- Night Watch Cops -

Bad boys, bad boys,
Whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do when they come for you…
 

Cops is filmed on location with the men and women of law enforcement! …

I've often wondered, what's happened to our society?  It seems as if violence and lawlessness is increasing.  I got this impression mostly from watching television. This included programs like Cops.  But, is this really true? Are we less enlightened, more dangerous, and less caring?

Since March 1989, the documentary series Cops has been bringing into our TV rooms the actual on-the-scene activities of various policing agencies around America…and sometimes abroad. It has been said that these hard hitting images show a lesser immoral aspect of our society. It has been commented that there are many who've questioned our society as a whole. Many say times are growing worse, that people are becoming less than what they could be, and Cops conveys this all too well.

Hmm, so times are getting worse, are they?

After watching several episodes over the years, I might agree…if it weren’t for a hobby of mine, that being, collecting old radio programs.

It was about six or eight years ago when our police chief was interviewed on one of our local talk stations. He said Cops would be filming on location here in our city. I made it a point to watch for the first time an episode of Cops…in my town. Afterwards, I felt as described above. “Society must be going to the dogs,” I thought. I then put it out of my mind. After that, I would occasionally watch part of an episode, which reaffirmed my feelings. Then one day while I was at an old time radio convention, I found something…rather startling. It was several CDs full of MP3 files of old radio programs, a series called Night Watch.

These programs were broadcast starting January 7th 1954 through to March 31st 1955 with a total of 48 episodes, at least that’s how many I’ve found thus far. This show called Night Watch was a weekly half hour CBS series, which, believe it or not, was a 50s version of the modern day series Cops. You can read more here on how Night Watch got started and such.

The differences between Night Watch and Cops is you get to know the person recording the events, whereas in Cops, the officers do the talking and you don’t know who the videographer is. Another difference is, the radio episodes take place in only one small city, Culver City, California, instead of various places in the world. However, with the exception of differing laws, policies and such, the rest…is…pretty much the same.

The first episode opens with the sound of the interior of a moving 1950s automobile.

Officer reporting in: “This is car Five Four reporting in service, mileage 64 28, six four, two eight, Officers Perkins and Walters with police reporter Donn Reed, patrolling Central District. Tour of duty, 6:00 PM, 2:00 AM, on the Night Watch.

Dispatcher responding: “Check, Five Four. Mileage 6 4, 2 8, patrolling Central District, 6:04 PM starting the night watch.

Announcer in studio, quiet background: “Night Watch! For the first time through the medium of radio, the actual on the scene reports of your police force in action. Every sound, every voice you are about here is Real! And you are listening as it happens. Night watch; presented with the cooperation of the police department of Culver City California. We take you now to car 54 with its recorder, Donn Reed.

“OK,” I said to myself, "This ought to be interesting. I wonder what people were like then.”  I was listening from the prospective of my sheltered 1950s Childhood. 

I initially had some skepticism as to it being really real and not staged. As it went on, it did sound real enough.  Afterwards, I felt it was kind of amateurish and fairly tame. But, as I listened to more episodes, they became more refined in their ability to catch the action with a microphone. The people (the perpetrators and plaintiffs) became, so-to-say, less refined.

The mike held by Donn Reed was connected to an early 1950s battery powered portable vacuum tube-type tape recorder.

After listening to a number of episodes, I felt differently about the 50s.  I got the impression the Culver City of the 1950s was…mostly low-lives. A lot of people were illiterate and unable to carry on a conversation, kind of like Cops.  Was it really that bad?  Were people that evil and stupid?

The gist of all of this is the police have a difficult job. They deal with most who don’t care. This includes drug addicts, prostitutes, murderers, wife beaters, child abusers, thieves… you-know, people found on Cops…and Night Watch.  Isn't this what these shows captured?  Not everyone was or is like this. Mostly the ones the cops have to deal with.

So, based upon what we see on Cops. is my skepticism above an accurate determination of our society as a whole?

Interesting note. It seems the citizenry in Cops are more articulate than those who were found in the 1950s radio program Night Watch.

So maybe after all, life in America isn’t getting as bad as I thought it was.

Night Watch can be found on the Internet Archive. (www.archive.org)

Sincerely,

Sheltered Suburbanite

 

Note: The device used to record Night Watch was most likely a tube type battery powered portable tape recorder.  The 1952 EMI L2, a tube-type reel to reel was said to be the first truly portable battery-operated professional tape recorder. The recording device needed to be reliable and have fairly good fidelity.  So it is doubtful he used one of those portable wire recorders such as a German Minifon. The first practical solid state consumer pocket radio, the Regency TR1, was released on October 18, 1954.  It used four germanium transistors.  Other recorders include EMI L2B, Reportofon MMK1 and MMK3.