News that depended on people

… and people depending on a newspaper

On International Women’s Day in a pandemic year, I’m listening to a radio play about a woman reporter on a medical story, Dorothy Patterson of the Paterson, N.J., Morning Call. While most episodes of NBC’s The Big Story were murder cases featuring tough-guy police reporters, “The Miracle Phone Call” is an Eastertime melodrama about a compassionate reporter trying to touch the hearts — and wallets — of her readers.

Broadcast in April, 1953, the radio play presents the era’s usual gender stereotypes in its opening narration:

“You, Dorothy Patterson, are a newspaper woman, with equal emphasis on ‘newspaper’ and ‘woman.’ It’s rough competition in this man’s business. You’ve got to be good, and you are. But still you’re a woman, and sometimes you take a razzing because of it.”

The razzing turns out to be over whether she is “too much of a softie,” a perfect setup for this “Do you have to be a cynic to be a reporter?” story. A family needs $3,000 in 1950s dollars for a new serum for its dying child. Will newspaper readers help?

“Sob stuff,” says the editor.

“No, not sob stuff, true stuff…” Patterson replies. “I’m going to tell them the facts, just the facts. I’m going to ask them to send money if they can. And if they can’t I’m going to ask them to pray.”

The editor isn’t optimistic, but there’s really not much suspense about the ultimate outcome. Still, the story does manage some good soap-opera quality scenes, with veteran actor Jan Miner in the lead, other players giving the newspaper readers a voice on the way to the expected happy ending, and even a surprise or two. After all, those were the days when the daily newspaper was all the “social media” folks had, when they could trust the “mediation” of reporters and the local organizations they worked for.

While Dorothy works on her article, the Big Story narrator, Bob Sloane, offers some insights into the process, and the variety of stories you could find in a 1950s newspaper… (This is a clipping from the actual broadcast script, one of many preserved and made public in the settlement of claims against tobacco sponsors.)

Script page describes story types

The Big Story, a radio standard for eight years, sometimes dug back decades for its stories, obscuring the original newspaper report’s date as part of the dramatization, as well as changing the names of all involved but the reporter and the newspaper. But this one wasn’t pulled out of the past — the boy featured in the story appears in person at the end, where the weekly show usually gave the real reporter a moment to accept the Big Story award.

Extra: This audio file is an Armed Forces Radio Service rebroadcast of the show, and AFRS routinely stripped all commercial advertising, including The Big Story’s “Pall Mall award” tobacco promotions, which may be why we don’t get to hear from Dorothy Patterson at the end.

This will do for a first draft. I may do some more digging to see if I can find out more about Patterson’s career and the happy ending of the story. The Morning Call was one of many New Jersey dailies gradually merged and absorbed under other nameplates in the past 50 years. We can hope its good works aren’t forgotten.

The MP3 file linked above is part of the Internet Archive’s Joe Hehn Memorial Collection, named for a pioneer 1960s collector of early radio series transcription discs and recordings. As the archive page says:

Digitizing his collection of reel tapes and discs is the effort of a wide range of North American volunteers, and with the assistance of some international collectors. The groups supporting this effort with their funds, time, technology and skills are the Old Time Radio Researchers and a small group of transcription disc preservationists who refer to themselves as the “The Knights of the Turning Table.”

About Bob Stepno

mild-mannered reporter who found computers & the Web in grad school in the 1980s (Wesleyan) and '90s (UNC); taught journalism, media studies, Web production; retired to write, make music, photograph sunsets & walks in the woods.
This entry was posted in 1950s, children, Drama, local news, newspaper crusades, newspaper readers, The Big Story, true stories, women. Bookmark the permalink.

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