UCLA Loves Television History
45 years ago, Americans gathered around their TVs to watch a president losing his grip on power. As the Watergate hearings unfolded, UCLA Professor Paul Rosenthal recognized that these events were an important piece of history and recorded them for future generations. Inspired by this success, UCLA began a program to preserve all of the television news viewable in Los Angeles, and for the last four decades we have continued doing exactly that.
Our television archive is one of the largest in the world and contains the only surviving copies of thousands of programs.
UCLA Loves Betamax
When Sony introduced the Betamax system in 1975, it was revolutionary. Betamax VCRs and tapes were the first affordable TV recording solution, and also had higher resolution and better picture quality than VHS, which was introduced soon after. Groundbreaking Betamax technology is what allowed UCLA to start recording all of the local, national, and cable news in Los Angeles beginning in 1979 and continuing through the mid-1990s.
Today, UCLA currently has more than 35,000 Betamax tapes containing historical newscasts & cultural moments, but the risk of losing this history grows with passing each day.
Betamax is History
Betamax tapes were very high quality, but are gradually (and inevitably) degrading. If they are not digitized soon, all of these recordings will be lost.
Unfortunately, there are precious few Betamax VCRs available to play these tapes back. While many still argue that Betamax was a superior recording format, Betamax clearly lost the "format war" to VHS well before most of our current students were even born. The last consumer Betamax player introduced in the United States came out in 1993, and Sony stopped manufacturing Betamax players entirely a few years later. Because of this scarcity, it is difficult to find working players, and those that are available are either damaged or prohibitively expensive.
For example, a refurbished, working copy of the last U.S. Betamax player (Sony's SL-HF2000) costs $995 (plus shipping). The high-end EDV-9500 model costs an eye-watering $2,495 (plus shipping). Prices will only go up as these units become rarer and harder to repair, and as the people who know how to repair Betas become harder to repair, themselves.
#SaveTheBetas, Save Our History
UCLA is currently embarking on an ambitious plan to digitize and preserve our television heritage. When completed, these historic news programs will be accessible online for scholars and the public through the UCLA Library. The student workers in our lab have already digitized tens of thousands of hours of newer VHS tapes, but we need your help to preserve our more endangered Betamaxes. You can help by:
- Donating money to help us purchase and maintain high-quality Betamax players. Learn more about the impact of your gift by exploring our perks.
- If you have a working Betamax player (preferably one built within the last 35 years), you can donate it to us directly and receive credit for an in-kind contribution to UCLA. Contact Nicole Andolina from Communication Development if you would like to make a gift-in-kind.
- If you are a student at UCLA and are interested in working on the project, you can apply online here.
- If you live in the LA area and are interested in volunteering on our project, please email me at email@example.com.
Help us save our history.
Help us save our betas!