Here, I maintain a list of free online resources which have been particularly useful to me in the course of researching the history of the zoom lens in American film and television. Catherine Grant maintains a more general list of free film studies resources at filmstudiesforfree.blogspot.com. On this website, see also – paid-for resources for film and television history.
Archive.org (for some issues of the Journal of the SMPE)
The Internet Archive holds around 40 semi-annual volumes of issues of the Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, ranging from vol. 14 to vol. 59, plus separate indexes covering the same time period. The high-quality PDFs are not fully searchable but you can use the accompanying plain text files as a finding aid.
David Gleason’s American Radio History and Illustrated Bibliography
Radio enthusiast (and professional) David Gleason deserves a medal for creating an incredibly rich and valuable archive of trade periodicals relating to radio and broadcasting in general. The centrepiece of the online collection is a run of over 2,500 copies of Broadcasting-Telecasting providing almost full coverage between 1938 and 1988 – easily browsable and fully searchable. Overall, the website is somewhat focused on radio, but many of the resources – especially Broadcasting-Telecasting – contain a vast amount of valuable information on television. A tremendous resource, though some pages trigger a brief theme tune which can be somewhat distracting.
Eyes of a Generation
Various pictures of camera equipment, and catalogues relating to same, along with some potentially valuable oral histories given by people who worked in the American television industry during the 1950s and 1960s, can be found at Bobby Ellerbee’s website “Eyes of a Generation”.
In addition to a vast, fully-viewable run of Boxoffice magazine going all the way back to the early 1940s, Google Books also holds assorted copies of key trade periodicals American Cinematographer, the Journal of the Society of Motion Picture and Engineers (in its pre- and post-television incarnations). Snippet view is usually enough to give you the relevant page for a keyword search, which makes this a good finding aid for physical holdings in your local library.
Museum of Broadcast Communications
Though they’ve recently had some problems with unexpected downtime, the Museum of Broadcast Communications’ fantastic online archive of free television and radio broadcasts is now (December 2011) back online. They have thousands of recordings ranging in date from the 1940s to the present day. The collection includes television, radio, and commercials. A brilliant resource, and we can only hope it will stay online permanently, and reliably, from now on. You need to create a free account with the MBC before using the resource.
You have to pay for a subscription to see full pages (as of December 2011, $50 per month for 50 issues per month or $600 per year for unlimited access), but searching Variety Ultimate is free, and the search tool can be used as a convenient finding aid if you happen to have access to hard copies of Variety.
Simply perform your search, and the results will be displayed as small thumbnails of the pages which contain your search terms. Hover your mouse over an image and the image’s filename should appear after a moment. This is in the format “DV-04-23-1945-22.jpg”, which gives you all the information you need to find the page you’re looking for. In this example, page 22 of the 23 April 1945 edition of Daily Variety.
Whether this useful trick is intentional generosity on the part of Reed Elsevier, or a loophole that will one day be closed, is hard to tell. I suspect the latter, so get while the going’s good.