Like a lot of kids who grew up in Richmond, Virginia, during the '60s, Guy Spiller loved The Sailor Bob Show, a locally produced children's program about an artistic mariner and his posse of puppets. So it was more than a little surreal when, almost five decades later, the semiretired broadcast engineer found himself at home digitizing the show's original reel-to-reel recordings with the help of one of the few machines left on Earth that could play them. "Holding the actual episodes I had seen as a kid, watching and remembering all the songs and segments, it was a pretty amazing experience," Spiller recalls.
In an age when we can summon up virtually any video from any era on YouTube, it's tempting to assume that television history has been fully preserved. Tempting, but wrong. Whether it's Sailor Bob or hokey restaurant and car-dealership commercials, at least three decades' worth of low-budget pre-digital television remains in real danger of disappearing forever.