Call of the Land celebrates 60 years
The year is 1953. Louis St. Laurent is elected prime minister of Canada, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzig Norgay reach the top of Mt. Everest, a team of scientists discover the double-helix structure of DNA, and Alberta Agriculture’s Call of the Land takes to the radio waves.
It has been 60 years since Call of the Land started broadcasting agriculture news into trucks, barns, offices and tractors across the province, and the program is still going strong. Five days a week, the nine-minute agricultural news program broadcasts to 110,000 people over 27 radio stations.
“People trust the program and trust the information that it provides,” said current host Caitlynn Reesor, speaking to the program’s longevity. “It’s timely and impartial information that’s not coming from companies with an interest in promoting something.”
The program keeps the agricultural community current on the latest agricultural technologies, research findings, production methods and marketing trends, as well as government programs and policies. It’s a dynamic program, balancing information about issues as they arise with seasonally relevant information.
“Every day is different, you never know from day to day what interviews or issues are going to come your way,” said Reesor. “I could get a call from one of our crop specialists to tell me they are seeing a disease outbreak somewhere and it will change everything in a heartbeat.”
Call of the Land is Canada’s only publicly funded agriculture radio show. Produced by Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, it was established after farmers met with the deputy minister of the day and complained that they weren’t getting the information they needed from the ministry. The minister turned to the agriculture college in Vermillion to get the program started. In the early days, the program was recorded and distributed through the CKUA radio network.
A lot changes over 60 years. Jack Howell hosted Call of the Land from 1970 to 2006. He started his career with Alberta Agriculture as a regional agrologist, but found his calling with the program that combined his passion for radio with agricultural education.
“I was around at the beginning evolution of the exotic cattle industry, when the European breeds came on, which changed breeding and the cattle industry forever,” said Howell, reflecting on the changes he saw in agriculture over 36 years of reporting. “There were new crops, the advent of four-wheel drive, farms and farm equipment kept getting bigger, yields kept getting bigger and electronics invaded the farm.”
Advances in broadcast technology changed the radio program as much as the industry. In the early days, the program was put together on reel-to-reel tape, recorded two days in advance and mailed to the radio stations.
“As technology changed, the program could get more timely,” said Howell. “We went to a computer program and digital editing, and could send the programs out electronically. If there was an insect outbreak or something happening in the cattle industry, we could get the reaction out within 24 hours.”
When Reesor took over the microphone from Howell, former agriculture minister Shirley McLellan told her she was taking over from “an icon of trust.”
“That was rather intimidating, to say the least,” said Reesor. “I knew I had some big shoes to fill. I just wanted to maintain the integrity of the program and make sure I could keep it up to the standard that Jack had, in terms of the types of stories.”
Hardly a rookie in farm reporting, Reesor came to the program after 10 years working on an agriculture show for CFCW, and was already well connected in the industry. She found a warm reception from the agriculture community when she made the change.
“All I had to do was introduce myself and tell them I was from Call of the Land,” said Reesor. “Farmers and people in the industry are so willing to talk and explain things. They know that the story will be told right, there is no hidden agenda and I’m not going to put some- thing on the air that’s going to make them look bad.”
As the audience and issues continue to evolve, Call of the Land has managed to stay relevant. In addition to radio, the program is now available as a podcast on iTunes or online through its website. Ultimately, it’s the ability to remain relevant that has allowed it to endure.
“I thought it was a useful tool when I was there, and still think it is,” said Howell, when asked how the show survived six decades as a government program. “I have to pay tribute to all the people who gave me information when I needed it and didn’t turn it into a political vehicle, which would have undermined the program.”