videotape and what shows or portions of shows are on them. He will ship them in batches of five to the George Blood company for conversion to digital.

Despite all the years and the current cataloging work, he’s excited this piece of Fort Wayne history will be preserved and shared again with audiences today.

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