WNYC-TV moving images

Collection REC0047 - RG 093. New York City municipal broadcasting organizations


This collection consists of moving image materials produced by WNYC-TV from about 1943-1998.


503 cubic feet


circa 1943-1998

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Patrons are required to use access copies where available. Advance notice is required for using original material. Please contact us to arrange access.

Physical Location

Materials are stored onsite at 31 Chambers St.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The films and a small number of tapes were transferred from the Municipal Broadcasting System (WNYC) to the Municipal Archives in 1984 (ACC-1984-025) and 2013 (ACC-2013-042). The bulk of the videotapes were transferred from the Department of Citywide Administrative Services in 2001 (ACC-2001-048) with additions received from WNYC Radio (now New York Public Radio) (ACC-2005-043 and ACC-2006-045), the Tamiment Library (ACC-2002-028) and through private donation (ACC-2013-057).

Alternate Forms Available

This collection has been partially reformatted. Some screener copies are available on VHS and DVD, while others have been digitized and are available to view online.

Processing Information

Processing is currently ongoing. MJ Robinson began processing the collection prior to 2017 and was continued by Danielle Nista, Harvey Ngai, Abbey Wilson and Rachel Greer (2017-2019), Caroline De Oliveira (2019-2020), and Alexandra Hilton and Chris Nicols (2019-present).
The WNYC moving images collection consists of two sets of original media: film produced by the station from around 1949 to 1981 and video produced from 1967 to 1998. The collection also includes B-roll, unedited footage and materials duplicated from the originals in various magnetic, optical and digital formats.

Major show titles on film include: At the Mayor’s Desk, Baby Knows Best, City of Magic, For the Living, Home for Baby, Our Senior Citizens, Price of Liberty, Safety First, Winners All, and Winning Goal. Furthermore, the film series includes footage of City Council meetings, borough association meetings, budget hearings, press conferences, in addition to local news footage. A large amount of footage exists from the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) and New York Police Department (NYPD) regarding public safety and civil defense. There is footage of various strikes and demonstrations in New York City, as well as information about public works projects, and public service announcements. Both the film and video series cover the elections, inaugurations and official duties of past Mayors William O’Dwyer (1946-1950), Vincent R. Impellitteri (1950-1953), Robert F. Wagner Jr. (1954-1965), John V. Lindsay (1966-1973), Abraham D. Beame (1974-1977), Edward I. Koch (1977-1989) and David N. Dinkins (1990-1993).

Programs on video include: Adopt-A-School, AIA Guide to NYC, Around New York, Bookmark, Endangered: Our Urban Environment, Flashpoint, Heart of the City, In the Mix, Kwitny Report, Neighborhood Voices, New York Hotline, and NYC Votes. Other special programming, documentaries, footage from other news networks and historical events in New York City (e.g., Nelson Mandela’s visit, the AIDS crisis and gay rights hearings) are also included on video.

Titles for film and video reels were taken from identifying information on the original cans and cases. Tape durations are described in “hour: minute: second” format. For example, an item with the duration “1:34:56” has a runtime of 1 hour, 34 minutes, and 56 seconds. Updates to the catalog are ongoing as assets are transferred to an accessible format.
New York City became one of the first municipalities in the United States to have its own broadcasting station when WNYC Radio went on the air in 1924. First established as part of the Department of Plant and Structures, it became a singular agency, the Municipal Broadcasting System, in 1938. After World War II, newly appointed director, Seymour N. Siegel, began the station’s expansion into television with the formation of the WNYC Television Film Unit (TFU) in 1949. The TFU was involved with the production of films for the purpose of training municipal employees. These films were also shown on commercial broadcasting networks throughout the 1950s for public consumption.

Work by the TFU led the way for what would be the world’s first noncommercial municipal television station, WUHF – later, WNYC-TV/Channel 31. In the early 1960s, after participating in the FCC’s testing of the viability of UHF transmitters, WNYC-TV secured the rights to broadcast on Channel 31. The station had an enduring commitment to showcasing life in New York City and keeping the public abreast of local politics, including but not limited to: documenting budget meetings for a variety of departmental and mayoral press conferences, broadcasting advisories from the New York Police Department (NYPD) and Fire Department (FDNY), and educating citizens through culturally important documentaries with special regard to the city’s minorities. WNYC-TV boasted more programming devoted to African Americans than any other station in the country and allotted time for programming in Spanish.

Original programming on WNYC-TV expanded significantly in the 1980s after Mayor Koch put former editor of The Village Voice Mary Perot Nichols in charge of the radio and television station in 1978. Under her leadership, WNYC-TV raised funds by selling some of its time slots to air foreign language productions that were popular in countries with large New York City immigrant populations. This made it attractive for new immigrants to watch WNYC-TV, where they could also learn about their new home. The new revenue stream then helped fund original productions that introduced different neighborhoods and communities of New York, bridging the gap between new arrivals and life long New Yorkers.

Despite these triumphs in promoting local interests, WNYC-TV’s place in the municipal government was frequently contested, and it often struggled with maintaining an appropriate level of funding and staffing to match the costs of producing quality programming. Despite these setbacks, WNYC-TV continued to provide unique content geared towards the citizens of New York City until 1996, when Mayor Giuliani sold the station. WNYC-TV signed off for the last time on June 30, 1996, and, twelve hours later, Channel 31 was back on the air as WBIS-TV. Today, Channel 31 is licensed to WPXN-TV, an Ion Television owned-and-operated station.


  1. Lanset, Andy. "Under two visionary directors, New York’s WNYC became an incubator of pubmedia innovation." 13 September 2017. Current.org. /current.org/2017/09/under-two-visionary-directors-new-yorks-wnyc-became-an-incubator-of-pubmedia-innovation/>.
  2. Lanset, Andy. "WNYC Director Seymour N. Siegel: Public Radio Visionary." 10 February 2012. WNYC.org. /www.wnyc.org/story/184376-wnyc-director-seymour-n-siegel/>.
  3. New York City Municipal Services Administration. The WNYC Story: The Past and the Present of the Municipal Broadcasting System, A Special Report to the Administrator. New York City: New York City Municipal Services Administration, 1973.
  4. Robinson, Mary Jean. ""Voice of the City": The Rise and Fall of WNYC-TV." New York City: New York University, School of Education, 2008. PhD diss.
  5. Stanton, Ali. "WNYC/TV: More Black Programming than any other TV Station in America." New York Amsterdam News 26 September 1981.
The arrangement of the collection is based on how the materials were originally produced.

The film series is arranged in a mostly chronological order. The video series contains boxes that are variously processed, and are either arranged chronologically, anachronistically, or currently unprocessed with little arrangement. The materials are described at the item level in the container list.

Series Outline

  1. Film, 1943-1981
  2. Video, 1967-1998
Guide to the moving images of WNYC-TV, circa 1943-1998
Alexandra Hilton, Chris Nicols
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Processing, duplication and digitization of films and videos has been made possible with funding provided by the following institutions: A 1997 grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) to transfer approximately two million feet of film created by WNYC to video and to arrange and describe 58 cubic feet of supporting materials. The collection has been the subject of several New York States Archives’ Local Government Records Management Improvement Fund (LGRMIF) grants through the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications. In the 2004/2005, 2005/2006 and 2006/2007 cycles, funding supported reformatting original films, the latter of which concentrated on press conference footage from the Mayor John V. Lindsay and Mayor Abraham D. Beame administrations. Between 2008-2011, LGRMIF supported preserving and reformatting portions of the videotape’s series. In the 2011/2012 and 2012/2013 cycles, grants were received to reformat over half of the reels in the film series onto BetaSP, as well as creating DVD screening copies. Most recently, in 2019/2020, LGRMIF provided funds to assess, rehouse and digitize a selection of at-risk, original 16mm film footage. Support for arrangement and description work was provided by LGRMIF in 2013/2014 and 2016/2017.
Edition statement
Preliminary guides to this collection were completed by MJ Robinson (prior to 2017) and Rachel Greer, with interns Danielle Nista, Harvey Ngai and Abbey Wilson (2017).