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Starting sometime after World War 2 and with the advent of recording tape, the idea of radio documentaries took off in popularity. Prior to this it was a gargantuan effort, dragging disc recording equipment off to a location and getting varying results; mostly not good. It wasn’t easy to edit and it just wasn’t practical for all intents and purposes. And so most “documentaries” prior to tape were recreations, or scripted episodes that certainly lacked the immediacy and spontaneity so crucial in documentaries.
So when tape became the standard for the broadcast industry, and recorders became portable, the world became privy to the goings-on of just about everyone and everything everywhere.
As a result of that, most of the radio networks began producing these “documents for ear” regularly and the audience loved them.
This particular documentary, part of the weekly series, The People Act, was produced in 1952 by the CBS Radio network in association with The Ford Foundation. It was, in part a celebration of the human spirit, or Yankee ingenuity in the face of Cold War fears that the Soviet Union was out-producing and overtaking America. It was also attempting to instill that can-do spirit, along with a conscientious attempt at conservation of precious resources. It was a morale builder with a side order of propaganda, but the end result was a feeling that “America isn’t such a bad place, after all”, as was evidenced by the feats of public spirit and community participation undertaken by John and Jane Q. Public, the power of the positive things neighbors can do.
Titled Neighbors Build A Farm in Jerome Idaho, it’s a story about how a community of some 3,000 people all banded together to build what was dubbed “A Farm In A Day” – the notion was to take a piece of unused, desert land and turn it into a working farm, by first building a 3-bedroom house over the period of 6:00 am to 6:00 pm and then working on repurposing the land in order to grow crops.
Narrated by the legendary journalist and broadcaster Robert Trout it chronicled the event, giving it a certain “reality show” quality, while maintaining the integrity and spirit of the overall purpose of the series.
A little precious in spots – with music swelling to evoke a certain patriotic spirit, it nonetheless offers a unique opportunity to go places you weren’t able to go to before. And unlike film documentaries, the words are potent and the sentiments linger; that advantage sound has over visual (before the advent of Snapchat).
Have a listen and see what you think – remember, this was 68 years ago and America was a different place then. However, today they call it “Habitat for Humanity” – so the spirit stays the same.