January 24, 2024

The news leader of the Upper Midwest

I don't often do posts these days that are primarily devoted to videos, but there are occasions that call for an exception. And just because I've moved out of Minnesota and washed my hands of the whole place, I still have an interest in the history of television in the Twin Cities. Today, we have an intersection of those two topics.

A few weeks ago, I revisited "Miracle on 9th Street," a 1974 episode of the WCCO public affairs program Moore on Sunday. At the time, I mentioned WCCO's commitment to producing local programming, and took the opportunity to, well, complain about the state of local programming in television today.

Over the last few days, the indispensable site tcmedianow.com has put up several new WCCO news videos that they've just digitized; I thought you might find them interesting because they give us a more comprehensive look at the type of local programming that WCCO did; it's also a chance to see how news coverage has changed over the years. (Also, for those of you whose only reference point for Twin Cities newscasts are the ones you see with Ted Baxter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, you'll see why WCCO was considered one of the best news stations in the nation.)

The first video begins with a program consisting of the station's award-winning entry in the 1960 George Foster Peabody Awards competition. The Peabody was presented to WCCO "In recognition of several distinguished locally produced programs, including Unwed Mothers, Sister Kenny Scandal, and Arle Haeberle’s Capsule Fashion Course, a specifically created therapy for the women patients at Anoka State Mental Hospital." As anchor Dave Moore points out in the introduction, WCCO produced 32 documentaries in 1960 alone, covering topics "from politics to poverty on skid row." Thirty-two documentaries—think about it; that's one every 12 days or so. Imagine that kind of output, and from a three-man unit. These aren't power-puff topics, either—they're hard-hitting looks at issues that people might have been hesitant to talk about in public. There are a couple different versions of this, including raw footage that lacks narration, so I've cued the video to begin at 21:07, but if you don't mind repetition the entire segment is worth watching. 

The second segment, beginning at 29:42, is the 10:00 p.m. newscast from Tuesday, September 3, 1957. (The date isn't included in the video, but I was able to pinpoint it based on the news story about a military jet crash, and the baseball scores given in the sports.) I love looking at these local news videos for several reasons; you get an idea of the kind of news stories being presented on local news, and you can also see that the sets used by local stations are a good deal more sophisticated-looking than what you see portrayed in sci-fi B-movies of the era. But check out those graphics on the weather! And can you imagine a newscaster today doing the commercials as well? Especially commercials that are made to look like news stories!

Just to prove that the "Miracle on 9th Street" of Moore on Sunday was the exception rather than the rule, I'm also including an episode from November 4, 1973, covering the increasing problem of violence in schools. Again, this is something that's more than a five-minute segment on a sensational topic or a veiled promotion for something on the network later on, but a half-hour in-depth look at a serious issue. 

And here's a bonus—a 1963 WCCO Reports on the role that Minnesota plays in the burgeoning computer/electronics industry, long before anyone had ever heard of Silicon Valley. I wonder what would have happened if that had stayed in Minnesota rather than migrated to the Left Coast. 

As I've written before (many times before), I'd like to think that this, rather than game shows or endless reruns of stupid sitcoms, is what the FCC had in mind with its Prime Time Access rule. WCCO would produce many such documentaries over the years, on subjects ranging from "The Hollow Victory: Vietnam Under Communism" to "From Belfast With Love." (There's actually a WCCO page on the Peabody Awards website.) Maybe the graphics today are flashier, and the presenters and presentations are more polished, but back then the reporters had something of substance between the ears. And thanks again to tcmedianow.com for digitizing these clips and preserving an essential part of television history. TV  

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