Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Off-topic: SCAN

[Once again, forgive me me for an off-topic post, but I couldn't let this article go to waste.]

The first thing you heard was a synthesized swishing sound - if you listened in stereo, it swished back-and-forth across the speakers. Then a deep bass voice intoned "Scannnn..." followed by an echoing "Scan, scan, scan, scan ..."

Thus began each episode of SCAN, a weekly half-hour public-service program produced and distributed by the American Lutheran Church (ALC) of Minneapolis, MN. I particularly remember this show becase it was the last program my usual station aired before going off the air on Sunday nights.

SCAN described itself as "a weekly source of stories of strength and hope which rivet the litener to the station," "sweeping the horizon discovering the life intended by the Creator." Most episodes discussed a current social, political, cultural, economic and/or spiritual issue, through interviews with people involved in the issue and contemporary rock music. Some SCAN programs I especially remember are:

---An interview with a rape victim, about her experience and her search for justice and healing;

---Three peace activists, including an East German pastor, an American ex-bureaucrat and a Danish mother, advocating against nuclear war;

---Two former pro-footballers now leading a campaign for fair housing and aid for the poor.

However, some shows were outright interviews with pop-music stars - the very first SCAN was an interview with Randy Bachman of Bachman-Turner Overdrive; other music stars interviewed for the show included Neil Sedaka, Barry Manilow, B.J. Thomas and the early female rock band Deadly Nightshade.

SCAN started its run in fall 1975, and was the successor to an earlier ALC series, "Silhouette," which began in 1967. The show was produced by the ALC's Media services Center, wih Hal Dragseth as the host and executive producer. (Dragseth owned the above-mentioned deep bass voice.) The ALC offered the show free to radio stations - a considerable bargain, because the show was quite well-produced; free transcripts were also offered for an SASE, the show issued a monthly newsletter called "Newsnote," and $5.98 got you a cassette of a favorite SCAN program.

At its peak, SCAN aired on more than 500 U.S. radio stations and 300 Armed Forces stations. It won two Gabriel Awards for best youth-oriented religious program, and two Certificates of Merit.

In 1987, twelve years after SCAN premiered, the ALC merged with two other churches to become the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA); the ALC's Media Services Center disappeared, but several employees - including Dragseth - formed Seraphim Productions, Inc., and continued to produce SCAN without interruption, now for the ELCA. However, the next year, the ELCA began cutting back on production of new episodes; the last all-new SCAN program, a New Year's entry called "Lessons From the Past," aired on December 31, 1989.

Even so, SCAN continued for nearly two more years, with repeats; on August 11, 1991, after sixteen years, SCAN aired its last episode.

But the show's legacy lives on. The ELCA still has a complete archive of all 756 SCANs, and is digitizing them, with hopes of making them available again in some way. After all, even though SCAN last "swept the horizon" more than 20 years ago, many of the problems it addressed are still very much with us. Soon, we may somehow hear that synthesizer swish again.

{Special thanks to Joel Thoreson, ELCA media archivist, for providing me with most of the info for this article.}

UPDATE - July 2014: Hal Dragseth has digitized the masters of all 750 episodes of SCAN, and has begun posting on the Select Learning website. Because he had to replace all the musical selections with public-domain music, the shows are shorter, but the interviews are still complete as they originally aired. Go to http://www.selectlearning.org/content/scan-remixed and tell them I sent you.


The Lama said...

SCAN was an awesome show. Looking forward to being able to hear it. Did the ELCA guy say anything about how the replays would be available? ELCA website maybe?

U.P. Grooves! said...

No, he just said that ELCA was digitizing all its SCAN programs, and Hal Dragseth was digitizing some of the original interview tapes for the series as well. But Mr. Thoreson gave no indication how the shows would be distributed, if at all.

U.P. Grooves! said...

Believe it or not, right after I posted the above reply, I got a (misplaced) message from Hal Dragseth himself. He says the digitized SCANs will eventually be posted online as podcasts, and he's promised to let me know when and where.