Obituary Notice produced by Peter Meanwell

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BBC Radio 3, 7 January 2012
Although not advertised as such, Peter Meanwell's documentary in sound had a particularly dramatic quality. It profiled the work of WPAQ 740 AM, a radio station in Mt. Airy, North Carolina, which proudly broadcasts obituaries of local people three times a day. Founded in 1948 to preserve a wholesome way of life on the airwaves, the station encouraged listeners to attend church regularly, and sustain a god-fearing way of life. Gospel singers and preachers helped to reinforce this message. Sone sixty-two years on, the station - and its ideology - sound particularly anachronistic, yet listeners still regularly tune in to hear detailed obituaries of their fellow-citizens.
Combining archive recordings, snippets of music from the station's collection of old-time music, plus interviews with local people of different generations, Obituary Notice portrayed the lives of a close-knit rural community which was once united by specific industries - tobacco, furniture and mining granite. Jobs were plentiful, and migration was scarce. Families used to be happy living an untroubled way of life; some older citizens recalled how they sat outside at night on the verandah, exchanging the time of day with their neighbours, or simply drinking in the calm atmosphere.
Now things have radically changed: local industries have collapsed, and younger citizens are leaving the town permanently in search of work, leaving the elderly residents to fend for themselves. Meanwell suggested that the obituaries on the radio are not just for individuals, but for an entire rural way of life that is fast disappearing. New technologies have transformed the citizens' way of life; they largely keep themselves to themselves, while the town itself struggles to adapt to a non-industrial, service industry-based economy. None of the interviewees quite knew what would happen next; they could only hope for future happiness, while continuing to rely on institutions such as the radio station - a symbol of what they had lost.
The narrative itself comprised a panoply of sounds: with no narrator to guide us, we were left to make up our own minds as to what the future might bring for the good people of Mt. Airy. While the radio station continued to broadcasr the same kind of material that it had done for the past six decades, it seemed to be the only symbol of permanence left in a fast-changing world.