Newstalgia Pop Chronicles - Who Killed Michael Farmer? 1958

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(Teenage gang members of the 1950s - West Side Story for real)

One of the upshots of the leaps in technology of the 1950s was the tape recorder - yes, that strange contraption with reels, part of that substrata lovingly referred to as "analogue".

When tape recording became popular, especially in broadcasting, it created a whole new generation of gathering news and documentary material that wasn't available before. Because it was portable (and reasonably light-weight), it was now possible to get up close and personal with the subjects you were trying to shed light on - take things to the streets, as it were.

And because of that, a whole series of documentaries started cramming the airwaves, covering everything from Atomic Bomb tests to Cow milking.

One series of documentaries, produced by a special department of CBS Radio News was called Unit One. Several weeks ago I ran another Unit One Documentary called "38th Parallel U.S.A.".

This Documentary, aired on April 21, 1958 and narrated by Edward R. Murrow, focuses on the rise in juvenile delinquency in New York City. "Who Killed Michael Farmer?" looked at the problem of teenage gangs in the 1950's through the eyes of the gang members and the court system.

Gang member: “It was ten-thirty when we entered the park. We saw couples on the benches in the back of the pool and they all stared at us. I guess they musta saw the gang there, I don’t think they were fifty or sixty feet away. When we reached the front of the stairs we looked up and there was two other gang members on top of the stairs. There were two smaller ones, and they had Garrison belts wrapped around their hands. They didn’t say nothin’ to us, they looked kinda scared.”

Gang member #2: “I was scared. I knew they were gonna jump them and everything but I was scared. When they were comin’ up, they were all separated and everything like that”.

Gang Member: “I saw the main body of the gang slowly walk out of the bushes, on my right. I turned around fast, to see what Michael was gonna do and this kid come runnin at me with a belt. Then I ran myself and I told Michael to run.”

Interesting material that wasn't covered this way before. Remember, we're looking at a slice of society from 51 years ago that was, for the most part, ignored by the mainstream press. In 1958 they started pointing a microscope at it. In many ways, it helped change the perception of our society.

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