AAPB Takes It Back to the 1980s with WGBH BostonTalks!

Rubik’s Cubes, shoulder pads, Cool Ranch Doritos—there’s no doubt the 1980s was an iconic era. WGBH’s BostonTalks invited the American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB) to throw it back with them to hear about the fashion, news, and music of the 1980s.

Audiences are encouraged to sport their sweatbands and legwarmers as they jazzercise their way through the public radio and television programs available online in the americanarchive.org. Below is a selection of individual programs, special collections, and curated exhibits that cover distinctive moments in the 80s, as well as how those moments carried on into future generations.

(A few!) Defining Moments Covered by Public Broadcasting:


– John Lennon’s murder

From New Jersey Nightly News, this segment covers New Jerseyan’s reactions to the death of John Lennon. http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_259-rn30699f

– AIDS crisis gains attention

From KQED (San Francisco, California), this episode of Wrestling with AIDS discusses the ethics of aids and the issue of caring for AIDS patients, as well as AIDS activism (1989). Includes protests by Act Up!; Patients with AIDS; Interview with doctors examining the ethical and moral challenges raised by the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco. Includes interviews with AIDS patients, activists, insurers, politicians and physicians. Also features scenes from an Act Up demonstration (and clash with police) in downtown San Francisco, archival footage of AIDS reports from the early 1980s and views of many public hearings and speeches relating to AIDS. http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_55-x05x63bn51


-First artificial heart invented

From NewsHour Productions (Washington, District of Columbia), The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour reports that the medial world was expecting the announcement of plans to implant a second artificial heart in a human being, but that was thrown into doubt when a special committee at the University of Utah, looking at medical and ethical issues, refused to approve guidelines for a second operation. http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_507-bg2h708n2k


– Sally Ride becomes the first American woman in space

From the Hoover Institution Library & Archives, Stanford University (Stanford, California), here’s a recording of Sally K. Ride: Medallion Speaker Address (2005). http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_514-v97zk56k05

– Mobile phones come on the market

From WILL Illinois Public Media, here’s an episode on the Cellphone: The Story of the Worlds Most Mobile Medium and How it has Changed Everything (2004). http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_16-np1wd3qg0b


– Bishop Desmond Tutu receives Nobel Peace Prize

From NewsHour Productions (Washington, District of Columbia), The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour features a story on how Bishop Desmond Tutu overcame a bomb threat to receive his Nobel Peace Prize. http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_507-jw86h4dg5q

– Los Angeles Olympics

On the eve of the Los Angeles Olympics, Firing Line with William F. Buckley Jr. discussions a wide range of sports-related issues that frequently splits into two discussions. Contributed by Hoover Institution Library & Archives, Stanford University (Stanford, California). http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_514-930ns0mn29


– The Titanic wreckage is discovered

From The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, this report looks at the Titanic and the remarkable equipment that made its discovery possible. http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_507-vd6nz81k1n

– Hole in the ozone first reported

From Oregon Public Broadcasting, this 1989 report from The Green Contract gives a comprehensive review on the ozone and its place in Earth’s system.


– NASA’s Challenger Mission combusts upon lift-off

In 1988, Minnesota Public Radio speaks with Dr. Robert Pepin, University of Minnesota physicist and NASA consultant, to answer listener questions about the United States space program and the resumption of manned space shuttle operations. http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_43-106wx2vr


– DNA first used to convict criminals and exonerate innocent prisoners on death row

For a selection of programs discussing this distinct moment, visit http://americanarchive.org/catalog?q=DNA&range%5Byear%5D%5Bbegin%5D=1980&range%5Byear%5D%5Bend%5D=1989&utf8=%E2%9C%93&f%5Baccess_types%5D%5B%5D=online.


– George Bush Sr. elected president of the United States

For news on this 1980s moment, and the life of George Bush Sr., visit https://americanarchivepb.wordpress.com/2018/12/05/remembering-george-h-w-bush-through-public-broadcasting/.


– Berlin Wall falls

On the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall, this episode of The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour provides a retrospective on some of the great escape attempts. http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_507-j96057dm46

– The Internet goes global

From Hoover Institution Library & Archives, Stanford University, The Future of the Internet recounts and discusses the power of the Internet (2001). http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_514-d21rf5m77d

Curated Exhibits:

Climate Change Conversations: Causes, Impacts, Solutions

In the 1980s, focus was primarily on communicating the potential threats of global warming. Since then, programming has increasingly examined the actual impacts, and in addition, struggled to keep the American public informed and engaged. This exhibit highlights public broadcasting recordings of conversations on climate change—its causes, impacts, and proposed solutions—from 1970, the first year that Earth Day was celebrated, to the present.

Speaking and Protesting in America: Protesting in the 1980s and Beyond

“Speaking and Protesting in America,” presents a diverse range of public radio and television content including radio programs, local news, raw footage, and interviews that reveal the profound impact of the First Amendment on American life. Focusing on our right to speak, assemble, and petition, this exhibit explores the role of dissent in American life in its protected and unprotected expressions ranging from peaceful marches to acts of civil disobedience.

Special Collections of Note:

The PBS NewHour Collection includes more than 13,500 episodes of PBS NewsHour’s predecessor programs that went on the air in 1975. The programs aired nationwide, five nights a week. Covering national and worldwide news and public affairs.

The Eyes on the Prize Interviews Collection consists of 127 raw interviews conducted with participants in the American Civil Rights movement, covering the years from the mid-1950s through to 1965 as part of the acclaimed documentary series Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965. The series originally aired on PBS in 1987.

The Firing Line Collection includes 1,505 records of digitized audiovisual recordings and transcripts of Firing Line with William F. Buckley Jr., which serves as a prototype for point-counterpoint shows with its focus on the exchange of ideas through respectful debate. Buckley interviewed notable figures between 1971 and 1999.

The Feminist Community Radio at KOPN Collection includes 93 audio recordings at KOPN from the 1970s to the 1990s, and functions as a window into feminist discourse and practice in mid-Missouri during an era of major changes in both radio and the feminist movement.

The Say Brother Collection includes programs and original interviews created for Say Brother (1968 – 1997), WGBH’s longest running public affairs television program by, for and about African Americans now known as Basic Black (1998 – present).

The OETA News and Cultural Programming (1980-Present) Collection includes 74 programs and segments created since the 1980s by Oklahoma Educational Television Authority (OETA). It is a glimpse into the past, covering topics and exploring issues that are relevant to the diverse cultures of Oklahoma.

About the American Archive of Public Broadcasting

The American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB) is a collaboration between the Library of Congress and the WGBH Educational Foundation to coordinate a national effort to preserve at-risk public media before its content is lost to posterity and provide a central web portal for access to the unique programming that public stations have aired over the past 70 years. To date, over 50,000 hours of television and radio programming contributed by more than 100 public media organizations and archives across the United States have been digitized for long-term preservation and access. The entire collection is available on location at WGBH and the Library of Congress, and more than 35,000 programs are available online at americanarchive.org. 

About WGBH

WGBH Boston is America’s preeminent public broadcaster and the largest producer of PBS content for TV and the Web, including MasterpieceAntiques Roadshow, Frontline, Nova, American Experience, ArthurPinkalicious & Peterrific, and more than a dozen other primetime, lifestyle and children’s series. WGBH’s television channels include WGBH 2, WGBX 44, and the digital channels World and Create. WGBH TV productions focusing on the region’s diverse community include Greater BostonBasic Black and High School Quiz Show. WGBH Radio serves listeners across New England with 89.7 WGBH, Boston’s Local NPR®; 99.5 WCRB Classical Radio Boston; and WCAI, the Cape and Islands NPR® Station. WGBH also is a major source of programs for public radio (among them, PRI’s The World®), a leader in educational multimedia (including PBS LearningMedia™, providing the nation’s educators with free, curriculum-based digital content), and a pioneer in technologies and services that make media accessible to deaf, hard of hearing, blind and visually impaired audiences. WGBH has been recognized with hundreds of honors: Emmys, Peabodys, duPont-Columbia Awards and Oscars. Find more information at wgbh.org.

About The Library of Congress

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States — and extensive materials from around the world — both on-site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at loc.gov; access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at congress.gov; and register creative works of authorship at copyright.gov.

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