Colin Hughes, chairman of the Riverside TV Commission, sorts through some of the more than 200 VHS tapes the group is planning to convert to a digital format after obtaining a grant from Riverside Township. | Bob Uphues/Editor

A long-delayed plan to digitize hundreds of hours of videotape in the archive of Riverside TV will move ahead early next year thanks to a roughly $2,300 grant from Riverside Township.

The township’s board of trustees approved the grant at their meeting earlier this month, allowing Riverside TV to save some of its earliest efforts to chronicle village government and special events dating back some 26 years.

“I think some of these might be quite entertaining,” said Colin Hughes, the chairman of the Riverside TV Commission. “I think a lot of towns and villages started getting into video when digital came around.”

At the time the late Dr. Bob Novak and late Don Farnham started the fledgling video production operation, they didn’t enjoy the kind of support Riverside TV gets from village government now. It was a much more confrontational relationship.

“I think that first meeting that Don Farnham went to with a camera he got thrown out,” Hughes said. “It’s very much a welcome thing now, but they didn’t have funding to do it. They were turning the screws on the village to give them the [cable franchise fee] money that they were entitled to, to have a channel. And kudos to them for doing it, because I think there are going to be some incredible things that come out of those two boxes that people will enjoy.”

The tapes (below) include video from events dating back to the beginning of the commission in 1996. | Bob Uphues/Editor

Hughes said there are a little more than 200 VHS tapes, each containing between one and three hours of content, to be converted into digital format. When he joined the commission several years ago, he took on the digitization project in his spare time, but soon realized he’d never have the time to get it done.

“I don’t have 600 hours to do this project, so that’s when we decided to start looking for quotes for a company that could apply some economies of scale and make it go a little bit faster,” Hughes said.

The commission will use a company called Chicago Scanning to convert the VHS tapes into digital files. Hughes said the commission likely will deliver the tapes to the company early in 2023 and that it will take four to six weeks to convert them in to a digital format.

The goal will be to make all of that content available publicly, via the commission’s YouTube and cable TV channels. Hughes said the old footage may also be a good resource for the commission’s “Memories of Riverside” series where they interview older residents about their lives growing up in the village decades ago.

A list of VHS tapes included in the commission’s grant application to the township reveal an array of notable events in village history. In addition to many July 4 parade broadcasts and village board meetings, there are history programs and even video of a May 5, 2000 dedication ceremony, featuring an appearance by Gov. George Ryan, for the 26th Street water tower.

Other tapes include a tour of the Riverside Post Office, a video of the Hofmann Dam restoration in 2002 – 10 years before it was demolished – a Central School talent show from 2008 and a video from 1998 marking the launch of Jen’s Kids, a charity formed in memory of the late Riverside Arts Center instructor Jennifer Lynn Allen to provide art experiences for children under hospital care.

There could be some other surprises, too.

“Nobody has looked at this stuff in 20, 25 years, so someone actually needs to watch through it and see what’s actually on the tapes even though many are labeled,” Hughes said. “Maybe some of those labels aren’t accurate and many don’t have labels at all.”

The grant is the township’s latest in helping other organizations preserve Riverside history. In the past couple of years, Riverside Township has awarded a pair of grants totaling more than $7,000 to the Riverside Public Library to digitize its microfilm collection of newspapers, including the Riverside-Brookfield Landmark.