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Audio Pro Recovers Film Sound of 11-Year-Old Prince

Minneapolis TV station WCCO recently discovered a "lost" interview with pre-fame Prince, but had to turn to an outside pro to rescue the audio on the vintage film stock.

Minneapolis, MN (April 5, 2022)—This year’s Grammy Awards broadcast was exciting as always, but for many viewers of Minneapolis CBS affiliate WCCO, the newscast that aired after the gala had even more musical impact, as the station announced it had discovered “lost” footage in its vaults—a vintage interview with an 11-year-old student who would grow up to become the musical icon Prince. Finding that interview, stored away for 52 years, and recovering its audio was no simple effort, however. The footage “probably had not been viewed since the time it aired on the evening news,” says Tom Oszman, the audio pro who recovered sound from the archival film stock.

Back in April, 1970, Minneapolis faced a teachers strike; gathering interviews for the station, a reporter grabbed soundbites from local kids on the city’s Northside, resulting in 13 minutes of raw film that included comments from an unnamed—yet strikingly familiar—young boy who spoke out in support of the educators. The story aired and then was soon locked away in the channel’s vaults.

Fast-forward more than half a century to March, 2022 and the same district faced another teachers strike. Aiming to illustrate the history behind the current-day walk-out, WCCO production manager Matt Liddy dug through the station’s archives, found the 1970 footage and checked if there was anything of use for the modern-day story. What he found surprised him.

Immediately, the young student caught Liddy’s eye, to the point that Liddy started showing the footage to other people and asking if the kid seemed strangely familiar. Given that Prince grew up in that area, it was entirely possible the child was in fact the future star, but there was no way to know for sure. Complicating matters, no one could hear the interview—the station didn’t have the right equipment to play the film’s audio.

“To get the audio off the Prince film,” Liddy tells Mix, “WCCO went to a gentleman named Tom Oszman.” A long-time journalist and filmmaker, Oszman is the curator of TCMediaNow, a non-profit dedicated to preserving analog film, audio and video that helps illustrate the region’s history. While the organization started as a YouTube channel in 2009, it eventually grew to the point where today, it digitizes hundreds of hours of video a week.

“The film was over 50 years old and probably had not been viewed since the time it aired on the evening news,” says Oszman. “When I did the project a few weeks ago and provided it back to WCCO, I lightly viewed the subjects being interviewed as I was pressed for time to get the project complete to provide to WCCO for their strike coverage.”

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When the station gave Oszman the film, no one mentioned the theory of who the young, side-glancing kid might be, and the archivist readily admits that since he was under a tight deadline, the child escaped his notice, too. “I did not know or even think that it was Prince, as he was referred to as ‘Skipper.’ I do thousands of reels and video tapes a year, and this was probably one of the greatest accidental discoveries that happened right in front of me—without even knowing it.”

While the WCCO team had hoped the audio would reveal the reporter asking the child’s name, that didn’t happen, so Liddy and news anchor Jeff Wagner had to do more research, eventually tracking down some of the artist’s childhood friends and playing the footage to them. With their tearful confirmation that the kid in question was the future superstar, WCCO now has the first on-camera interview ever—and surely among the earliest recordings—of Prince.