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1951: Uncle Sam produces military training film on independent radio

It is beyond me why The United States Army produced a documentary on running an independent radio station in 1951, but here you have it. “Also serving the public,” the film notes, “are radio stations without networks. Typical is this small independent station in New York.”

The “typical” indie station the Army focused on was WMCA-AM, owned by the Nathan Straus family, which broadcast to five states around the Greater New York area. “It serves its audience profitably and well,” the film explained. “It broadcasts news on the hour, with special attention to the city’s own affairs.” Much of documentary surveys the station’s wide range of public affairs and educational programming.

I found this little gem on the Internet Archives, as did others who made comments on the work. The most frequent remark: “I do wonder, however, why the United States Army would produce such a film. It is about privately owned stations, so I am still scratching my head.”

Two other readers came up with theories. Theory #1:

“As to why the Army chose WMCA for an example is very simple. They were cooperative. The Straus family, which owned the station, was very community oriented. And me, I’m a 20 year veteran of the radio biz! Still love it.”

Theory #2:

” . . . there are some subtle cues in the film. The United Nations is mentioned throughout the film, almost in passing. The narrator’s final line “This is an independant [sic] radio station in a democracy.” also seems to hint at a larger purpose. My guess, especially given the time frame and the mentioning of a Japanese radio commentator, is this film was made by the Army for US occupation in Japan, with the goal of demonstrating how a commerical [sic] (as opposed to a state run) radio station operated. Japanese commerical [sic] radio started in 1951. With the Korean War going on, the film is open ended enough to be used also with South Korea and other parts of the globe for a similar purpose.”

Not long after this film was released, WMCA responded to the sudden dominance of television by transitioning to a Top 40 format.


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