Layne Beaty; Broadcast Farm Reports For TV, Radio

By Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 28, 2007

Layne R. Beaty, a pioneer in farm reporting who oversaw the U.S. Agriculture Department's radio and television broadcasts for more than 25 years, died May 11 at Collington Episcopal Life Care Community in Mitchellville. He had cutaneous lymphoma, complicated by congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was 93.

Mr. Beaty, who broadcast his first radio farm program in Oklahoma in the late 1930s, was chief of radio and television for the USDA from 1955 to 1980. He also edited a USDA newsletter distributed to farm broadcasters across the country; broadcast a live weekly report for five years on "The National Farm and Home Hour" on NBC radio when its Washington studios were in the old Sheraton Park Hotel; and was a regular contributor to ABC's "American Farmer" and CBS's "Columbia's Country Journal."

From 1960 to 1980, he directed and emceed "Across the Fence," a weekly syndicated television program of agriculture and consumer information produced by the USDA that was taped at WRC in Washington.

Mr. Beaty played a key role in expanding the use of the media to reach farmers and others in rural areas. In their book, "The Broadcast Century and Beyond" (2005), authors Robert L. Hilliard and Michael C. Keith highlighted Mr. Beaty's early work in radio:

"It may be coincidence that the first use of 'broadcast' was agricultural, referring to the sowing of seeds," Mr. Beaty wrote in a first-person account in the book. "It is nonetheless fitting because in the early days of radio when rural people lived in varying degrees of isolation, radio became a link to the outside world and a live-in companion for farmers and their families."

Radio stations announced market prices, updated weather forecasts and gave information on better farming practices and government regulations, Mr. Beaty said.

"My listeners included not only country folk but urban professionals as well, and one network program (the old NBC 'Farm and Home Hour') drew mail regularly from the Wall Street area," he wrote, adding that he tried to be warm and friendly with some humor but not contrived or too corny.

Mr. Beaty was born in Caddo, Okla., and graduated with a journalism degree from what is now Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant, Okla., in 1935.

Two years after college, he became an aide to the president of the Oklahoma board of agriculture in Oklahoma City and broadcast a weekly public service program, "Oklahoma Farm and Home Hour," on WKY radio.

After lifelong asthma prevented him from enlisting in the military, Mr. Beaty filled in for a soldier serving overseas as interim regional information director in Dallas of the USDA's Farm Security Administration (now Farmers Home Administration).

In 1943, he was farm editor for WBAP radio in Fort Worth, with an early-morning farm program. When WBAP started television broadcasts in 1949, Mr. Beaty began a career in public service television, adding consumer gardening programs to his repertoire.

In the early 1950s, he worked for two U.S. foreign aid agencies, the Economic Cooperation Administration Mission to Greece and the U.S. Foreign Operation Administration, predecessors of the U.S. Agency for International Development. As a trainer and adviser in agricultural information techniques, Mr. Beaty traveled extensively throughout Europe for the U.S. effort to help the economic recovery of postwar Europe.

He moved to Washington in 1954 and a year later joined the USDA, where he was broadcast liaison to six consecutive secretaries of agriculture.

After his retirement and into the early 1990s, Mr. Beaty was a consultant and freelance writer. He conducted and taped about 50 oral histories and was interviewed for the Broadcast Pioneers Library (now the Library of American Broadcasting) at the University of Maryland. In 1990, the Broadcast Pioneers honored him "for many years of distinguished service to broadcasting."

He was an early member of the National Association of Radio Farm Directors (now the National Association of Farm Broadcasters) and served as the organization's secretary-treasurer in 1945 and its president in 1947. He received NAFB's Meritorious Service Award in 1980, and in 1988, he was elected to the NAFB Hall of Fame.

In 1982, Mr. Beaty donated his papers to the USDA's National Agricultural Library, where they are part of the library's special collection.

Mr. Beaty, a 50-year resident of Washington, moved to Mitchellville in 1994.

His marriage to Ellen Ayers Beaty ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife, Virginia K. Beaty of Mitchellville, whom he married in 1966; two children from his first marriage, Sandra Cantrell of Williston, Vt., and William Beaty of Torreon, Mexico; five grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

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