If you’re a fan of modern day television, it will come as no surprise to you that the top trend in programming these days is reality shows. Whether you cast your votes for the latest “American Idol,” dance with the stars, or spend your free time hooting at this week’s collection of shirtless, shiftless, beer-swilling lowlife on “Cops”, you know that - for better or worse - reality shows are here to stay.
You may, however, be surprised to find that the notion of network reality programming is really nothing new -- in fact, the concept actually dates back as far as 1954, when “Night Watch” debuted on CBS Radio.
Beginning on April 5, 1954 and running for about a year, “Night Watch” was the first program to bring “live” and authentic police drama to the air. A fascinating combination of “Dragnet” and “Cops” with just a hint of “This is Your FBI” thrown in for public service purposes, each week official police recorder Donn Reed accompanied Officer Ron Perkins on the night watch in Culver City, California. Traveling in an unmarked car through the nighttime streets, Reed used a heavy battery-powered reel-to-reel tape recorder, complete with a microphone cleverly concealed inside the casing of a flashlight, to accompany Perkins and his fellow officers on real police calls. These were authentic, unscripted, and unrehearsed adventures, with no actors, no expectations, and nothing planned in advance. At the end of each show, Police Chief W. N. Hildebrand would give listeners the updates on what happened to the citizens involved in each incident and encourage the public to aid the police in doing their work.
Heard today, “Night Watch” remains a vivid and frequently riveting example of just how innovative radio could be when used creatively. Were it being produced today, the producers of “Night Watch” would be using tiny and almost weightless digital recorders and editing software -- but, in 1954, tape recording (not to mention tape editing) was still in its infancy, with Reed forced to lug sixty-plus pounds of technology to every crime scene and change tape reels on a regular basis. Likewise, what would be considered acceptable dialogue for a network broadcast was far more restricted in 1954 than we’d find on TV today, so the tape editing (accomplished with little more than a razor blade and a splicing block) had to be extensive and extremely selective, while still retaining the basic content and flavor of the incident and the chronology of the developing story. Given all of the limitations of 1950s technology, plus the unpredictable nature of the criminal events that were the basis for the series, the audio quality of the broadcasts and engrossing nature of the events being covered remain truly surprising -- and truly great radio.
But make no mistake: even though more than fifty years has passed since “Night Watch” first aired, the series is definitely not suitable for family listening. The individual incidents recorded range from an investigation of two small children left in a cold parked car while their parents spend hours drinking in a local tavern to the often harrowing attempts by police to save the life of a man slashed almost to death with a razor. (I’ve a feeling we’re not in Wistful Vista anymore, McGee...) Reed’s quiet ongoing narration of the cases as they develop makes for a real-life version of the kind of flat no-nonsense narration that made Jack Webb’s “Dragnet” so memorable -- and it makes the shows even more gripping to hear today.
The twenty broadcasts contained in this collection have been taken from the highest quality source recordings known to exist for this series - in fact, these newly restored broadcasts have the best audio quality of any “Night Watch” programs ever released. We know that these unique, unusual, and rare documentary shows will make an excellent and welcome addition to your radio show library.
The Nude Prowler
Monday, April 5, 1954 - 25:00 - CBS, sustaining
Monday, April 12, 1954 - 25:00 - CBS, sustaining
The Teen-Aged Burglar
Monday, May 3, 1954 - 25:00 - CBS, sustaining
Shoplifting, Public Drunkenness, and a Confession
Monday, May 17, 1954 - 25:00 - CBS, sustaining
Abandoned Children and a Potential Suicide
Monday, May 24, 1954 - 25:00 - CBS, sustaining
Bad Checks, Drunkenness, and a Bloodied Victim
Friday, June 11, 1954 - 30:00 - CBS, sustaining
A Narcotics Investigation and a Father’s Suicide
Friday, June 18, 1954 - 30:00 - CBS, sustaining
A Drunken Brawl and a .38 Special
Friday, July 2, 1954 - 30:00 - CBS, sustaining
A Liquor Store Hold-Up and a Marijuana Arrest
Saturday, July 10, 1954 - 30:00 - CBS, sustaining
Vagrants in a Car and a Domestic Argument
Saturday, July 17, 1954 - 30:00 - CBS, sustaining
A Harassment Complaint and Burglarizing an Occupied Car
Saturday, July 24, 1954 - 30:00 - CBS, sustaining
A Forgotten Child, Domestic Assault, and Abuse Turns to Arson
Saturday, July 31, 1954 - 30:00 - CBS, sustaining
A Suicide, a Plain Drunk, and Children Abandoned Again
Saturday, August 14, 1954 - 30:00 - CBS, sustaining
An Escaped Mental Patient
Saturday, August 21, 1954 - 30:00 - CBS, sustaining
A Drunken Holiday Evening
Saturday, August 28, 1954 - 30:00 - CBS, sustaining
A Drunk, a Hold-Up, and a Gambling Raid
Saturday, September 4, 1954 - 30:00 - CBS, sustaining
A Traffic Accident and a Strong Arm Robbery
Saturday, September 11, 1954 - 30:00 - CBS, sustaining
Teenage Car Strippers and a Forgotten Child
Saturday, September 18, 1954 - 30:00 - CBS, sustaining
A Motel Burglary and a Mother/Daughter Lock-Out
Saturday, September 25, 1954 - 30:00 - CBS, sustaining
A Teenage Pick-Up and a Domestic Discussion
Thursday, October 7, 1954 - CBS, sustaining