1 August 2010 - A 50-year Broadcast Memory

As I approach my 50th anniversary of talking agriculture on WGN Radio in Chicago, some of you are asking if I might share some of the highlights of a half-century of covering world agriculture. My plans are to eventually write a book, but between now and my anniversary date September 26th, I will recall some memories and note that every highlight signifies that one constant in our daily life...change.

The highlight I share with you this week comes to mind because it happened 27 years ago this month. It was in 1983 that a hog farmer from Illinois serving as Secretary of Agriculture, John Block traveled to Moscow to sign the U.S./U.S.S.R. grain agreement, a five-year agreement that would significantly increase sales of U.S. wheat to the Soviet Union. Already, you see one of the changes...there no longer is a Soviet Union, that ended when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down later in the 1980s.

Sec. Block invited my TV cameraman and me to accompany him to record for radio & TV the historic signing ceremony. We flew commercially from Washington D.C. to London, then boarded a U.S. Air Force DC-9 to fly from London to Moscow. In addition to our crew there were two other Air Force personnel on board, wearing Russian uniforms. During the first part of the flight, they stood at the front of the airplane staring at the 7 of us in the Secretary’s group. When we crossed the border into the Soviet Union one of the officers went into the cockpit to direct the U.S. pilots while the other officer continued to watch us to make sure my cameramen did no shooting out the window at the Soviet landscape below us.

When we arrived at Moscow international Airport, we were welcomed by the Ministers of Agriculture and Foreign Trade , and were then driven in a military motorcade to the U.S. Ambassador’s residence. I well remember that evening, Secretary Block and I enjoying a glass of wine while standing on the balcony looking at the Moscow skyline and saying to each other, “What are these two Midwest farm boys doing in Moscow representing the U.S. government?”

The agreement was signed the next day and, for a moment, it looked like my trip would be in vain when security officials said my cameraman and I would not be allowed inside the Kremlin. That changed when Secretary Block, himself, came back to the entrance and said “These people are part of my official party and they must be with me to record the ceremony”. The signing took place in a room overflowing with people and was followed by much toasting of Russian vodka and dining on Russian caviar. It did get rather loud and boisterous before the event ended.

Now let me note the other significant change. The two years prior to this agreement, U.S. agricultural exports had fallen 20% and in 1983 amounted to $34-billion. Compare that to this year, 2010, when our ag exports will total $100-billion. With the signing of the 1983 agreement, America’s producers truly moved into the global marketplace.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.