It’s been a long time coming. When I arrived at Joplin Public Library to become director in 2010, I had no idea this project was even started, let alone that it needed finished. When a board member asked me the status, I had to research to even figure out what they were asking about.

The project to which I refer is the “Bob Phillips Files” project. In Phillips’ own words, “Back in 1983, I was asked to prepare a feature story for television about a Joplin firm that repaired department store mannequins. I didn’t know it then, but from that beginning I went on to do over 460 TV features, which were called the Phillips Files. Done in the four state area, they aired between 1983 and 1997. Along with some talented photographers, we covered a lot of ground – traveling interstate highways and country lanes – up mountains and down hollers – to document the people places and things that make up this many-faceted area.”

In an October 2003 press conference then-Joplin Public Library Director Carolyn Trout announced the acquisition of Phillips’ archived tape files. Carolyn said, “Bob Phillips had a 3-decade career in television broadcasting in Joplin, and when he retired in 1998, Joplin audiences missed that very distinctive voice. Now, with the donation to the Library by KODE and Nexstar Broadcasting of the taped archive of Bob’s work, that voice will be familiar to generations to come.”

The taped segments were filmed on what was an industry standard for that time – ¾” broadcast tapes. However, as the years progressed, this technology became obsolete, the tapes began to disintegrate and machines able to play the tapes became scarcer.

Joplin Public Library began to digitize these programs to make them available to the public. However, equipment failure of the old machines stymied further progress.

Enter MSSU’s KGCS-TV. Their Director of Creative Services, Bill Hunt, is a former colleague of Phillips. Bill had the skill and the equipment to be able to complete converting the tapes to a digital format. Recognizing the importance of these vignettes in protecting this bit of Joplin history, he completed the conversion process.

Joplin Public Library has just received a complete set of the Phillips files on DVD, which are now available for public check-out. This set of 30 DVDs reflects interesting people, places and industries of the four-state area as reported by Phillips.

While this project was in process, I took the time to watch several episodes and thought, “Wow. I’d like to visit that place!”, “I never knew that!” or “How interesting!” But, many of the people and places he reported on are no longer around, their history and memory preserved in Phillips’ reporting.

There is something of interest to everyone in these DVDs: animals, cars, art, industry, antiques – the list goes on. There are also profiles of area businesses — some who are still in business, but others who have closed.

These are a slice of life in the four-states in the ’80s and ’90s. Check them out and remember some of our not-so-distant history. They’ll bring back people and places you’ve not thought of in years.

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