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Victor Packer
1 The One-Man Radio Department
2 Voices of the Street
NPR Documentary
Victor Packer, the documentary about WLTH's one-man Jewish programming department. (RealAudio, 12:35 min.)  


EXPLORE
AUDIO_EXTRAS
Interviews from Voices of the Street:

What scares you most? (Feb. 24, 1939)

Mrs. Thaler's response.

Mr. Rosen's response.

Ms. Bloom's response.

Mrs. Goran's response.

What's a good man? (Sept. 14, 1941)

Mrs. Stein's response.

What's more important: brains or beauty? (March 12, 1942)

Mrs. Pasternak's response.

Mrs. Kleinfeld's response.

What's your favorite recipe? (Feb. - Sept. 1942)

Hungarian goulash.

Bread pudding.

Sausage.

Calf's foot jelly.

 

VIDEO_EXTRAS
Packer's takes to the streets for the Sterling Salt Program.

(Courtesy the Warembud family)
 


Voices of the Street

If Victor Packer's sound poems are lasting literary creations, his man-in-the-street interview shows may well be the most irresistible part of his radio legacy. Recorded between 1937 and 1942, they are a passport to New York's old Jewish neighborhoods, with one of Yiddish broadcasting's most peculiar figures as the guide.

Shtimes fun di Gas (Voices of the Street) is radio's premier use of the man -- or, more often, woman -- in-the-street format. Its conceit was simple. Every Monday and Thursday, Victor Packer traveled to a different Jewish grocery store in Brooklyn or the Bronx with a huge transcription disc-cutting machine and asked ordinary housewives their opinions on various vital issues. After hearing them out, Packer would offer his enthusiastic approval and reward the respondent with a box (if he really liked her, two) of his sponsor's products, like Foremost Milk or Sterling Kosher Salt.

In the five years Packer conducted the show, he demonstrated a distinct preference for sententious questions like "What is a good man?" or "What is more important: brains or beauty?" The more banal the response, the happier and more approving Packer seemed to be. Inversely, nothing appeared to throw Packer more than when one of his questions hit home. (Witness the episode of Feb. 24, 1939, when Packer inquired, "What scares you most?")

To keep things jaunty, Packer often asked his interviewees to share their favorite recipes for beloved dishes like bread pudding and calf's foot jelly. What most often ensued was a charming if impossible-to-follow torrent of ingredients, measurements, and techniques, concluding with a promise of complete satisfaction.

Packer's intrepid reporting usually gave more cause for bemusement than culinary delight. But in either case, his novel broadcasting style lets us share a laugh with a few dozen housewives in a neighborhood and world that has long since ceased to exist.

 

Copyright 2002 Sound Portraits Productions. All rights reserved.