ATX: A Blast from the Past

The Austin we know today looks nothing like it did back then, or does it? These days, it seems like all anyone in Austin can talk about is rising housing prices, the wave of newcomers to the Austin area and the tech companies transforming the 512 into the next Silicon Valley, or rather Silicon Hills. Austin has seen so many changes lately, and the pandemic has only exacerbated them. With everything that’s been going on, it’s only natural we wonder: what’s to come for Austin? 

In order to make a better step toward our future, it might be a good idea to understand our past. One way to do that is to look at a virtual time capsule of Austin life through the Youtube Channel When We Were Live. The channel posts a collection of highlights of Austin Public Access TV from the 1980s and 1990s. A few of their interesting videos include:

1. Tour of UT Austin from 1988 – Classic Access TV

The Austin Access TV Tour of UT Austin in 1988 is surprising to watch as a UT student in 2021.The Tower, the Union and the variety of classic eateries on Guad have remained the same, but it’s very obvious how dated this video is. One example of this is its portrayal of how students registered for class then and now. Back then, students watched orientation videos on VHS and attended the Frank Erwin Center, not for a concert, but to line up to register for classes like a Disney ride, but with much less amusement. Not to mention, there were hundreds of paper documents in use for a process that now takes minutes with zero paper waste. But it stands to reason that whether you attended UT in 1988 or 2021, what brings us together is being part of the longhorn family.

2. Austin Tourism Promo Video from 1987 – Classic ATX Access TV

Anyone new to Austin between 1988 and 2021 could watch this video and be introduced to the elements of classic Austin living: live music, natural attractions and great food. But the classic Austin living depicted in the video is only a fraction of the modern, upscale and technologically advanced Austin we see today. Watching the video with 2021 eyes— it’s obvious that some aspects of the soul of Austin have changed over the years, but it’s core has remained.

3. Rodney King Rally in Austin, 1992

In this video, footage from protests in 1992 after the Rodney King case was tried in California, was recorded by Austin Access TV. Footage from the protests include large gatherings of people from all corners of Austin who came together to share their beliefs. Austin Access TV interviewed attendees about the reasons they came to protest. The Rodney King Protests happened almost 30 years ago, yet last summer people were still on the streets for Black Lives Matter protests demanding racial justice against police brutality. A trademark of living in Austin, our state’s capital, is the drive and accessibility to exercise our right to protest and speak out on our beliefs.The fight for justice has gone on long before 1992, yet in 2021 we still have a long way to go.

4. Austin Folks Talk About UFO’s in 1992

Austin Access TV took it to the streets to ask bystanders on The Drag what they think about extraterrestrial life. In this segment, a member of Austin Access TV asked random Austinites if they believe in extraterrestrial life, if they’ve seen UFOs and if they had a message for life forms on other planets. The responses interviewees gave were silly, serious, comedic and above all else, embody the energy of “Keep Austin Weird.” 

5. 1986 Commercial for Wheatsville Food Co-op in Austin

Wheatsville Co-op is an Austin staple. Wheatsville Co-op is a quintessential Austin grocer stocked with locally-sourced organic produce and employees financially and personally involved in a variety of community serving organizations. The co-op operates similarly to other organic and eco-friendly grocers and has been one of the only full service, natural foods cooperative grocery stores in Austin for the past 30 years. Whether it’s 1986 or 2021, ethically sourced groceries are available down Guadalupe at Wheatsville Co-op.

6. Bevo (UT Mascot) on Austin Public Access TV – 1990

On Austin Access TV, they had a segment called “Face Your Pet” in which Bevo XIII was showcased. A handler introduces Bevo and shows viewers what Bevo is like in real life. The famous longhorn is a huge animal with large horns and is rather tame until provoked. The video is short, but stands as a reminder of what is uniquely Austin: the University of Texas at Austin and our long line of Bevos. 

Watching some of these videos, it’s striking to see elements of Austin life that have withstood the test of time, and others that have radically changed over the years. In Austin, we love our music, parks and food, but we’re not the laid back city we once were. There’s a lot of pressure that comes with becoming the next major tech hub and when you add a pandemic to the mix, things are sure to be anything but chill. Austin is going to evolve and change, but we’ll be okay as long as we preserve what makes Austin weird: amazing Austinites.