While reviewing materials for the “Better Living in North Carolina” project, we noticed that many of the annual Cooperative Extension Service reports beginning in 1935 featured a section called Publications.
This section was a review of all printed and audio-visual methods used by the extension to educate the farming population. One of the newest, yet far-reaching educational tools used by the United States Department of Agriculture at that time was radio. The NCSU Libraries Special Collections Research Center’s digital program has previously uploaded photographs of extension and sports related broadcasts made by North Carolina State University on local station WPTF. Now digitization in the “Better Living” project is revealing more information about how this radio station, and others in the Tarheel state, aided the transformation of the state’s agricultural economy.
Extension radio broadcasting may have began in North Carolina as early as 1922, but was most certainly on the way by 1927. In this blog post we hope to highlight some of the earlier radio programs which brought news, entertainment, and education to the farming population of North Carolina.
L. R. Harrill, center, and 4-H club members in front of WPTF radio microphone, during North Carolina State 4-H Club Week, 1952.
State College Broadcasting Program (c. 1927 – ?, WPTF)
Photographs and early newspaper radio logs detail weekly talk broadcasts listed only as the State College Broadcasting Program. On these programs professors and extension service agents stepped up to the microphone to give weekly 10-minute talks on many agricultural topics. John A. Arey, the dairy extension specialist, discussed why dairying was suited for traditional crop farming on May 22nd, 1929. On July 3rd of the same year the legendary Dr. B. W. Wells hosted “An Excursion to the Peat Bogs of North Carolina“. Other speakers included C. H. Brannon, extension entomologist; Dr. S. G. Lehman, plant pathologist; and W. L. Clevenger of the department of dairy manufacturing. Beginning in May of 1930, daily broadcasts were made, some of which were market reports on North Carolina farm commodities.
L. R. Harrill, state 4-H leader, sitting in front of an NBC Microphone
Carolina Farm Features (September 16th, 1935 – 1944, WPTF, later WRAL)
Extension broadcasting really began to peak in NC with Carolina Farm Features, a daily 15 minute program made by the North Carolina State College Agricultural (Cooperative) Extension Service. Eugene Knight was in charge of production, and Frank H. Jeter, agricultural editor and director of publications for NC State, was the director of these programs. Monday through Saturday broadcasts were conducted by extension specialists, experiment station workers, NC state faculty, farm and home agents, home demonstration club women, and 4-H club members.
The format of the program was similar to the earlier State College radio talks and included dramatic skits, news, interviews and discussions. On the week of June 28th to July 3rd, 1937, for example, the scheduled features were “Making Good Hay“, “Selling Fruits and Vegetables“, “Supply and Expert Situation of American Tobacco“, “State College Farm and Home Week“, “Timely Poultry Practices” and a 4-H Club program on Saturday. Within a few months of its 1935 debut, Carolina Farm Features could be heard across the state as mimeographed scripts were sent out to five different stations. This program was later succeeded by the Tar Heel Farm Hour in 1954, hosted by Jeter, and produced by NC State with the NC Association of Broadcasters.
National Farm and Home Hour (1928 – 1958, NBC, WPTF)
Frank H. Jeter, director of publications for NC State, seated with ladies for a broadcast of the National Farm and Home Hour. The woman in the middle is Ruth Current, State Home Demonstration Agent following the retirement of Jane S. McKimmon. This photo is dated from the 1940s.
The National Farm and Home Hour was a variety program co-sponsored by NBC Radio and the U. S. Department of Agriculture as a public service, running on a weekday afternoon time slot. The program was based in Chicago, but broadcast from different farms throughout the United States. A highlight of the 1937 extension report was the appearance of local farmers on an special broadcast of this series which is also detailed in the April 23rd issue of The Technician.
Unfortunately modern sources indicate that no surviving episodes of the National Farm and Home Hour broadcast from North Carolina or before 1944 are known to exist. To hear a sample of this program go the UCLA Collections page of the J. Walter Brown Media Archive of the University of Georgia at Athens.
State and National 4-H Broadcasts
Halifax County, 4-H Council Meeting in 1939 for National Negro 4-H Radio Broadcast and club
Farmers and agricultural students from North Carolina A&T State University, NC State College and regional youth throughout the state appeared in local 4-H radio broadcasts and the National 4-H Club Radio Program. Two youth who gained national attention were Walton Thompson, a young man who earned a full-ride scholarship to NC State and appeared on the National Farm and Home Hour and Town Meeting of the Air, and Lydia Mae Barbee whose Washington, D.C., broadcast added special honors to the North Carolina Negro 4-H programs. A press release about Barbee can be seen in this issue of the Indianapolis Recorder. 4-H activities, information, interviews and special events were broadcast occasionally throughout most of the 1930s until a twice-monthly program began in 1938 under the direction of “Mr. 4-H”, L. R. Harrill. Harrill’s weekly 4-H broadcasts were popular and would run until the early 1960s. A similar program known as the 4-H Club of the Air was broadcast from station WAIR in Winston-Salem.
As we work more with the “Better Living In North Carolina” project there will be future posts on early instructional technology from the extension. In the meantime please visit the Rare and Unique Digital Collections site for more on the history of the Cooperative Extension.
Today there are dozens of radio (and television) programs aired weekly throughout the state on agricultural topics which are listed by the North Carolina Cooperative Extension.
For more information about state radio programs designed to reach farmers and a history of how extension radio broadcasting began in NC read:
Clark, J. W. (1984). Clover all over: North Carolina 4-H in action. Raleigh: NCSU, 4-H & Youth. Also available online.
Clark, J. W. (2011). Clover all over: North Carolina’s first 4-H century, 1909-2009. Raleigh, N.C: Published by the North Carolina 4-H Development Fund, in cooperation with Ivy House Pub. Group.
Carpenter, W. L., & Colvard, D. W. (1987). Radio to reach the farmers. Knowledge is power: A history of the School of Agriculture and Life Sciences at North Carolina State University, 1877-1984. Raleigh, N.C: North Carolina State University. Also available online.
Troyer, J. R. (1993). Nature’s champion: B.W. Wells, Tar Heel ecologist.
Newspaper citations for quoted radio broadcast dates, titles and histories:
College extends broadcast service. (1936, January 9). Morrisville Tribune, The State Farmer Section, p. 2.
Farm broadcast will aid farmers. (1930, April 30). Danbury Reporter
Radio speaker. (1935, May 18). Indianapolis Recorder, p. 13.
Specialists offer mid-summer advice. (1937, July 1). Beaufort News, p. 3.
State college broadcasting program over wptf, raleigh, n.c., during june and july. (1929, June 14). Marshall News-Record.