As I drove up to Windy Hill Farm west of Albany in New York State, the Catskill mountains lay to the south and the Adirondack mountains to the north. When Edythe Meserand and Jane Barton, who share the renovated old farm house, greeted me, they showed me the blue bird trail they had set up to lure the almost-extinct creatures back and the evergreen forest where friends come year after year to get their Christmas trees.
The contrast between life at Windy Hill Farm and that of New York City, where Edythe Meserand made her mark as a radio journalist for fifty-one years, could not be greater. Yet it is not surprising that she and Jane Barton, who dealt with the media for decades as a member of the WAVES and New York State government, have adapted to the life of this beautiful, but demanding country home. Edythe Meserand thrived on new assignments and developing ways of solving new problems throughout her career. The most crucial problem was the lack of a news department and appropriate facilities for radio transmissions during World War II. When England declared war on Germany, it was obvious that WOR would have to remedy the situation. A news department was established with Dave Driscoll as director. Meserand became a member of its staff. The newsroom was designed by "Johnny" [George Wilfred] Johnstone, Driscoll, the engineering department, and Meserand, and was patterned as a newspaper city desk. This was one of the firstóif not the firstómodern radio newsrooms.
Her career (although she says she never planned it as a career) began in 1926 at NBC, the year that WJZ and WEAF joined forces, which was the beginning of the National Broadcasting Company. This was a period when women were in policy-making positions at NBC. Young Edythe Meserand was strongly influenced by Margaret Cuthbert, director of talks, and Bertha Brainard, director of programming. She says that men worked with these women and respected them. The women worked until they retired or died. Five years after joining NBC, Edythe Meserand went to WGBS (1931) and broadcast for the Hearst station WINS. In 1935, she joined WOR, which was the flagship of the Mutual Network. Here she worked at news and publicity until 1977, writing and producing many "firsts." In 1951 she was the chairman of a convention committee to set up American Women in Radio and Television (AWRT) and became its first president. After leaving radio and television, she ran her own public relations business until she retired in 1985.
This oral history interview was recorded as Edythe Meserand and I sat in her cheery kitchen. Jane Barton videotaped part of it and occasionally supplied a needed name. We worked together all morning, went to lunch at a little country restaurant, and continued until early evening.
The interview was planned as a supplement to those conducted by Catharine Heinz for Broadcast Pioneers Library, August 31 and September 1, 1977. Catharine Heinz shared with me the transcript of her interviews as well as Edythe Meserand's papers which are also at the Broadcast Pioneers Library in Washington, D.C. These papers consist of scrapbooks of pictures, letters, clippings, and memos as well as scripts. When I got to Windy Hill Farm, Edythe, Jane, and I poured over the additional materials before we began the present interview. Some of the material in Catharine Heinz's interviews is necessarily repeated here in the interests of clarity and continuity.
Fern S. Ingersoll
January 21, 1991
MESERAND HONORS & AWARDS
Medal awarded by Prime Minister Jan Masyrk of Czechoslovakia re: her work at the UNRRA Conference in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1943. (UNRRA: United Nations Relief & Rehabilitation Association)
Silver Medal awarded by Pope Pius XXII re: her work on Holy Year Documentary (1950)
Golden Mike Award presented by McCall Magazine re: The Children's Christmas Fund (1950)
Science Award presented by the New Jersey Teachers Association for her "Wildlife, Unlimited" series on TV (1951)
Honorary Life Membership in RADIO PIONEERS (now Broadcast Pioneers) - 1957
Note from Edythe Meserand: "From 1936 through 1943, we broadcast "Year in Review." Many of these received awards or citations, but I cannot remember which. This series was the first to use actuality sound in retrospective programs. And any of these awards went to the station, not to any one individual." (See attached release from Library of Congress)
AWRT ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS - 1982
"Who has earned the recognition of her peers and strengthened the role of women in the industry through her exceptional contribution to AWRT and the community."
Edythe J. Meserand Distinguished Broadcaster Award. Established by the AWRT Capital District Chapter in her honor. This is awarded yearly. (1987)
Woman Of The Year Award from the Amsterdam-Mohawk Valley Business and Professional Woman - 1990
1990 - "For outstanding achievements and lifelong contributions to the broadcast industry and her community" from:
© 1991, Washington Press Club Foundation.
Washington, DC. All Rights Reserved.