Archive Australian TV Video Collection and Preservation


The preservation of 1960s and 1970s Australian television video recordings was certainly never a priority in the era they were broadcasted. Between approximately 1973 and 1978, large quantities of material stored in the ABC's Engineering department (videotape) and film libraries were destroyed or wiped to make way for newer programmes. It is unfortunate that many TV stations elected to either wipe or discard TV video material including station promos, advertisements, news bulletins, and programs. The wiping phase was especially intense during the mid to late 1970s when budget restraints precluded every series being preserved on video tape.

The wiping policy officially came to an end in the late 1970s, when the means to further exploit programmes by taking advantage of the new market in domestic video cassette (VCR) recordings was beginning to become apparent. Nevertheless, much of the promotional type television broadcast material was still being wiped. Coincident during this period, educational facilities were recording large quantities of daytime TV (primarily ABC TV schools programs) using video formats such as EIAJ 1/2" open reel, and 3/4" U-matic VCRs. These surplus recordings to this day represent the best source we have for lesser known programs and promotional TV broadcast by ABC TV during the 1970s and early 1980s.

To set a context, the writer collects 1960s, 1970s, 1980s VHS, Beta, N1500 / N1700, U-matic, two-inch quad, 16mm film, and EIAJ 1/2" reel-reel vintage off-air Australian TV recordings for the purpose of transferring to digital formats in order to ensure preservation. By combining my collection of archive TV videos with other collectors' material, I have accumulated a variety of Australian TV recordings dating back to the 1960s. By preserving programs, station logos, test cards, news and commercials, one gains a fuller appreciation of TV formats used in years gone by. Some of this material is now also sought after by TV stations for archival purposes, including ABC TV Sydney who have requested copies not currently in their archives.


My first experience with a domestic quality VCR goes back to 1978. One of my cousins (John Lowry) was a professional TV/film cameraman, who by virtue of industry contacts purchased a Philips N1700 VCR. At that time VCRs were prohibitively expensive - in the order of AU $2,000-5,000 in today's dollars. For this reason, I delayed buying a Sanyo Betamax VCR until September 1983.

TV recordings from 1983 to 1991 were primarily DX TV stations from rural, interstate, and overseas TV stations.

During the mid 1990s I started advertising in newspapers for surplus 1970s and 1980s off-air TV broadcast recordings. The response was somewhat mixed: several U-matic tapes unfortunately had promotional TV material carefully edited out. Nevertheless, some interesting material started to surface. For example, in early 1997, I acquired a Sony VO-2630 U-matic VCR along with some 400 U-matic tapes from Castle Hill Catholic University. The picture quality of off air TV U-matic ABN2 Sydney TV recordings made circa 1977-1981 were quite remarkable. 1970s U-matic TV recordings are generally superior to VHS, Beta, or N1700 recordings. This is primarily assumed to be due to the 3/4" tape width. It is noteworthy that U-matic VCR off-air TV recordings from 1972 onwards would be still sharp and clear some 35 years later (assuming proper storage). I also have 20 reel-to-reel video recordings from the early 1970s (possibly ABS2 Adelaide circa 1975).

When dubbing from old VTRs to DVD, I generally use the 1-hour HQ setting on the Sony RDR-GX3 DVD recorder in order to minimise compression artefacts. Considering that DVD-R discs are now readily available for under AU $1, transferring 3 hours of video to DVD is comparable to a $3 VHS video tape. Another consideration is the connecting lead between A/V inputs. For dubbing I use two (audio) RCA leads and a high quality wide diameter video RCA lead. When using the RDR-GX3 1-hour HQ record setting, I generally can't tell the difference between the original recordings and DVD recordings. This also means that multiple DVD copies of the master DVD are essentially as sharp as the original recordings. My archive TV collection was primarily obtained from the following sources:

1. My own off-air Sydney Beta & VHS TV recordings circa 1983-1995.
2. 1977-1982 era U-matic tapes purchased from Castle Hill Catholic University.
3. Discarded N1700 tapes either found or donated.
4. Tapes sent from other collectors.
5. Artransa Park Film Studios 1960s video material obtained via my uncle (ATN7 editor Gus Lowry), and Joyce Alchin.

Even though I had an interest in archive TV recordings back in the 1980s, it wasn't until 1997 that I started advertising for old tapes. The Sydney Free Trading paper was ideal at the time because wanted classified ads could be placed free of charge. The response was quite good. For two years I was busy building up my collection. A death in the family in late 1998 put a halt to archive and TV preservation work. Also, the Sydney Free Trading newspaper eventually started to assume I was collecting old tapes for business (monetary) purposes. As a consequence I wasn't able to place wanted ads free of charge, hence I stopped collecting after 1999. I've only recently started to get back into collecting old video tapes since 2007 after seeing other collectors' archive Australian TV material on YouTube.

Video Tape Formats

Depending on the brand name, U-matic tapes can play perfectly well after 32+ years of storage. Another important factor is keeping the tape within its protective case. This greatly reduces moisture ingress. Also, Sony tapes tend to be the most reliable. A minority suffer from sticky tape oxide. The cure is temp controlled tape baking. U-matic picture quality is superior to VHS. In the UK, I 1970s and 80s BBC TV material will be found on surplus old school and college U-matic or EIAJ video tapes.

EIAJ 1/2" open reel: video recordings in my collection date back no further than 1974. Most recordings date between 1975-1977.
U-matic: video recordings in my collection date back no further than 1976. Most recordings date between 1978-1982. The video quality is superior to EIAJ and VHS.
N1700: video recordings in my collection date back no further than 1981.
Beta: video recordings in my collection date back no further than 1983.
VHS: video recordings in my collection date back no further than 1982.

Sources of Supply

Video tapes from the 1970s were primarily used by educational facilities (e.g. schools, colleges, universities). Some facilities may still stock 1970s format video formats in their audio-visual department. Hence, it may be worth contacting these departments. Indeed, colleges and schools are one of the main sources in terms of my U-matic tape collection.

For most domestic households, VTR or VCRs were prohibitively expensive during the 1970s. For example, the U-matic VCR cost at least $5,000. This explains why 1970s commercial TV recordings are relatively hard to find compared to ABC TV schools material. Most 1970s era VCRs were used for recording ABC TV schools programs.

Video Tape Recorders

1. Sony VO-2630 U-matic VCR.
2. Sony VO-9800P U-matic VCR.
3. National NV-3160 EIAJ 1/2-inch VTR.

Australian TV Series from my Collection

1. The Tarax Show (1964).
2. Video Village (1966).
3. Motel (1968).
4. The Go Show (1969).
5. The Long Arm ATV0 Melbourne promo (1970).
6. Adventure Island (1970).
7. The Paul Hogan Show (1974, 1976).
8. Class of 74' (1974).
9. Flashez (1976).
10. Chopper Squad (1977, 1978).
11. The Norman Gunston Show (1975, 1976, 1978, 1979).
12. Bill Peach Australian Cities (1979).
13. Cop Shop (1977).
14. Boney (1972-73).
15. Division 4 (1971).
16. Homicide (1966).
17. Skyways (1979).
18. Matlock Police (1971).
19. Adventure Island.
20. Musical Cashbox (1971-73).
21. Spyforce (1971).
22. Riptide (1969).
23. IMT with Bert Newton and Graham Kennedy (1964-1969).
24. Number 96 (1972).
25. The Graham Kennedy Show (1972).
26. The Mike Walsh Show (1979).
27. Alpha Scorpio (1974).
28. MY nAME'S McgOOLEY - What's Yours? (1967-68).
29. Rita and Wally (1968).
30. Glenview High (1977).
31. The Group (1971).
32. Young Talent Time (1971).
33. Romper Room (1979).
34. Aventures of the Seaspray (1966).
35. Phoenix Five (1969).
36. Bluey (1976).
37. Whiplash (1959).
38. Silent Number (1974).
39. The Interpretaris (1966).
40. The Last of the Australians (1975).
41. Don't Ask Us (1980).
42. Bobby Dazzler (1977).
43. The Rovers (1969).
44. The Stranger (1964).
45. The Celebrity Game (1976).
46. Three on a Match (1973).
47. The Box (1974).
48. Aunty Jack Show (1972-73).
49. Wollongong the Brave (1975).
50. Skippy (1966).
51. The Magic Circle Club (1967).
52. Catwalk (1971).

Australian Music TV Series from my Collection

1. The Go Show (1969).
2. Uptight (1966).
3. Happening 71' and 72' (1971).
4. Young Talent Time (1971).
5. Tommy HSV7 TV Special (1973).
6. SIX O'CLOCK ROCK (1960).
7. Teen Scene (1969).
8. GTK (1970).
9. Countdown (1975-1981).
10. Flashez (1976-77).
11. Club Seventeen (1966).
12. Jimmy (1966).
13. Bandstand (1976).
14. Hitscene (1970-71).

U.S. TV series Examples from my Collection

1. Karen starring Debbie Watson & Richard Denning (1964) - 2 B/W episodes.
2. Tammy starring Debbie Watson & Denver Pyle (1965-66) - 26 colour episodes.
3. The Jack Benny Show (1963).
4. I'm Dickens, He's Fenster (1962).

Australian TV Commercials

B/W Australian TV ads from 1963-1973.
Colour Australian TV ads from 1974-1982.

Australian TV Test Cards

PM5544 cards dating back to 1975.
FUBK cards dating back to 1982.
TG (Toolcraft Goodwin) cards dating back to 1983.
ABC monoscopic test card 1966.

Australian ABC TV Material

School programs recorded between 1974-1983.
Clocks, program slides, test patterns recorded between 1974-1983.

Old Video Tapes Wanted

If you have any U-matic, N-1500, N-1700 VCR, EIAJ, or 2" open reel video tapes containing Australian television material from the 1960s-1970s, I am interested in either buying or converting the videotapes to DVD format. I have the necessary equipment to convert the tapes to DVD and can return the original material if desired. Schools, colleges, and universities are also welcome. My contact details are detailed below.

Todd Emslie

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