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September 2019: Farm Byline

Thankful for the TV camera

by Al Gustin


I have a lot of admiration for radio reporters who are good at their craft. They have the ability to describe a scene, to make you feel like you’re there.

My career as a television reporter began in 1967, and one of the first things I realized was that the TV camera took really good notes. The camera set the stage, detailed the surroundings and captured the moment. I didn’t have to. And while most of my career was spent reporting for both radio and TV, I wrote for TV. My radio stories were simply an audio version of the TV story. I wasn’t writing for radio.

I recall doing a report in northern South Dakota, during the severe 2006 drought. The story was about a cattleman who was forced to haul water to his cattle. His dams had gone dry. We were there as he drove up to fill the tank. The cows heard him, and they came across the pasture, a pasture that was brown, not green. Their hooves kicked up dust. There was no way I could have described the scene for the audience that would have had the lasting impact the TV video did.

Similarly, in May 1995, when Butch Snyder was saying goodbye to his farm, because he had sold it to a coal mining company, the camera caught the tears in his eyes. I didn’t have to say anything.

There are so many examples. What words would I have used to describe wheat sprouted in the swath, a collapsed dairy barn roof, a helicopter hay lift, ice-covered cattle after a March blizzard, the smile on a 4-H'er who just won first place, or the Great Wall of China? I didn’t have to find those words.

In late July this year, my longtime TV reporting partner, Dwayne Walker, and I were working on a story about farmed elk. It was evening as we drove to the pasture where the elk were. The evening sun warmed the colors of the elk and of the lush alfalfa regrowth they were grazing. We stood there, awed by the beauty of the scene. I was thankful that Dwayne’s camera would capture the moment; thankful that I wouldn’t have to try to find the words to describe it.

Al Gustin is a retired farm broadcaster, active rancher and a member of Mor-Gran-Sou Electric Cooperative.