THE LIMIT OF HUMAN FELICITY:
RADIO'S TRANSITION FROM HOBBY TO HOUSEHOLD UTILITY
IN 1920S AMERICA
LAURA PELNER McCARTHY
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 1993
Few solitary achievements put a person so at the mercy of others as navigating a doctoral program and writing and defending a dissertation. Among the many people who made my three years at the University of Florida gratifying, interesting, and challenging, several deserve a special thank you:
My adviser and committee chair Dr. Les Smith, for his interest in radio history and in the success of his students; and the other members of my dissertation committee: Dr. Stephen Conroy, Dr. Mickie Edwardson, Dr. David Ostroff, and Dr. Sid Pactor;
The rest of the faculty and staff of the College of
Journalism and Communications, who have struck an admirable balance between support and challenge; especially . Dr. Kurt Kent, Assistant Dean for Graduate Studies, for arranging my three-summer Grinter Fellowship; . Dr. Julie Dodd for her guidance and friendship, Dr. Bill McKeen for his humor, and Dr. Leonard Tipton for his attitude;
. . Harriet Bennetts, the Telecommunication Department's friendly and efficient secretary, the kind of person who would give you the slip off her waist; . and all the UF undergraduate students who made
teaching such a pleasant break from my own studies;
The members of the University of Florida's library
staff who made my historical research a pleasure, especially Journalism Librarian Dolores Jenkins; Interlibrary Loan's Melanie Davis, who kept up an endless supply of obscure old magazines and fresh good cheer; and the folks in Microforms, especially Jo Talbird (for her roses), and Bill Sherman (for his car talk).
My greatest gratitude and affection go to the other two members of the "electronic sisterhood," Milagros RiveraSanchez and Lynne Sallot, for their friendship, support, and good example, in person and through the Internet.
This dissertation is dedicated to absent friends and family:
To Paul Hartman . best friend, ever; To Enrique Cardenas:
Apareces tantas veces; en
To my father, Nat Pelner (K2BIQ), who passed along to me a love of radio;
To my mother, Beverley Pelner, who passed along to me a love of words;
To Michael D. McCarthy and, most of all, to our daughter Kerry Robin McCarthy.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS .......................................... ii
ABSTRACT ................................................. vi
1 INTRODUCTION ......................................... 1
Background ............................................. 1
Purpose ................................................ 6
Research Questions ..................................... 7
Scope and Limitations .................................. 8
Definitions ............................................ 9
Methodology ........................................... 15
Sources ............................................... 18
Plan of the Study ..................................... 23
Previous Research ..................................... 23
Significance .......................................... 40
2 THE RADIO HOBBY ..................................... 43
Wire Telephony ........................................ 44
Wireless Telegraphy and Telephony before WWI .......... 45 Wireless at War ....................................... 57
Post-War Experimentation .............................. 58
The Birth of Broadcasting ............................. 60
The Fad Begins ........................................ 70
3 THE RADIO FAD: 1922 ................................. 72
Home Entertainments and Amusements .................... 73
The Radio Fad of 1922 ................................. 81
"Listening in" in 1922 ................................ 93
Problems and Disappointments ......................... 114
Prospects for the Future ............................. 117
4 A HOUSEHOLD UTILITY: 1926 .......................... 129
Introduction ......................................... 129
The Uses of Radio .................................... 129
Radio Service 1925-1926 .............................. 140
The Household Utility ................................ 154
"A Radio Reign of Terror" ............................ 160
Radio's Entertainment Age ............................ 162
Radio Grows Up ....................................... 166
5 CONCLUSIONS ........................................ 167
The Development of Radio Listening ................... 167
Women and Radio ......................... ............ 170
Learning about Radio .................... : ............ 172
The Point of Transition .............................. 173
Suggestions for Further Study ........................ 177
WORKS CITED ............................................. 180
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ..................................... 222
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
THE LIMIT OF HUMAN FELICITY:
RADIO'S TRANSITION FROM HOBBY TO HOUSEHOLD UTILITY IN 1920s AMERICA
Laura Pelner McCarthy
Chair: F. Leslie Smith
Major Department: Journalism and Communications
Between World War I and World War II, radio in the
American home developed from an electrical experimenter's pastime to a pervasive form of popular entertainment, an important medium of mass communication, and an integral part of daily life. This study, based primarily on material in the popular press, describes the transition of radio from a hobby to a fad to a household utility in the United States during the 1920s, and seeks to explain why and when radio took its place in the American household.
Radio gained publicity and respect during the first two decades of the century as an aid to safety at sea. Technological development allowed the public to begin participating in the radio hobby by around 1920, and radio listening became a widespread fad in 1922. This study finds that radio soon showed itself useful to women in the home,
as broadcasters began offering daytime "service" programming in an era when most evening radio presentations were still perfunctory programs featuring amateur musicians. Thus the female audience was important to the development of radio into something more than a fad or a scientific stunt. By the spring of 1926, daytime "service" programming was universally available, and both broadcasters and advertisers had come to see the value of serving the segment of the audience that controlled most of the purchasing power of the family. Receiving equipment had become easy to use, and loudspeakers allowed listeners the freedom to move around the room and perform other activities while listening. The audience began to make use of radio in ways that would mark radio's place in the American household during the subsequent three decades of broadcasting. Radio can be said to have achieved the status of "household utility" by the spring of 1926.
It appears to me . that if we could have
devised an arrangement for providing everybody with music in their homes, perfect in quality,
unlimited in quantity, suited to every mood, and
beginning and ceasing at will, we should have
considered the limit of human felicity already
attained, and ceased to strive for further
Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward (1887)
At the time of the First World War wireless
communication provided a scientific pastime for a small segment of the American public. By the beginning of World War II, radio had become a pervasive source of popular entertainment and information. This study examines the transition of radio from a hobby to a fad to a household utility in the United States during the 1920s.
Since the mid-1800s the public had shown increasing interest in the growing world of scientific and technical wonders. science, combining the magical and the practical, became a source of entertainment both passive and active for
lEdward Bellamy, Looking Backward (1887; Boston: Houghton, 1926) 113-114.
the young, the adventurous, and the scholarly.2 Samuel Morse demonstrated his telegraphic system for communicating along a wire by code in 1838, and by 1861 the first transcontinental telegraph circuit had been completed.3 Telephonic communication developed not long afterward, and Alexander Graham Bell patented his equipment for transmitting and receiving the human voice by wire in 1876.4 By 1893 Budapest, Hungary, was served by twelve-hour-a-day "broadcasts" of news, music, and lectures over the telephone wires of Telefon-Hirmondo.5 In the United States, the New Jersey Telephone Herald Company inaugurated a similar daily service in October of 1911.6
Wireless communication, using radio or "Hertzian''7
2Alan Sutton, A Victorian World of Science (Boston: Hilger, 1986).
3Andrew F. Inglis, Behind the Tube: A History of
Broadcasting Technology and Business (Boston: Focal, 1990) 29.
4Sydney W. Head and Christopher H. Sterling,
Broadcasting in America, 6th ed. (Boston: Houghton, 1990) 33.
5Thomas S. Denison, "The Telephone Newspaper," The World's Work 1 (1900-1901): 640-641.
6G. C. B. Rowe, "Broadcasting in 1912," Radio News 6 (1925): 2219+.
7Named for Heinrich Hertz, who in 1888 proved the
existence of invisible waves of radio energy postulated in 1873 by James Clerk Maxwell.
waves, was developed primarily by Guglielmo Marconi during the final years of the nineteenth century. In 1901, Marconi sent a single code letter by wireless across the Atlantic from Cornwall, England, to Newfoundland.8 The era of wireless communication had begun.
By the end of the new century's first decade,
experimenters had developed the technique of radiotelephony, or the wireless transmission of the voice. Although radiotelegraphy and radiotelephony were used for point-topoint communication, any business or individual with standard receiving equipment could intercept the messages. It was this lack of privacy of wireless communication that was later turned to advantage in the concept of broadcasting.
As early as 1910 Lee de Forest transmitted grand opera to the public by wireless telephony.9 And although David Sarnoff's 1916 memo proposing a "Radio Music Box"10 is America's best-known broadcasting prophecy, three years earlier Carl Snyder had written in Collier's magazine:
8Christopher H. Sterling and John M. Kitross, Stay
Tuned: A Concise History of American Broadcasting (Belmont: Wadsworth, 1978) 26.
9"Wireless Melody Jarred," New York Times 14 Jan. 1910:
10David Sarnoff, Looking Ahead: The Papers of David Sarnoff (New York: McGraw, 1968) 31.
The future use (of wireless telephony may be] to
distribute news and messages of all sorts from
central stations to an enormous number of
subscribers. And music, too and possibly plays
and pictures as well . . if
Radiotelegraphy and radiotelephony became a popular
scientific pastime, as experimenters built equipment, sent and received messages, and eavesdropped on commercial communications. No official figures exist for the popularity of wireless experimentation before the licensing of amateur transmitters began in 1912, but the magazine Modern Electrics claimed circulation of 52,000 in 1911, and according to an article in American Magazine by 1916 75,000 amateurs were building their own equipment and testing their work by communicating over ever greater distances.12
The American Navy suspended amateur and nonmilitary experimental radio activity for the duration of the World War; after transmitter restrictions were lifted in 1919, several hundred thousand wireless enthusiasts13 eagerly reclaimed the ether, including young men trained in the service, and boys and girls whose imaginations were sparked by the idea of moving the human voice through air. In
11Carl Snyder, "The World's2ew Marvels," Collier's 25 Oct. 1913: 22.
121175,000 American Boys Have This Enthusiasm," American Magazine June 1916:103.
13F. A. Collins, "Boys and the Wireless," Woman's Home Companion April 1920: 44.
addition to amateur experimenters and two-way communicators, a growing body of wireless hobbyist-listeners merely eavesdropped on commercial and amateur communication both in code and by voice, building or assembling equipment and engaging in competitions (with themselves and others) to bring in the most, and most distant, signals. After experimenters began transmitting music from phonograph records, the hobbyist-listeners could enjoy "radiophone concerts" as well.
In the Pittsburgh area, the popularity of Dr. Frank Conrad's phonograph record concerts led his employer to erect a broadcasting station; most broadcast historians agree that radio station KDKA, created and sustained by Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company as a scheme to promote the sale of radio equipment, was the first ongoing, commercially based radio transmitting facility sending entertainment and information to the public on an announced schedule.14 According to most textbooks, American broadcasting was "born" on the evening of November 2, 1920, when KDKA broadcast presidential election returns
14For a discussion of the other contenders for "first station," see Lawrence W. Lichty, "Who's Who on Firsts: A Search for Challengers," Journal of Broadcasting 10 (1965) 83; and Joseph R. Baudino and John M. Kitross, "Broadcasting's Oldest Stations: An Examination of Four Claimants," Journal of Broadcasting 21:1 (1977) 61-83.
to radio amateurs in Pittsburgh and around the country. By the end of 1922 interest in radio had taken on the dimensions of a national fad; more than 500 broadcasting stations were on the air around the country,15 and radio broadcasting's listening audience had grown to an estimated three million.16
Although throughout the 1920s thousands of Americans
participated in the now-organized pastime of amateur radio-sending and receiving messages, tinkering with antennas and circuits--by the end of the decade a much larger number could be found gathered in the living room at night, "listening in" to their favorite radio programs. By 1930 radio had come to be considered a household utility, and an important part of America's daily life.
Most discussions of the developing years of radio broadcasting after the initial period of individual invention have been framed in terms of the struggles among industrial and governmental forces. Yet without public curiosity and participation, radio could not have made the transition from a technical hobby to America's first
15Christopher H. Sterling, Electronic Media: A Guide to Trends in Broadcasting and Newer Technologies. 1920-1983
(New York: Praeger, 1984) 5.
16"Statistical Survey of the Radio Business," Radio Retailing March 1928: 36.
electronic home entertainment and information service. Little has been written about the feelings and actions of people outside the formal structure of the emerging industry and its regulators during the years in which the public became aware of the possibilities and pleasures of radio listening, and no attempt has been made to identify a point at which radio took its place as a household utility in the American home.
The purpose of this research is to describe by what
means the American public learned about the new pastime of radio listening, to understand for what reasons the public was moved to participate in the radio fad, and to identify the point at which broadcast listening made the transition from a hobby to an important part of America's daily life.
The primary questions this study sought to answer were:
1. How did it happen that America's wireless hobby
developed during the 1920s into the daily activity of radio listening, transforming radio into an information and entertainment service considered a household utility?
2. At what point did radio become a household utility?
Answering those questions required asking several
others: (1) How did people learn about radio? (2) How did people come to first try radio listening? (3) What groups
of people made up the earliest radio audience? (4) What were the characteristics of radio's place in the American household that caused it to be considered a household utility? and (5) What have been the uses of radio in the years since 1930?
Scope and Limitations
This study is an attempt to illuminate how the United States listening public came to accept radio broadcasting service, and to identify the point at which radio became a useful service to the American home. This study is a chronological narrative of broadcasting's first decade as experienced by the listening public, based exclusively on contemporaneous material, primarily accounts in the popular press. No first-person accounts such as oral history reminiscences or personal interviews recorded after the era under study were used.17
17During the 1950s, many pioneer broadcasters
participated in Columbia University's Oral History Research Project. Some excerpts were published as "Music in the Air . and Voices on the Crystal Set," American Heritage Aug. 1955: 65-88. Unfortunately, these remembrances are filtered not only through the intervening years but through the subject's later success and accomplishments in the field of broadcasting. The Columbia collection, which contains many errors and inaccuracies, has been called "more nostalgic and reminiscent than historical in nature," by William McKinley Randle, Jr., The History of Radio Broadcasting and its Social and Economic Effect on the Entertainment Industry,
diss., Case Western Reserve U, 1966 (Ann Arbor: UMI, 1967) 77. In addition, a romantic view of radio's "golden age" can easily color public remembrance of radio's place in the life of the family; see Lesley Johnson, The Unseen Voice: A Cultural Study of Early Australian Radio (London: Routledge,
The following section defines certain key terms used in this study. Any work based primarily on accounts in general-circulation magazines and newspapers must guard against adopting the imprecise terminology common in the popular press. The contemporary media often identified or described developing communication technologies incorrectly; thus, the following definitions may not apply to some quoted material.
Point-to-Doint communication. In point-to-point
communication a message is sent from one individual sender or sending location to a particular receiving individual or location; point-to-point communication usually implies the existence or possibility of two-way communication. During the 1920s, four types of electrical point-to-point communication over distance were in use:
1) Telegraphy, the sending of messages by wire using a code of electrical pulses;
1988) ix. For discussions on the general shortcomings of oral recollection, see Charles L. Briggs, Learning How to Ask. (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986) 13; Anthony Seldon, Contemporary History: Practice and Method (Oxford: Blackwell, 1988) 13; Anthony Seldon and Joanna Pappworth, By Word of Mouth: "Elitef Oral History (London: Methuen, 1983) 17-26; Paul Thompson, The Voice of the Past: oral Histor (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1978) 210. Clearly, finding suitable interviewees seventy years after the era under study would also pose a considerable problem.
2) Telephony, the sending of voice messages by wire;
3) Radiotelegraphy, the wireless transmission of telegraphic code;
4) Radiotelephony, the wireless transmission of the voice.18
Broadcasting. Broadcasting, a one-way point-tomultipoint service,19 has been defined as the "sending of uncoded messages to an undifferentiated audience.",20
Radio.21 The word "radio" as used in the title and
throughout this work means the social complex that developed around America's broadcasting service as perceived or experienced by members of the general public. Although the
18The technologies are listed in the order in which they were developed.
19The Federal Communications Commission currently uses the term "'multipoint" to refer to certain specialized types of program distribution; see 47 C.F.R. Sec. 21.1 (1991).
20Daniel J. Czitrom, Media and the American mind: From Morse to McLuhan (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1982) 71.
21According to the Institute of Radio Engineers, the word radio "came into marked use in place of 'wireless' in 1907, and was officially adopted by the Institute of Radio Engineers in 1911 and shortly thereafter by the United States Government." Robert H. Marriott, "United States Radio Development," Proceedings of the Institute of Radio Engiineers 5 (1917) 187. A later article by the same author dates the "standardization" of the term to 1913. Robert H. Marriott, "United States Radio Broadcasting Development," Proceedings of the Institute of Radio Engineers 17 (1929): 1396.
noun "radio" can mean the receiving set (as in, "I just bought a radio"), the field of endeavor ("I just got a job in radio"), or the technology of radiotelephony ("the message was sent by radio"), its general use in this study encompasses the receiving set, the existence of a broadcast signal, the content of that signal, and the act of listening. Although David Sarnoff proposed making radio a "'household utility' in the same sense as the piano or phonograph,",22 it was the cultural complex developed by the advent of broadcasting that became a "household utility" rather than the physical object called the radio receiver.
Eras of broadcast history. In this study, the years of America's broadcast listening before the advent of television have been divided into three eras: the hobby, the fad, and the household utility.
Hobbies. A hobby has been defined as a "specialized pursuit beyond one's occupation that has no professional counterpart." The pursuit must involve some level of skill, ability, or knowledge, and have a goal (immediate or longterm) other than entertainment or amusement.23
22Sarnoff, Looking Ahead 31.
23Robert A. Stebbins, Amateurs: On the Margin between Work and Leisure (Beverly Hills: Sage, 1979) 34.
Amateurs. Amateurs "engage part-time in activities that for other people constitute full-time work roles.",24 The beginning amateur who has not yet achieved proficiency may be called a novice. The distinction between hobbyist and amateur is necessary to this study; an organized amateur class of radio operators, whose work during the 1920s closely paralleled that of professional commercial wireless operators, has existed since before World War I, and the development of amateur radio is outside the scope of this research.
Fads. A fad is "a pursuit or interest followed usually widely but briefly and capriciously with exaggerated zeal and devotion.",25 Research on fads is scanty, and some work, such as Meyersohn and Katz's 1957 "Notes on a Natural History of Fads" confuses fad with fashion, using the terms interchangeably.26 Fashions, however, are most often merely
25"Fad," Webster's Third New International Dictionary, 1981 ed. A recent attempt to define the word "fad" yielded this "minimum consensus" definition: "A non-traditional preoccupation by diffuse collectivities on a circumscribed object or process." B. E. Aguirre, E. L. Quarantelli, and Jorge L. Mendoza, "The Collective Behavior of Fads: The Characteristics, Effects, and Career of Streaking," American Sociological Review 53.4 (1988): 569. A "craze" hits more swiftly than a fad, and fades more quickly. See Donald A. Laird, "Have You a Fad?" Review of Reviews March 1935: 33.
26Rolf Meyersohn and Elihu Katz, "Notes on a Natural History of Fads," The American Journal of Sociology 62 (1957): 594-601.
variations on a theme--such as shirt color or automobile body style--and are frequently cyclical, whereas fads are most often based on inventions or innovations that lack historical continuity.27 Fads usually grow rapidly and disappear completely, although some fads remain present in society at a level below their peak of popularity.28 Technological innovations often enter the culture originally as fads.29
Household utility. The phrase "household utility" to
describe radio's third phase is borrowed from David Sarnoff, who as a 25-year-old manager at the American Marconi Company in 1916 proposed a plan "to make radio a 'household utility,"' with a "Radio Music Box" that could bring music, lectures, sports scores, and "events of national importance" into the home.30 Although magazine articles throughout the 1920s used the term "household utility," the meaning of the phrase was never made clear.31 Dictionary definitions of
27Herbert Blumer, "Fashion," International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences ed. David L. Sills (New York: McMillan, 1968) 5: 346.
28Thomas S. Robertson, Innovative Behavior and Communication (New York: Holt, 1971) 49.
29Aguirre, Quarantelli, and Mendoza 577.
30Sarnoff, Looking Ahead 31.
31During the 1920s the phrase "public utility" was also used, as people asked if radio should become a regulated monopoly similar to electric service. See Robert D. Heinl, "Is a Broadcasting Station a Public Utility?" Public
utility include (1) Something useful or designed primarily f or use; adapted for general use; having or designed for a number of useful and practical purposes; capable of serving in any of various roles or positions; and (2) the capacity to satisfy human wants or desires.32 A "household utility," as the term is used in this study, serves a number of useful and practical purposes and is adapted for general use by the household as well as its individual members. The era of radio's role as household utility is marked by the service's increased "capacity to satisfy human wants and desires" and the importance of its role in the social or emotional life of its listeners. A utility may be either a service or the piece of equipment providing such service;33 thus the term "household utility" may also refer to the radio receiving set itself.34
Utilities Fortnightly 6 (1930): 344-349.
32",Utility,", Webster's Third New International Dictionary, 1981 ed.
33",Utility,", Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, 1988 ed.
34An alternate definition of "utility" is "A device
used as an adjunct to a more important machine." "Utility," Webster's Third New International Dictionary, 1981 ed. As radio became a household utility, the public's attention shifted from the receiving apparatus itself to a more important aspect, the service provided by radio broadcasting.
In 1961, Daniel Boorstin pointed out that subjects like the history of photography, radio, and television were "generally considered beneath the dignity (or at best on the periphery) of the historian's profession.",35 Until recently, historical accounts of communications technology tended to be either technical descriptions or theoretical constructs, rather than social or cultural narratives.36
In 1979 the Journal of Popular Culture devoted an issue to the subject of radio, a subject the lead article noted had in the past been "left almost entirely to the nostalgia merchants and their patrons.",37 Although recently broadcasting has emerged as a rich field for study by business and political historians and economists, radio is often ignored in favor of the more modern television.38 Furthermore, most studies of broadcast development after the initial period of individual invention have focused on the
35Daniel J. Boorstin, The Image: A Guide to PseudoEvents in America (New York: Harper, 1961) 264.
36David Paul Nord, "The Nature of Historical Research," Research Methods in Mass Communication, 2nd ed., ed. Guido H. Stempel III and Bruce H. Westley (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice, 1989) 310.
37Alan Havig, "Beyond Nostalgia: American Radio as a
Field of Study," Journal of Popular Culture 12 (1979): 218.
38William David Sloan and Donald G. Godfrey, "American Radio, 1920-1948: Traditional Journalism or Revolutionary Technology?" Perspectives on Mass communication History ed. William David Sloan (Hillsdale: Erlbaum, 1991) 300.
industry's structure and regulation. There continues to be a shortage of historical studies of radio's audiences.
Warren Susman has suggested an "ecological" approach that takes account of the total cultural context of communication,39 and James Carey and others have long called for a more holistic study of communication history.40 The methodology of this study is cultural analysis through immersion in contemporaneous sources, following Pauly's recommendation of "immersion in the materials.",41 The emphasis is narrative rather than theoretical or socialscientific. In the historiography of technology, Buchanan wrote in 1991, the "theoretical element has received too much emphasis and . the time has come to reassert the importance of narrative.",42 Historical narrative offers the most complete response to research questions that ask the
39Warren Susman, "Communication and Culture," Mass Media Between the Wars: Perceptions of Cultural Tension. 1918-1941, ed. Catherine L. Covert and John D. Stevens (Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 1984) xviii.
40James W. Carey, "The Problem of Journalism History" Journalism History 1.1 (1974): 4; David Paul Nord, "The Nature of Historical Research ," Research Methods in Mass Communication, 2nd ed., ed. Guido H. Stempel III and Bruce H. Westley (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice, 1989) 313.
41John J. Pauly, "A Beginner's Guide to Doing
Qualitative Research in Mass Communication, Journalism Monographs 125 (1991): 19.
42R. A. Buchanan, "Theory and Narrative in the History of Technology," Technology & Culture 32.2 (1991): 365.
process by which a phenomenon came about ("How did it happen that ..?,4
The use of contemporaneous sources helps prevent
inadvertent presentism. Any discussion of the development of what is now a pervasive communication technology is susceptible to such historiographic pitfalls as the socalled teleological fallacy, "the view that events occurred in the past simply for the purpose of creating the present situation.",44 The historian of a phenomenon that both continues to exist and continues to change must guard against present-mindedness. In When Old Technologies Were New, Carolyn Marvin wrote that we often see history as the process by which "our ancestors looked for and gradually discovered us, rather than as a succession of distinct social visions, each with its own integrity and concerns.",45 What Robert E. Park wrote of the "Natural History of the Newspaper" in 1925 is even more true of radio broadcasting: it is "the outcome of a historic process in which many individuals participated without foreseeing what the
44George H. Daniels, "Technological Change and Social Change," Technology and Change, ed. John G. Burke and Marshall C. Eakin (San Francisco: Boyd, 1970) 96.
45Carolyn Marvin, When Old Technologies Were New (New York: Oxford UP, 1988) 154.
ultimate product of their labors was to be. . No one sought to make it just what it is.,,46 For these reasons, the primary sources for this study were solely those written without the knowledge of what American broadcasting was to become in later decades.
Magazines and Newspapers
Central to this study is an understanding of how
America learned about the new pastime of radio listening. Magazines and newspapers of the period provided the primary data, as an indication of what type of information the public received through the popular press. In addition, articles, stories, letters, and advertisements in newspapers and magazines often reflect or describe prevailing public attitudes. Page-by-page examination of American Magazine for the years 1920 through 1930, for example, provided insight into the publishers' perception of radio's place in American life, and also documented the development of the advertising of radio receivers. Research for this study also included an examination of many of the decade's other general-interest periodicals, such as the Saturday Even Post, as well as elite magazines like Literary Digest and
46Robert E. Park, "The Natural History of the
Newspaper," The City, ed. Robert E. Park, Ernest W. Burgess, and Robert D. McKenzie (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1925) 80.
various specialty magazines, including technical publications such as Scientific American and Popular Science Monthly. The various enthusiast magazines such as Wireless Age, Radio Broadcast and Radio News--magazines that actually monitored the changes in public use and perception of radio--were useful for their frank editorial discussions of the spread of interest in broadcasting (a trend viewed, in some cases, with alarm and dismay). In the case of Radio Broadcast and Radio News, all issues from the period under study were examined. Additionally, the Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature was used to locate stories about radio in any of the more than 100 magazines indexed therein.47
In the early 1920s several newspaper publishers conceived of radio as a natural addition to their journalistic enterprises as well as a novelty capable of generating publicity and goodwill for their papers; at the same time, other publishers viewed the new technology as a threat to their monopoly as the community's source of timely information and its major advertising outlet.48 Nevertheless, many newspapers printed complete schedules of
47Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature (New York: Wilson). Between 1919 and 1924 the guide indexed 108 publications; between 1925 and 1928, 126.
48By the mid 1920s newspaper publishers and their trade press had already begun the anti-radio campaigns that would culminate in the Press-Radio War of the 1930s.
local and national broadcast programming, as well as radio columns offering technical and program information and commentary. The newspapers chosen for this study included the New York Times, as America's newspaper of record; the Detroit News, probably the first major newspaper to own a radio broadcasting facility; the Pittsburgh Post, hometown paper of pioneer station KDKA; the Chicago Tribune, for coverage of middle America's growing interest and participation in radio; the Miami Herald, for an understanding of how interest in radio developed in areas geographically distant from the early broadcasting centers of the northeast and midwest; and the Los Angeles Times, for coverage of west coast radio development. In fact, coverage of the development of broadcasting seldom seemed tied to the location of the major broadcasting stations after 1922; radio as a technology easily crossed state and regional barriers, and the early interest in reception of distant stations gave the phenomenon a national flavor. Thus, the choice of newspapers served more to provide a variety of editorial emphases than geographical contrast. Because the methodology required close reading of entire issues from various years, newspapers were selected from those available for daily use in the University of Florida library. Listener Letters
The Smithsonian Institution's Clark Radioana
collection, amassed and catalogued by the man who became
RCA's corporate historian, contains valuable correspondence from the files of early radio's major corporate powers in addition to newspaper clippings and scrapbooks covering all aspects of wireless technology. The Broadcast Pioneers Library in Washington, DC, a mostly uncatalogued collection of donations from individuals and businesses, includes station files of listener correspondence, performers' scrapbooks, and other ephemera and memorabilia of early radio. Both collections provided listener correspondence and station logs and program listings for this study. Contemporaneous Studies
Additional sources of information include
contemporaneous studies such as Robert and Helen Merrell Lynd's 1929 study Middletown,49 Report of a Research into the Attitudes and Habits of Radio Listeners (1933)50 and Recent-Social Trends in the United States (1933).51 Uses and Gratifications Studies
The phrase "household utility" suggests a connection
with "uses and gratifications" research, which is concerned
49Robert S. Lynd and Helen Merrell Lynd, Middletown: A Study in American Culture (New York: Harcourt, 1929).
50Clifford Kirkpatrick, Report of a Research into the Attitudes and Habits of Radio Listeners (St. Paul: Webb, 1933).
51President's Research Committee on Social Trends,
Recent Social Trends in the United States (New York: McGraw, 1933).
with society's expectations for mass media, and the ways in which the media are used to satisfy society's needs.52 Contemporary studies of the ways in which individuals made use of the medium of radio during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s help point to specific stages at which radio was able to satisfy particular needs and help identify some of the specific uses that characterized radio's era of household utility.53 Frederick H. Lumley's 1934 Measurement in Radio provided a synthesis of the results of radio research to that date that included mail surveys, personal and telephone interviews, sales statistics, program attendance, and analyses of audience mail.54
Plan of the Study
The first chapter of this study includes the background
52Elihu Katz, Jay G. Blumler, and Michael Gurevitch, "Utilization of Mass Communication by the Individual," The Uses of Mass Communication: Current Perspectives on Gratifications Research, ed. Jay G. Blumler and Elihu Katz (Beverly Hills: Sage, 1974) 20.
53For example, Hadley Cantril and Gordon W. Allport, The Psychology of Radio (New York: Harper, 1935); Paul F. Lazarsfeld and Patricia L. Kendall, eds., Radio Listening in America: The People Look at Radio--Again (New York: Prentice, 1948); Paul F. Lazarsfeld and Frank N. Stanton, eds., Radio Research 1941 (New York: Duell, 1942); Paul F. Lazarsfeld and Frank N. Stanton, eds., Radio Research 19421943 (New York: Duell, 1944); Paul F. Lazarsfeld and Harry Field, The People Look at Radio (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1946); Paul F. Lazarsfeld, Radio and the Printed Page (New York: Duell, 1940).
54Frederick H. Lumley, Measurement in Radio (Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1934) 2.
of the subject, a description the study's methodology and sources, and definitions of some terms used in describing the three radio eras under study. It also includes a review of the major research that has addressed questions about the nature and timing of radio's development. The second chapter describes in detail the development of radio listening from the post-WWI wireless hobby to the beginning of the radio fad. Chapter three describes the radio fad of 1922. Chapter four describes the changes in the service and its uses that turned the radio fad into a household utility. Chapter five presents conclusions regarding the nature and timing of the transition from era to era and the beginning of radio's place as a household utility.
In a 1979 review essay, Philip T. Rosen wrote that
"while pundits have rhapsodized about broadcasting and its impact on almost every facet of American society, historians have largely ignored it" or at best have treated the advent of broadcasting as an event rather than a process.55 Rosen himself, however, is guilty of neglecting one important aspect of broadcast history when he ignores the audience as one set of participants in the development of American
55Philip T. Rosen, "The Marvel of Radio," American Quarterly 31 (1979): 577.
broadcasting, along with "government bureaucrats, businessmen, legislators, network executives, entertainers, and advertisers.,,56 The radio listener, however passive or active, was an important player in the unfolding creation of American broadcasting during the 1920s. Little research has examined the process by which the American people became aware of the new medium, and how and when radio took its place as a household utility.
Previous studies of broadcasting's early years can be divided into three types: institutional histories, technological histories, and cultural histories. Institutional histories are characterized by an examination of the structure of broadcasting organizations or the broadcasting system, and of changes in management or governance. Technological histories focus on the development of the medium's technology and equipment; usually determinist in nature, technology-based studies may view societal changes as the result of changes in technology. Cultural histories recount the social context of historical development, often examining the ways in which society influences the development of a technology or a medium.
Business historians need only point to the 1916 "Radio Music Box" memo of David Sarnoff, the office boy who would be radio's king, to defend the view that American broadcasting was a corporate creation. Gleason Archer's 1938 History of Radio to 1926 and later Big Business and Radio and William Banning's study of American Telephone & Telegraph's WEAF present a well-documented but exclusively corporate view of radio's development.57 More recently, several articles have examined the development of American broadcasting as case studies in organizational change.58
Erik Barnouw's three-volume History of Broadcasting in the United States,59 while the most comprehensive and detailed examination of the subject, is a primarily anecdotal discussion of the development of the structure and
57Gleason L. Archer, History of Radio to 1926 (New
York: American Historical Society Press, 1938); Gleason L. Archer, Big Business and Radio (New York: American Historical Company, 1939); William Peck Banning, Commercial Broadcasting Pioneer: The WEAF Experiment (Cambridge: Harvard UP 1946). Banning was assistant vice-president for public relations at AT&T when he retired in 1944.
58For example, Huseyin Leblebici et al., "Institutional Change and the Transformation of Interorganizational Fields: An Organizational History of the U. S. Radio Broadcasting Industry," Administrative Science Quarterly 36.3 (1991): 333-364; Stewart L. Long, "Technological Change and Institutional Response: The Creation of American Broadcasting," Journal of Economic Issues 21 (1987): 743749.
59Erik Barnouw, A History of Broadcasting in the United States, 3 vols. (New York: Oxford UP, 1966-1968).
content of American broadcasting that has been faulted for errors and generalizations resulting from the use of secondary sources and oral history remembrances.60 Other, less ambitious, narratives often lack both analysis and documentation, although one of these, George H. Douglas's 1987 The Early Days of Radio Broadcasting, includes a comprehensive 18-page bibliography.61
Commercial sponsorship of radio programming is the most distinctive institutional feature of American broadcasting. The development of conditions to support this structure were analyzed by John W. Spalding in an article that dated the beginning of radio's era of commercial success to late 1928.62
Studies of the history of communication technology
often adopt a deterministic point of view. Technological determinism sees the development of a technology as driven primarily by scientific or other inherent causes rather than by social or political pressures or assumptions; it is
61George H. Douglas, The Early Days of Radio Broadcasting (Jefferson: McFarland, 1987).
62John W. Spalding, "11928: Radio Becomes a Mass
Advertising Medium," Journal of Broadcasting 8.1 (1963-64) 31-44.
assumed that the technology in turn causes social change.63 Mass communication research in general more often examines the impact of the mass media on society than the impact of society on the mass media.64
In 1990, Thomas W. Volek examined the development of radio broadcasting through a study of radio advertising in popular magazines during the 1920s and 1930s.65 Volek's method was to examine receiver technology exclusively through printed advertising; his only sources were advertisements (not editorial material) in popular, generalinterest and women's magazines. In the 1920s as now, however, advertisements both simplified and exaggerated the manufacturer's product. For example, advertising copy for RCA's 1926 Radiola 2066 does not reflect the complexity of
63Raymond Williams, Television: Technology and Cultural Form (New York: Schocken, 1975) 13. For example, the abstract of a Journal of Broadcasting article referred to the home radio receiver as "the instrument that created the broadcasting industry." Leslie J. Page, Jr., "The Nature of the Broadcast Receiver and its Market in the United States from 1922 to 1927,"1 Journal of Broadcasting 4 (1959): 174.
64Garth S. Jowett, "Toward a History of Communication," Journalism History 2.2 (1975): 36. For a discussion of the direction of causation between social change and technological change, see George H. Daniels, "Technological Change and Social Change," Technology and Change, ed. John G. Burke and Marshall C. Eakin, (San Francisco: Boyd, 1970) 161-167.
65Thomas W. Volek, Examining Radio Receiver technology through Magazine Advertising in the 1920s and 1930s, diss., U of Minnesota, 1990 (Ann Arbor: UMI, 1991) 4.
66"New Principles in Radio Developed by RCA,"1
installation procedures and the need for additional accessories revealed in the instruction booklet that accompanied the set; for example, the ad does not mention the ten individual batteries or the 100-foot wire aerial required for proper operation.67 An analysis of social situations portrayed in magazine ads led Volek to conclude that by 1930 "the thrill and magic of hearing ethereal waves had been replaced by social thrills and the magic of status,",68 although information and images in popular advertisements are often more prescriptive than reflective and are more likely merely to illustrate the range of permissible discourse about a product or service than to present an accurate picture of a product or technology and its place in society.69 When Volek concluded that "a mass communication technology moves from a technical novelty to social and cultural integration through a process marked by development of its usefulness to and usability by society,"
advertisement, American Magazine Nov. 1925: 91.
67Radio Corporation of America, Radiola 20, instruction booklet, No. 86990 Edition C, 1926 (Broadcast Pioneers Library RG79 #537) 5.
69Andrew Feldman, Selling the "Electrical Dream" in
the 1920s: A Case Study in the Manipulation of Consciousness
(Paper presented to the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Portland, OR, 1988) 8 (ERIC ED 298 576).
he implied a change in technical specifications rather than a change in public use. A deterministic presentmindedness colors such statements as "ultimately, social and cultural integration are achieved by the technology's ability to become invisible in the user's consciousness;",70 in fact, a technology often becomes transparent because it has achieved social and cultural integration, in spite of what later generations might consider a technology of intrusive complexity.71
James Carey has called cultural history "the study of
consciousness in the past.",72 Cultural historians emphasize the need to examine a phenomenon in its social context or zeitgeist in order to fully understand the experiences of the past.73
Susan Douglas's 1979 dissertation, which became the 1987 book Inventing American Broadcasting 1888-1922, is a
71A short history of the radio receiver from 1922 to
1927 by Leslie J. Page, Jr. points to the latter year as the "beginning of the broadcasting era." The receiver itself is the "indispensable utility" in that study. Leslie J. Page, Jr., "The Nature of the Broadcast Receiver and its Market in the United States from 1922 to 1927,"1 Journal of Broadcasting 4 (1959): 174-182.
72Carey, "The Problem" 4.
73Startt and Sloan 44.
social history that began with questions not unlike those raised in this study: How did technology and culture interact to produce broadcasting? How did the American press greet the invention of radio? What were the hopes and possibilities radio broadcasting carried?74 However, Douglas chose as her focus the earliest years of wireless technology, not only of radiotelephony but of wireless telegraphy, and thus her research ends as the transition to broadcasting begins. When Douglas says that "technically, economically, legislatively, and ideologically, the elements of America's broadcasting system were, thus, in place by 1922,,,75 she does not take into account the ways in which the American public integrated radio broadcasting into its daily life. One of the most important "elements" of a system is the way it is used and the place it comes to assume in society. In 1922 these uses and this place were still largely unforeseen.
In a 1982 conference paper and a later book chapter, Catherine Covert concluded that the public felt a sense of loss resembling bereavement as it struggled to come to terms
74Susan Jeanne Douglas, Exploring Pathways in the
Ether, diss., Brown U, 1979 (Ann Arbor: UMI, 1979) 1; Susan J. Douglas, Inventing American Broadcasting 1888-1922 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1987).
75Douglas, Inventing 317.
with the new technology of radio during the early 1920s.76 In analyzing the "organizing ideas and images" of the earliest broadcasting rhetoric, Covert found a tendency to couch discussion in spiritual or religious terms (even remarking on the dual meaning of the word "medium")77. However, Covert's interpretation rests entirely on an elite discussion: her sources were analyses and commentaries by intellectuals, academics, and essayists that appeared in the elite popular press (for example New Republic. Scientific American, and the New York Times). Covert presented little evidence that members of the American public were moved to analyze or intellectualize the remarkable new service as were these writers (by either inclination or profession), or that before 1924 radio broadcasting caused individuals to pass though a series of emotional stages similar to the five-stage grief process (denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) or that the term "wireless" implied a "loss" of wires78 rather than the more
76Catherine L. Covert, "'Loss and Change': Radio and the Shock to Sensibility in American life, 1919-1924,11 (Paper presented to the Association for Education in Journalism, Athens, OH, 1982; ERIC ED 217 447) 4; Catherine L. Covert, "We May Hear Too Much: American Sensibility and the Response to Radio, 1919-1924,11 Mass Media Between the Wars: Perceptions of Cultural Tension, 1918-1941, ed. Catherine L. Covert and John D. Stevens (Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 1984).
77Covert, "Loss and Change" 8.
78Covert, "Loss and Change" 34; "We May Hear" 219.
positive removal of a restraint or the simplification of an earlier technology. Her contention that a sense of loss was inevitable "as Americans . gave up their complete dependence on newspapers and wireless",79 does not take into account that several years would pass before broadcast programming duplicated the services offered by the daily newspaper, and that what she called "wireless" was merely a commercial message technology with little bearing on the average American's life. Covert's title echoes the subtitle of Clayton R. Koppes "The Social Destiny of the Radio: Hope and Disillusionment in the 1920s.",80 Koppes's article, however, treated only the predictions of writers of the era who tried to forecast radio's impact on American life, and the disillusion he wrote of is on the part of the intellectual elite in general and writers in the mass media in particular. Radio's audience can hardly be called disillusioned during what we have come to call radio's "golden age." Advertising executive Roy Durstine characterized the typical radio listeners of the 1930s as "a tired, bored, middle-aged man and woman whose lives are empty and who have exhausted their sources of outside
79Covert, "We May Hear" 212.
80Clayton R. Koppes, "The Social Destiny of the Radio," South Atlantic Quarterly 68 (1969): 363-376.
amusement when they have taken a quick look at an evening
paper. They are utterly unlike those who are most vocal in
their criticism of radio programs ....,,81
Much of the social historiography of broadcasting has
described the published debates over the issues faced by
radio during the 1920s, such as commercial support, the need
for political censorship, and the dangers of monopoly.
These studies include a dissertation by Elaine J. Prostak
and articles by Mary Mander and William Boddy.82 As in the
analyses by Covert and Koppes, the debaters were public
figures and intellectuals with access to the print
81Roy Durstine, "The Future of Radio Advertising in the U. S.," Radio: The Fifth Estate (1935), rptd. in Radio: Selected A.A.P.S.S. [American Academy of Political and Social Science] Surveys, 1929-1941 (New York: Arno, 1971) 151.
82Elaine J. Prostak, Up in the Air: The Debates Over Radio Use During the 1920s, diss., U Kansas, 1983 (Ann Arbor: UMI, 1983); Mary Mander, "The Public Debate About Broadcasting in the Twenties: An Interpretive History," Journal of Broadcasting 28.2 (1984): 167-185; William Boddy, "The Rhetoric and the Economic Roots of the American Broadcasting Industry," Cine-Tracts 2 (1979) 37-54. For an examination of the rhetoric of later debates, and specifically that over the educational use of radio broadcasting, see Robert W. McChesney, The Battle for America's Ears and Minds: The Debate Over the Control and Structure of American Radio Broadcasting, 1930-1935, diss., U Washington, 1989 (Ann Arbor: UMI, 1989) and sections of Robert Edward Davis, Response to Innovation: A Study of Popular Argument About New Mass Media, diss., U of Iowa, 1965 (New York: Arno, 1976) which analyzed arguments used in the public discourse about motion pictures, radio, and television between 1891 and 1955.
communication media. During the 1920s, radio's audience in general appears to have reacted with pleased acceptance to the new medium's offerings, much as modern Americans sit contentedly before their TV sets while the debate over the failings, abuses, and excesses of commercial television continues over their heads.
Broadcasting in Other Countries
Broadcast histories of other countries have limited applicability to the examination of America's earliest audiences, because of the individualistic and ad hoc nature of American broadcasting throughout most of the 1920s. In addition to cultural differences among societies, the motivation of broadcasters and government (in many cases the same entity) as well as the availability of equipment often guided the structure of the various national broadcasting systems. British broadcasting began in 1922 with the establishment of eight stations run by the British Broadcasting Company.83 Those who wished to receive the broadcasts were required to obtain a license, and receiving equipment was legally limited to sets bearing a stamp of approval from the Postmaster General; these sources provided the funding of the British Broadcasting Company (later to
83Gordon Bussey, Wireless: The Crucial Decade: History of the British Wireless Industry 1924-34 (London: Peregrinus, 1990) 3.
become the British Broadcasting Corporation).84 Australia's broadcast history is also one of directed development: the Australian government officially inaugurated radio broadcasting in September of 1923, at a per-station receiver fee that has been called "prohibitive.",85 Between August 1923 and June 1924 only 1,400 Australians (out of an estimated population of almost six million) obtained licenses, compared with an estimated three million radio households in the United States (in a population estimated at more than 114 million) by the beginning of 1924.86 Other Types of Studies
Two methodologies that have not been used to study the development of the listening audience and the transition of radio's place in the American home are diffusion of innovation and retrospective technology assessment.
84The first part of a two-volume series examining
British broadcasting historically focuses on the structural development of the service, devoting only a brief final chapter to the listening audience; the second volume is intended to examine British broadcasting's social implications. Paddy Scannell and David Cardiff, A Social History of British Broadcasting: Volume One 1922-1939: Serving the Nation (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991). For a study of early British radio listening, see Shaun Moores, "'The Box on the Dresser': Memories of Early Radio and Everyday Life," Media. Culture and Society 10 (1988): 23-40.
85Lesley Johnson, The Unseen Voice: A Cultural Study of Early Australian Radio (London: Routledge, 1988) 12.
86"Statistical Survey of the Radio Business," Radio Retailing March 1928: 36-37.
Diffusion of Innovation. Invention is the process by which a new idea is created or developed, while innovation is the process of adapting an existing idea.87 Wireless telephony was an invention; broadcasting was an innovation. Diffusion of innovation studies two processes: the pattern of the appearance or use of an innovation within a social system, and the individual's adoption process, a sequence of stages from awareness to acceptance.88 Although as early as 1934 Raymond V. Bowers examined the geographical diffusion of participation in amateur radio,89 diffusion of innovation techniques have not been used to study the process by which American individuals or families adopted radio listening, nor to study the spread of interest in radio broadcasting as it developed first into a fad and then into a household utility. While Bowers's 1934 study provides some raw material for analyzing the public's interest in radio technology before the advent of broadcast listening, his conclusions reflect his interest in diffusion patterns
87Everett M. Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations (New York: Free, 1962) 76.
"Thomas S. Robertson, Innovative Behavior and
Communication (New York: Holt, 1971) 45; Vijay Mahajan and Yoram Wind, Innovation Diffusion Models of New Product Acceptance (Cambridge: Ballinger, 1986) 4.
89Raymond Victor Bowers, "A Genetic Study of
Institutional Growth and Cultural Diffusion in Contemporary American Civilization, an Analysis in Terms of Amateur Radio," diss., U of Minnesota, 1934.
rather than in broadcast history, and when the paths of the broadcast listener and the radio amateur diverge, he follows the development of the amateur. In 1936, H. Earl Pemberton published a brief study of the role of cities as centers of diffusion, using the case of radio ownership in the United States. The study analyzed the geographical and cultural patterns by which radio ownership had permeated American society by 1930 but did not examine the individual adoption process.90
Although studies have been made of Americans' adoption of television, the advent of radio broadcasting is not analogous because of the distinction between discontinuous innovation (involving a new product and new consumption patterns) and continuous innovation (the alteration of an existing product).91 Television was an adaptation of the forms, structures, and uses of radio broadcasting.92
Retrospective Technology Assessment. Technology assessment, a concept formalized by the United States
90H. Earl Pemberton, "Culture-Diffusion Gradients," American Journal of Sociology 42 (1936): 226-233.
9lLawrence A. Brown, Innovation Diffusion: A New Perspective (London: Methuen, 1981) 7.
92See, for example, Saxon Graham, "Cultural
Compatibility in the Adoption of Television," Social Forces 33 (1954-55): 166-170; Saxon Graham, "Class and Conservatism in the Adoption of Innovations" Human Relations 9 (1956): 91-100.
government in the 1960s, examines the impact on society of the introduction of particular technologies. In 1974 "retrospective technology assessment" was introduced in an attempt to clarify the historical implications of new technologies, to examine expectations for past technologies, and to forecast development.93 Although a retrospective technology assessment of radio broadcasting has not been published, a model may be provided by Ithiel de Sola Pool's 1983 Forecasting the Telephone, which examines predictions in the popular literature of telephone's applications and effects 94
Radio Comes of-Age
Although no one has examined the process of transition of radio during the 1920s from the viewpoint of the audience and its use of the medium, most researchers do identify, implicitly or explicitly, a point at which radio "grew up." Many different years are defensible based on the orientation of the researcher and the research. Political use of radio by the general public can be said to have begun with the
93See Joel A. Tarr, ed., Retrospective Technology Assessment--l976 (San Francisco: San Francisco, 1977) for details of the process of RTA.
941thiel de Sola Pool, Forecasting the Telephone
(Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1983); See also Ithiel de Sola Pool, ed., The Social Impact of the Telephone (Cambridge: MIT P, 1977).
multi-station broadcasting of the 1924 political nominating conventions.95 The creation of the National Broadcasting Company in 1926 forged the permanent links upon which was built the national-network structure of American broadcasting.96 Nineteen-twenty-seven was the year of the Radio Act; it was also a year marked by the development of improved, simplified receivers.97 Because commercial sponsorship continues to be the basis of American broadcasting, the turning point in radio's development can be seen as 1922, the year of WEAF's initial experiment in toll broadcasting, or 1928, when advances in equipment, programming, audience size and sponsorship allowed the networks to develop a national listenership that could be delivered to advertisers.98
Yet whether investigating the impact of society on technology or technology on society, most broadcast histories have examined changes in management, regulation,
95Lewis Elton Weeks, Order out of Chaos: The Formative Years of American Broadcasting, 1920-1927, diss., Michigan State U, 1962 (Ann Arbor: UMI, 1963) 155.
96Elaine J. Prostak, Up in the Air: The Debates Over Radio Use During the 1920s, diss., U Kansas, 1983 (Ann Arbor: UMI, 1983) 26.
98John W. Spalding, "1928: Radio Becomes a Mass
Advertising Medium," Journal of Broadcasting 8.1 (1963-64): 31.
or structure, rather than changes in broadcasting's function for the audience, or in the audience's perception of broadcasting. Few studies have reflected the actions and feelings of the public as it learned about and learned how to use radio.
A need exists to study people's use of technological innovations, especially previously unknown products that establish new social patterns and become part of everyday life.99 Little has been written about the evolution of the radio audience and its role in broadcasting's development. The aim of this study is to increase the understanding of how, when, and why broadcasting took its place in the American home and in American society. More important, the study demonstrates the role of the public in the development of useful technology, including segments of the public previously viewed as lacking power, such as women in the home.
The technologies of mass communication have continued to develop since the first days of radio broadcasting. Some--such as television--were much-heralded and well
99A need for examinations of technological fads and their adoption by and integration into society has been noted by B. E. Aguirre, E. L. Quarantelli, and Jorge L. Mendoza in "The Collective Behavior of Fads: The Characteristics, Effects, and Career of Streaking," American Sociological Review 53.4 (1988): 577.
planned while others, like the videocassette recorder,
surprised even their developers with not only their
popularity but the variety of their uses. Useful parallels
can also be drawn between radio and other technological
innovations that have become integrated into the lives of
most Americans, from the personal automobile in the early
years of the century to the growing use of personal
computers as the century ends.100 As one writer said of the
computer's development, "whenever a new technology is born,
few see its ultimate place in society."1101
100Although the automobile developed much earlier than radiotelephony, Wilfred Owen identified three periods of automotive history--a formative period before World War I, a growth period from 1919 to mid-1930s, and a period of maturity--that correspond to the timing of the three eras of radio's development. Cited in Francis R. Allen, "The Automobile," Technology and Social Change, ed. Francis R. Allen, et al. (New York: Appleton, 1957) 109. For a discussion of different approaches to the history of the automobile, see James J. Flink, "The Car Culture Revisited," Michigan Quarterly Review 19 (1980): 772-781. The history of the automobile was primarily recounted in terms of inventors and industrial giants until Flink's AMerica Adopts the Automobile and The Car Culture. See James J. Flink, America Adopts the Automobile. 1895-1910 (Cambridge: MIT P, 1970); James J. Flink, The Car Culture (Cambridge: MIT P, 1975). An example of the recent expansion in cultural focus is Virginia Scharff, Taking the Wheel: Women and the Coming of the Motor Age (New York: Free Press, 1991).
101Paul Cerruzi, "An Unforeseen Revolution: Computers and Expectations, 1935-1985,"1 Imaging Tomorrow: History Technology and the American Future, ed. Joseph J. Corn (Cambridge: MIT P, 1986) 194. Discussions of the early participants in home computing sound very much like stories of the youngsters who first brought radio into the home; see, for example, Florence Grossman, "Who Are the Computer Kids?" -OnComputing Fall 1981: 24-25.
In 1946 Donald McNicol, of the Institute of Radio
Engineers, whimsically suggested that radio producers might replace the announcers' tedious biographies of long-dead composers with a "biography" of the technology that made the broadcast possible.102 This study describes the process by which the technology of the wireless transmission of sound became the mass medium of broadcasting. Neil Postman, in Amusing Ourselves to Death, compared the difference between a technology and a medium to the difference between a brain and a mind:
A technology becomes a medium as it employs a
particular symbolic code, as it finds its place in
a particular social setting, as it insinuates
itself into economic and political contexts. A technology, in other words, is merely a machine.
A medium is the social and intellectual
environment a machine creates.103
102Donald McNicol, Radio's Conquest of Space (1946; New York: Arno, 1974) 329.
103Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death (New York: Penguin, 1985) 84.
THE RADIO HOBBY
A few months ago the general public knew of radio,
or rather "wireless," as it knew of dirigible
airships--something very modern and interesting,
but of no direct relation to ordinary life.
Current History, April 1922'
The remarkable advances in transportation technology of
the nineteenth century were overshadowed by astonishing new
methods of communication that developed with the approach of
the twentieth.2 During the first two decades of the new
century the press frequently publicized the technological
marvels that were becoming increasingly important tools in
its own profession: Morse's telegraph, Bell's telephone,
and the newest wonder, Marconi's wireless.3
1William H. Easton, "Wonders of the Radio Telephone," Current History 16 (1922): 27.
2The revolution in transportation began in the 1830s with the coal-burning steamboat and the development of inland navigation, which was followed by the coming of the railroads in the 1840s and 1850s, as well as the electric trolley-car and the emergence of the automobile at the turn of the century. The advent of powered human flight in the first decade of the new century provides an apt connection with the simultaneous beginning of instantaneous communication through that same air. See Edward Hungerford, "Transportation and Communication," A Century of Progress, ed. Charles A. Beard (1932; Freeport: Books for Libraries, 1970) 86-121.
3For a view of electricity as the bridge between the
"This is the age of telephones," the journal Telephony declared in 1905 of that "most useful and .. most abused feature of the household machinery." Patients expected medical advice by phone, customers pestered their bankers for football scores and political developments, stores were asked to describe merchandise over the wire. "Bless the telephone; it is the wonder of the age," the article concluded; "it is making a careless, lazy, discourteous, but comfortable and happy, civilization.",4 Twenty-eight years earlier, when the telephone was first patented, a newspaper cartoonist predicted "The Terrors of the Telephone--The Orator of the Future": wires from a telephone instrument spread out to all the cities of the world, as a frenetic orator harangues the multitudes from Dublin to the Fiji Islands.5 In fact, before the turn of the century this
transportation era and the communication era, see Carolyn Marvin, The Electrical Imagination: Predicting the Future of Communications in Britain and the United States in the Late Nineteenth CenturyJ, diss., U Illinois Urbana-Champaign, 1979 (Ann Arbor: UMI, 1980).
4"Telephoning is the National Craze," Telephony December 1905: 412.
5"Terrors of the Telephone--The Orator of the Future," cartoon, New York Daily Graphic 15 March 1877: 1. Apparently, public feeling about this scientific marvel was ambivalent. Two weeks earlier the same newspaper had editorialized about the "Triumphs of the Telephone," (28 February 1877: 818) and four weeks later the "Wonders of the Telephone" (31 March 1877: 215).
fanciful broadcasting prophecy had been fulfilled on a local scale, and by 1900 6,200 subscribers were receiving a 12hour-daily service of "music, telegraphic news 'hot' from the wires, literary criticism, stock quotations" and other features as announced in a printed program from Budapest, Hungary's "Telephone Newspaper.",6 In the spring of 1912, a group of New York businessmen visited Budapest, and returned to organize the New Jersey Telephone Herald Company. By July of that year, subscribers were being offered fashion talks, sports talks, bedtime stories, dance music, and news reports, as well as stock quotations every fifteen minutes, for a fee of $1.50 per month. Although 5,000 households subscribed in the initial months, interest waned by the end of the first year and organizers disbanded the company, a failure later blamed on poor technical quality.7
Wireless Telegraphy and Telephony before WWI
Marconi's 1901 transmission of the telegraphic code for the single letter S across the Atlantic fired the
6Thomas S. Denison, "The Telephone Newspaper," The
World's Work 1 (1900-1901): 640-641. For a detailed history of "Telefon Hirmondo"l see David L. Woods, "Semantics versus the 'First' Broadcasting Station," Journal of Broadcastingr 11 (1967): 199-207.
7G. C. B. Rowe, "Broadcasting in 1912,"1 Radio News 6 (1925): 2309. For a discussion of the telephone as an entertainment medium see Asa Briggs, "The Pleasure Telephone," Social Impact of the Telephone, ed. Ithiel de Sola Pool (Cambridge: MIT P, 1977) 40-65.
imagination of scientists and philosophers around the world. The public was apprised at regular intervals of the latest advances in wireless technology during the early years of the century; the word "wonder" appeared frequently in titles and stories.8
Wireless was news during the pre-war years, even though it did not touch people's daily lives directly as it would after the advent of broadcasting. A researcher in the 1930s counted the number of wireless articles in non-technical magazines indexed by Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature between 1900 and 1914, and found the following:9
1900-1 1904-8 1908-8 1912-12 1901-3 1905-5 1909-14 1913-12 1902-13 1906-6 1910-8 1914-19
1903-19 1907-15 1911-12
Between 1900 and 1918, the Reader's Guide listed under "wireless" at least eleven pieces of fiction and four poems, including Rudyard Kipling's 1902 story "Wireless."110
8 For example Eugene P. Lyle, Jr., "The Advance of
Wireless" World's Work 9 (1905): 5845-8; and Arthur W. Page, "Communication by Wire and Wireless: The Wonders of the Telegraph and Telephone" World's Work 13 (1907): 8408-8422.
9Raymond Victor Bowers, A Genetic Study of
Institutional Growth and Cultural Diffusion in Contemporary American Civilization, an Analysis in Terms of Amateur Radio, diss., U of Minnesota, 1934, 23.
10Rudyard Kipling, "Wireless," Scribner's Aug. 1902: 129-143.
Wireless telegraphy was a boon to newspapers compiling reports of the world's news, and papers were quick to boast of their use of the new technology. By 1909 the New York Times featured foreign news under a decorative banner announcing "The Marconi Transatlantic Wireless Dispatches."111 "The Times's Daily Wireless and Cable Dispatches" might also include announcements of the new wireless stations built by the Marconi Company.12
Both the romance and the respect accorded wireless communications grew when the use of radio technology on ships at sea was credited with saving lives. On January 24, 1909, the British liner Republic collided with the S. S. Florida off Nantucket; through the many pages of newspaper coverage, wireless telegraphy emerged as the hero.13 Praising the role of wireless in the rescue of all on board who had not died in the initial collision, a Times editorial proclaimed that "1C Q D,"1 the standard distress call at that time, had now "come into the public knowledge and will be fixed indelibly in the memory.",14 The collision also made a
11"Marconi Transatlantic Wireless Dispatches," New York Times 24 Jan. 1909, part 3: 1.
12"Viewing Wireless Stations," New York Times 29 March 1912: 6.
13"Liner Republic Rammed at Sea," New York Times 24
Jan. 1909: 1; "How Wireless Saved a Ship," New York Times 24 Jan. 1909: 1.
hero of the Republic's wireless operator Jack Binns,15 who was mobbed by admirers whenever he appeared in public, and was often asked to make impromptu speeches. When he was discovered in the audience at a New York stage show, a group of chorus girls was said to have pursued him out of the theater and up New York's Sixth Avenue, blowing kisses.16
Three years later America's most notorious shipwreck, the sinking of the luxury liner Titanic on its maiden voyage, focused public attention once again on the safety value of shipboard radio.17 Although wireless could not prevent the loss of life caused by inadequate safety equipment, radio messages did allow ships in the area to pick up survivors and to relay information to shore.18
14,tC Q D,"1 editorial, New York Times 25 Jan. 1909: 8.
15"How Binns Flashed His Calls For Help," New York Times 26 Jan. 1909: 4.
16"Binns, Wireless, Kissed by Chorus," New York Times 29 January 1909: 2.
17"Scientific Aftermath of the 'Titanic'," Literary Digest 44 (1912): 1097.
18The radio hero of this particular shipwreck would eventually be David Sarnoff, who over subsequent years developed the myth that he had been the Marconi operator who received first word of the wreck and subsequent rescue attempts, remaining at his key for 72 hours as reports of survivors came in. The truth is apparently that Sarnoff was at that time assigned to duty at a Marconi installation in New York's Wanamaker department store, and the morning~ following news of the Titanic's sinking participated in a promotion sponsored by the New York American, in which the Wanamaker station intercepted and relayed to reporters messages of rescue information and survivor lists. Sarnoff
"A New Style of Adventures," Walter S. Hiatt called
wireless in a 1913 Collier's article about the exploits of ships' operators: "A veritable host of new stories have entered the world with these pounders of the brass."119 Later that month, under the heading "The World's New Marvels," Collier's looked toward the future of the wireless telephone. Describing the recent development of a small portable radio outfit, the writer concluded that some day "it may be that no farm or fireside will be without one.",20 However, some technicians and scientists may have resented the aura of mystery and romance fostered by such phrases as "a million wireless ears.",21 A March 1916 column of "Plain
was not even the lone operator manning the Wanamaker post during the exercise: one of his co-workers was the original wireless hero himself, Jack Binns. For a discussion of the Sarnoff "Titanic myth," see Kenneth Bilby, The General (New York: Harper, 1986) 30-35. It is possible that Sarnoff concocted the myth because he had been unable to share in the general adulation that followed the Republic collision in 1909; although records show that Sarnoff was assigned to Marconi's Siasconset installation at the time of the collision, it was his fellow Siasconset operator A. H. Ginman who received the publicity. See "Marconi Man's Own Story," New York Times 24 Jan. 1909: 2; "First News of Republic Loss," New York Times 25 Jan. 1909: 1.
19Walter S. Hiatt, "A New Style of Adventures," Collier's 18 Oct. 1913: 25.
20Carl Snyder, "The World's New Marvels," Collier's 25 Oct. 1913: 22.
Talk on Scientific Achievement" pointed out that although newspapers usually referred to "transmitting sound," in reality radiotelephony was merely a wave of electromagnetic force disturbing the ether, rather than "a voice 'through the air."',22
Amateur Radio Operators23
meanwhile, experimenting with radiotelegraphy and
radiotelephony had become a popular scientific pastime. In the wake of publicity about Jack Binns and the role of wireless in the Republic disaster, interest in radio experimentation grew, as did the amount of press coverage accorded the experimenters. Many young people learned about radio in high school physics classes; after graduation some entered the field as professional radio operators and many more joined the growing group of radio amateurs.24 This "most popular scientific fad" had been embraced by an estimated four thousand young Americans, to the occasional dismay of professional and Navy operators who often had to
22.H. Claudy, "A Voice Through the Air," McBride's March 1916: 159.
23For a social history of amateur radio, see Susan J. Douglas, "Amateur Operators and American Broadcasting: Shaping the Future of Radio," Imagining Tomorrow, ed. Joseph J. Corn (Cambridge: MIT P, 1986) 35-57.
24"Boys Forge Ahead in Wireless Work," New York Times 31 Jan. 1909, sec. 1: 18.
contend with careless or malicious interference from loquacious or mischievous amateurs.25
In 1912, Hugo Gernsback, editor of Modern Electrics magazine and an officer of the Wireless Association of America, wrote a letter to the New York Times promoting the benefits of amateur radio to society (improvement of equipment, relaying distress calls) and to the amateur himself (keeping him at home, away from other diversions that might lead to "questionable resorts"). Gernsback estimated the pastime had 400,000 participants.26 In June 1916, the third-prize in American Magazine's "My Hobby and Why I Enjoy It" contest went to a twenty-two-year-old radio operator who left his job to return to college but spent his spare time on amateur radio, a pastime he claimed to share with 75,000 other American youths. "I hear the dots and dashes calling me," he wrote. "I can't shake the bug."'27
Early experimenters and amateur operators were
concerned with building and perfecting equipment to transmit and receive radio waves, and conversing in code with other radio enthusiasts pursuing the same goals. After 1912 a
25Robert A. Morton, "The Amateur Wireless Operator," Outlook 15 Jan. 1910: 131.
26Hugo Gernsback, "400,000 Wireless Amateurs," New York Times 29 March 1912: 12.
271175,000 American Boys Have This Enthusiasm," American Magazine June 1916: 104.
government test and license were required for transmission, and a body of hobbyist listeners without transmitting equipment began to grow. The hobbyists would listen in on commercial and amateur communication both in code and by voice, a "super eavesdropping" that was considered one of radio's greatest attractions.28 Experiments in Wireless Broadcasting29
Although the ability to transmit human speech without wires was developed gradually over the years before 1920, broadcasting has been called the "surprise party" of wireless technology.30 The goal of experimentation in wireless communication during the first two decades of the twentieth century was still the improvement of point-topoint communication; it was assumed wireless would take its place as an adjunct to wired telegraphy and, eventually, wired telephony, crossing distances too vast or populations too sparse to be served by wires and cable. The concept of
28Austin C. Lescarboura, "Amateurs in Name Only," Scientific American 120 (1919): 688.
29For a chronological discussion of the development of broadcasting technology see Robert H. Marriott, "United States Radio Broadcasting Development," Proceedings of the Institute of Radio Engineers 17 (1929): 1395-1439; and Elliot N. Sivowitch, "A Technological Survey of Broadcasting's Prehistory, 1876-1920,"1 Journal of Broadcasting 15.1 (1970-71): 1-20.
30j. G. Harbord, "The Commercial Uses of Radio," Radio, ed. Irwin Stewart (1929) rptd. in Radio: Selected A.A.P.S.S. Surveys. 1929-1941 (New York: Arno, 1971) 57.
"broadcasting," or sending out a message from a single point to a wide audience (with its implication of one-way communication) was not the goal of even the first voice "broadcasters.",31 A signal would be sent out in order to test transmitting equipment: response from all those who heard, or "copied," the signal would enable the experimenter to learn more about the transmission of radio waves in general, and the performance of that equipment in particular.
In 1906 Reginald A. Fessenden invited a group of
scientists to witness his test of wireless telephony between Brant Rock and Plymouth, Massachusetts, a distance of just over ten miles.32 Three days before Christmas Fessenden also notified nearby ships equipped with Fessenden apparatus
31The word "broadcast," meaning in agriculture to
scatter seed widely, had been used figuratively for many years, though most often as an adverb or an adjective. For example, in the 1898 story "The Blue Hotel," Stephen Crane wrote that one man's gentle and respectful manner "appeared to be a continual broadcast compliment." Stephen Crane, "The Blue Hotel," Collier's Weekly 26 Nov. 1898: 16. The use of "broadcast" as a verb became common only in 1922, according to "Astonishing Growth of the Radiotelephone," Literary Digest 15 April 1922: 28. However, the Pittsburgh Sun and Pittsburgh Post used the word to describe KDKA's election coverage in November, 1920. "Wireless Phone Proves Success Election Night, Pittsburgh Sun 4 Nov. 1920: 4; "Wireless Success in Broadcasting Returns one of Election Features," Pittsburgh Post 5 Nov. 1920.
32R[eginald] A[ubrey] Fessenden, "Wireless Telephony," Proceedings of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers 27 (1908): 1309.
that he would make a speech transmission on Christmas Eve. That early "broadcast" included, Fessenden later wrote,
a short speech by me saying what we were going to
do, then some phonograph music .. being
Handel's Largo. Then came a violin solo by me,
being a composition of Gounod called "10, Holy
Night," . of which I sang one verse, in
addition to playing on the violin, though the
singing of course was not very good. Then came
the Bible text, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of good will," and finally
we wound up by wishing them a Merry Christmas and
then saying that we proposed to broadcast again
New Year's Eve.33
There seems to have been little publicity for what would later be referred to in textbooks as the first radio broadcast, although Fessenden did write a brief article for Scientific American that referred to tests run four days earlier in the presence of other wireless experts and the technical press, during which he transmitted speech, music, and "phonograph talking records.",34 Later that year Review of Reviews presented an explanation of the differences between wire and wireless communication, and between telegraphy and telephony, describing the "'De Forest system" of radiotelephony by which amateurs in the New York area had received music from the de Forest station. De Forest
33Helen M. Fessenden, Fessenden: Builder of Tomorrows (New York: Coward, 1940) 153.
34Reginald A. Fessenden, "Recent Progress in Wireless Telephony," Scientific American 19 Jan. 1907: 68.
radio-telephony has also a field in the
distribution of music from a central station, such
as an opera house. By installing a wireless
telephone transmission station on the roof, the
music of singers and orchestra could be supplied
to all subscribers who would have aerial wires on
or near their homes.35
On the first day of 1909, Charles David "Doc" Herrold began regular transmissions of voice and music to the San Jose, California, area from the Herrold College of Engineering and Wireless.36 In the same year, three weeks after the Republic and the Florida collided, a front-page article in the New York Times touted Lee de Forest's latest radio telephone system.37 In early 1910 de Forest attempted to transmit grand opera to the public, working with the National Dictograph Company, which was installing stage microphones at New York's Metropolitan Opera House. Newspaper reporters who participated in the demonstration wrote they had difficulty hearing the voices at all clearly, one noting that most of the "homeless song waves were kept from finding themselves" by interference from a nearby transmitter.38
35Herbert T. Wade, "Wireless Telephony by the De Forest System," Review of Reviews 35 (1907): 685.
36See Gordon B. Greb, "The Golden Anniversary of
Broadcasting," Journal of Broadcasting 3 (1958-59): 3-13.
37De Forest Tells of a New Wireless," New York Times 14 Feb. 1909:1.
38"Wireless Melody Jarred," New York Times 14 Jan. 1910: 2.
In the fall of 1916, de Forest broadcast presidential
election returns, interspersed with phonograph music and
vocal selections, an "election-night innovation" described
in the next morning's New York Times.39 And it was in 1916
that David Sarnoff, twenty-five-year-old contract manager at
American Marconi, wrote a memo to higher management,
suggesting a "Radio Music Box.",40
39"Returns by Wireless," New York Times 8 Nov. 1916: 6
40The year of Sarnoff's "Radio Music Box" memo is
alternately given as 1915 and 1916. In his 1936 History of Radio, Gleason Archer dated the memo from 1916, and wrote that he had personally examined a reply from General Manager Edward J. Nally, dated November 9, 1916 (Gleason L. Archer, History of Radio to 1926 (New York: American Historical Society P, 1938) 112). However, after the memo's publication with the date September 30, 1915 in the 1968 book Looking Ahead: The Papers of David Sarnoff (New York: McGraw, 1968), the year 1915 began to appear in both scholarly articles and popular books. Sarnoff's earliest printed use of the 1915 date may be an article he wrote for the New York Herald Sunday Magazine, May 14, 1922 (David Sarnoff, "Radio of Today and Tomorrow" New York Herald 14 May 1922, sec. 7: 2). Robert Sobel and Carl Dreher have speculated that de Forest's development of further uses for his audion tube may have been the cause of Sarnoff's backdating. Robert Sobel, RCA (New York: Stein, 1986) 42. In fact, in 1916 the Marconi and De Forest companies met in court over patent claims and counterclaims centering around the audion ("Audion Situation," OST March 1917: 16-17). In addition, as Dreher has pointed out, in 1916 de Forest was already broadcasting from his Highbridge, New York, station. Carl Dreher, Sarnoff: An American Success (New York: Quadrangle, 1977) 41. Recent research has suggested the details usually cited from the "Music Box Memo" actually come from a memo Sarnoff wrote in 1920. See Louise M. Benjamin, "In Search of the Sarnoff 'Radio Music Box' Memo," Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 37 (1993): 325335.
I have in mind a plan of development which would
make radio a "household utility" in the same sense
as the piano or phonograph. The idea is to bring
music into the house by wireless. . The
receiver can be designed in the form of a simple
"Radio Music Box" and arranged for several
different wavelengths, which should be changeable with the throwing of a single switch or pressing
of a single button....
The same principle can be extended to
numerous other fields--as, for example, receiving
lectures at home which can be made perfectly
audible; also, events of national importance can
be simultaneously announced and received.
Baseball scores can be transmitted in the air by
the use of one set installed at the Polo
American Marconi took no action on Sarnoff's memo. By
1917, however, Lee de Forest was offering a series of
concerts and "wireless newspaper" editions weekday evenings
at 8 o'clock.42 Response came immediately from nearby radio
amateurs, both by return radio transmissions and by mail.43
Wireless at War
Amateur radio operators sitting at an estimated 175,000
to 200,000 amateur wireless telegraphy and telephony
stations, especially those along the coastline, served a
useful monitoring function for the government during the
earliest years of the world war. When America entered the
41Gleason L. Archer, History of Radio to 1926 (New York: American Historical Society Press, 1938) 112.
42"Concert by Wireless," OST January 1917: 26.
43"DeForest [sic] Wireless Telephone," OST 17 April: 72-73.
war, 20,000 amateurs quickly put their skills to work in the military effort.44 Although in April of 1917 the U. S. government ordered all transmitters and receivers operated by radio experimenters dismantled,45 technological advances made in wireless telegraphy and telephony during the war by commercial experimentation and the pooling of patents resulted in the development of simpler, less expensive transmitting and receiving equipment.
A Saturday Evening Post "Everybody's Business" column in February of 1920 titled "New Day in communication" described recent advances in wireless technology,46 and newspaper articles continued to feature the latest feats in voice transmission, often involving entertainment sent to ships at sea. Navy men were serenaded by opera singers,47 and high society took advantage of the novelty of radio music to raise money for charity.48
44F. A. Collins, "Boys and the Wireless," Woman's Home Companion April 1920: 44.
453,741 amateur transmitting stations were closed in April 1917 according to the United States Department of Commerce, Report of the Secretary of Commerce and Reports of Bureaus, (Washington: GPO, 1920): 983.
46Floyd W. Parsons, "New Day in Communication," Saturday Evening Post 7 Feb. 1920: 30.
47"Girl Entertains the Pacific Fleet with a Wireless Concert," Pittsburgh Sun 29 Oct. 1920: 1; "Tetrazzini by Wireless Telephone Will Sing to Sailors on Navy Warships," New York Times 3 Dec. 1920: 17.
4ToHear Symphony Concert at Sea," New York Times 27
Restrictions on amateur radio receiving equipment were lifted in April of 1919, and although transmitters remained sealed, the radio enthusiasts returned gratefully to their listening posts. One writer estimated the number of American amateurs at "several hundred thousand.",49 Both the long-time amateurs who had waited out the wartime silence and a new group made up of men trained for radio work in the service were eager to reclaim the ether:
There is a sense of restless expectancy not unlike
that which comes upon one waiting for the curtain
to rise for the decisive act of a play; for the
fact is that much has been done in wireless
telegraphy and telephony during the past two
years, and there are many new and strange signals, also new apparatus, ready to greet the amateur.50 Restrictions on amateur radio transmission were lifted in October of 1919.51 Although many amateurs returned to telegraphy and its communication in code, others began to work exclusively with radiotelephony. Many experimenters rested their voices while they tested their transmitting equipment by playing phonograph records between
June 1920, sec. 6: 3.
49Austin C.Lescarboura, "Amateurs in Name Only," Scientific American 120 (1919) 688.
50"Revival of Amateur Wireless," Illustrated World Sept. 1919: 104.
51"Radio Restrictions Removed," Wireless Age Oct. 1919: 21.
announcements of their station call signs and requests for feedback on the quality of their signals. These "radiophone concerts" became popular with the growing body of listenerhobbyists.
The "Birth of Broadcastine
In the Pittsburgh area, Westinghouse engineer Frank
Conrad's experimental station 8XK had remained operational during the war, to aid in the development of wireless equipment for the military. Conrad continued testing his transmitting equipment following the war, changing from coded telegraphy to voice transmission and finally to music from phonograph records.52 In late September of 1920, the Joseph Horne department store, whose full-page advertisements in the Pittsburgh Sun took the form of a mock newspaper page, ran a "column" under the headline "Air Concert 'Picked Up' By Radio Here":
Victrola music, played into the air over a
wireless telephone, was "picked up" by listeners
on the wireless receiving station which was
recently installed here for patrons interested in
wireless experiments. The concert was heard
Thursday night about 10 o'clock, and continued 20 minutes. Two orchestra numbers, a soprano solo-which rang particularly high and clear through the
air--and a juvenile "talking piece" constituted
The music was from a Victrola pulled up close
to the transmitter of a wireless telephone in the
52S. M. Kintner., "Pittsburgh's Contributions to Radio," Proceedings of the Institute of Radio Engineers 20 (1932): 1857.
home of Frank Conrad, Penn and Peebles avenues,
Wilkinsburg. Mr. Conrad is a wireless enthusiast
and "puts on" the wireless concerts periodically for the entertainment of the many people in this
district who have wireless sets.
Amateur Wireless Sets, made by the maker of
the Set which is in operation in our store, are on
sale here $10.00 and up.
To Westinghouse Vice-President H. P. Davis the ad
suggested that a permanent broadcasting service would
provide a growing market for the sale of Westinghouse
wireless receiving equipment, and the next day he proposed
the company procure a license for its own transmitting
In 1931, Frederick Lewis Allen called November 2, 1920
"a date schoolchildren may some day have to learn.",55
However, little printed publicity was given what is usually
acknowledged as the first commercial broadcasting venture-the transmission in Pittsburgh of the Harding-Cox election
53"Horne Daily News," advertisement, Pittsburgh Post 29 Sept. 1920: 7. The previous week's ad had announced the installation of a radio receiving set in a section of the basement between the Toy Department and the Sporting Goods Section, "for the accommodation of our patrons;" amateur sets were on sale starting at ten dollars. "Wireless Receiving Station Installed at Homne's," advertisement, Pittsburgh Sun 23 Sept. 1920: 9.
55Frederick Lewis Allen, Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the Nineteen Twenties (New York: Harper, 1931) 77.
returns from Westinghouse's newly-licensed radio station
KDKA on November 2, 1920.56
The morning after the election, the Pittsburgh Sun
described the use of amateur wireless operators to receive
returns from various areas and pass them along to a "central
receiving station" in the Public Safety building, but made
no mention of KDKA or the broadcasting of gathered election
returns to the public.57 Later that week the Sun did run a
story headed "Wireless Phone Proves Success Election Night-Westinghouse Concerns Distribute Returns From East
Pittsburgh Plant--Predict Great Future."
One of the interesting sidelights of the election
this year was the great success of the wireless
telephone broadcasting of the returns. So convincing were the results obtained, it is
predicted that four years hence the radio method
of sending news of the election will be almost universally used. . By means of apparatus installed in clubs throughout the city, large assemblages were able to have social functions
while receiving the returns. At the Edgewood Club
a sounding horn was in use, and persons all over
56"How Westinghouse Announced Harding's Election,"
Westinghouse Electric News 15 Nov. 1920: 2. For information on Westinghouse's radio work and the development of KDKA, see S. M. Kintner, "Pittsburgh's Contributions to Radio," Proceedings of the Institute of Radio Engineers 20 (1920): 1849-1862. For a discussion of newspaper coverage of the introduction of the first television broadcasting technology, see James R. Walker, "Old Media on New Media: National Popular Press Reaction to Mechanical Television," Journal of Popular Culture 25.1 (1991): 21-19.
57"Wireless operators Have Busy Night," Pittsburgh Sun
3 Nov. 1920: 21.
the large ballroom could hear the voice of the
speaker at East Pittsburgh through the radio
apparatus. In addition to the phonograph music,
banjo duet selections were played during the
intervals between of [sic] the election returns.
The clear tone and loudness of all the music
greatly astonished the gatherings.581
Newspapers in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York,
Washington and Miami did not mention KDKA's transmission, although the Los Angeles Times covered the American Radio Relay League's plans to transmit election returns from various locations around the country.59
After the election, KDKA stayed on the air with a
regular--if limited--schedule of music and talks. A January
4 editorial in the Pittsburgh Post acknowledged a church service broadcast by KDKA the previous Sunday and the station's "experiments" transmitting phonograph music. The editorial predicted that "in the course of time organizations will be formed to furnish music to wireless patrons," in addition to lectures provided by speakers' bureaus. In the future, subscribers to wireless services "may be able to receive the most varied entertainment, night after night, at small expense.",60 On January 20, 1921, the
58"Wireless Phone Proves Success Election Night,"
Pittsburgh Sun 4 Nov. 1920: 4. The Sun's sister newspaper, the Pittsburgh Post, ran the same story that Friday: "Wireless Success in Broadcasting Returns one of Election Features," Pittsburgrh Post 5 Nov. 1920: 16.
59To Flash Election Returns by Radio," Los Angreles Times 1 Nov. 1920: 2.
first promotional article based on information provided by Westinghouse appeared in the Pittsburgh Post, describing the following week's "program" and giving the station's wavelength.61
The Detroit News
Several months before KDKA's broadcast the Detroit News had also transmitted election returns by wireless, an event that was heavily promoted in its own pages. On August 31, the News broadcast results of the primary election from amateur station 8MK, which operated from the News building. A front-page box headed "RADIO OPERATORS! ATTENTION!" gave specific information on the time, call sign and wavelength of the broadcast to which the public could "listen in tonight and get election returns and hear a concert sent out by the Detroit News Radiophone."
The next day's front page boasted of the experiment's success:
The sending of the election returns by the Detroit News radiophone on Tuesday night was fraught with
romance and must go down in the history of man's
conquest of the elements as a gigantic step in his
progress. In the four hours that the apparatus . was hissing and whirring its message into
space, few realized that a dream and a prediction
60Entertainment by Wireless," Pittsburgh Post 4 Jan 1921: 6.
61"Program Arranged for Benefit of Radio Operators," Pittsburgh Post 20 Jan. 1921: 5.
had come true. The news of the world was being
given forth through this invisible trumpet to the
unseen crowds in the unseen marketplace.62
In November the Detroit News made no mention of KDKA's debut, but promoted its own election-night use of the technology in a front-page article the next morning.63 By 1921, the Sunday Detroit News was running a weekly "Radio Department," with technical advice, government bulletins, and news of the local amateur radio organizations. In June of 1921 the column published KDKA's daily schedule, for the benefit of Detroit amateurs.64 Further Development During 1921
KDKA continued to present a regular schedule of
broadcasts. In Chicago Westinghouse opened station KYW and undertook to broadcast all performances of the Chicago Civic Opera, a stunt that was well publicized in words and
62"Land and Water Hear Returns by Wireless" Detroit News 1 Sept. 1920: 1. The hyperbolic style continued to mark the News coverage of its radio adventures; New Year's morning the paper boasted that "for the first time, as far as known, a human voice singing a New Year's melody of cheer and good fellowship went out across uncounted miles over the invisible, mysterious waves of ether that are the media of the wireless telephone. . ."1 "News' Radio Sounds Taps for Old, Reveille for New," Detroit News 1 Jan. 1921: 1. In fact, Aubrey Fessenden apparently "broadcast" musical greetings on New Year's Eve 1906; see Fessenden 153.
63"Screen, Radio Give Returns; Detroit News Adds
Facilities of Cinema, Wireless to Power of Presses," Detroit News 3 Nov. 1920: 1.
64"Westinghouse Radio Station, KDKA,"1 Detroit News 26 June 1921: 6.
pictures by the Chicago Daily Tribune, although neither the call letters of the station nor the name Westinghouse was mentioned in the stories.65
New York Times articles for 1921 indexed under the
headings for wireless telegraphy and wireless telephony (a distinction wrongly made in several cases) most often referred to telegraphic facilities such as RCA's giant new transmitting station or records for long-distance point-topoint voice communication. In addition to confusion between the terms telegraphy and telephony, the words radio and wireless were used interchangeably. In late 1921 one author insisted that inconsistency was holding back public understanding of broadcasting.66
In the Times the only wireless news from Pittsburgh during 1921, while KDKA continued its regularly scheduled broadcasts, was a small article about the installation of a "wireless telephone" at the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce that would enable members to make contact with 300,000 operators within the Pittsburgh area. Members were "invited to make use of the instrument in the transaction of business. n67
65"Catching 'Butterfly' by Radio," Chicago Daily Tribune 17 Nov. 1921: 3; "How the opera is Carried by Radio," Chicago Sunday Tribune 13 Nov. 1921, sec. 1: 12
67",Sets Up Wireless Phone," New York Times 6 Feb. 1921:
Although general circulation magazines did not herald the new information and entertainment service during 1921, scientific American regularly featured radio articles in both its weekly and monthly editions. The focus remained technical information for and about radio amateurs, but reception of "concerts" was occasionally mentioned.68 Popular Science Monthly featured many articles about the radio hobby; however, few treated the reception of broadcast programming, and it was not until October 1921, almost a year after KDKA's debut, that Popular Science's "Home Workshop" section offered instructions for building a tendollar wireless set to "receive radio music and vaudeville in your home.",69
Radio amateurs had their own magazines: Wireless-Age, published by American Marconi, and OST published by the American Radio Relay League. In 1919 Hugo Gernsback, one of the earliest suppliers of parts to wireless hobbyists and publisher of Modern Electrics, launched Radio Amateur News (the name was shortened to Radio News in July 1920).
68Among the earliest was "Portaphone--A Wireless Set
for Dance Music or the Day's News," Scientific American 122 (1920): 571.
69Arthur H. Lynch, "A Wireless Telephone Receiving Set for Ten Dollars," Popular Science Monthly Oct. 1921: 84.
Gernsback encouraged amateurs to interest the general public in the radio art, publishing articles such as "Get Your Friends Interested," "Let the Average Man Know," and "Winning the Public to Radio."'70 RCA Enters Broadcasting
The Radio Corporation of America was formed in late 1919 to acquire the interests of British-based American Marconi and combine them with radio patents held by General Electric in order to establish America's growing wireless communication business free of foreign ownership and control.71 David Sarnoff became RCA's General Manager in April 1921.72
The radio event of 1921 was the broadcast of the
Dempsey-Carpentier prizefight of July 2. Maj. J. Andrew White, editor of Wireless Age, proposed the idea to David Sarnoff,73 and a powerful GE generator was temporarily
70"Get Your Friends Interested," Radio News 2 (1921): 680+; Armstrong Perry, "Let the Average Man Know," Radio News 3 (1921): 386+; Raymond Frances Yates, "Winning the Public to Radio," Radio News 3 (1921): 494+.
71"New and Powerful Wireless Company," Wireless Age Nov. 1919: 10-12.
72"David Sarnoff Given Important Post by Radio Corporation," Wireless Age June 1921: 10.
73Personal publicity for Sarnoff as a result of the
event was sparse, but the New York Times did note that "the phones at the ringside were operated by J. N.[sic] White, David Saranoff [sic] and H. L. Welter." "Wireless Telephone Spreads Fight News Over 120,000 Miles," New York Times 3 July 1921: 6.
installed at a train terminal in Hoboken. The men at ringside described the action by wire to operators at the transmitter site who passed the information along to the eager public, "announcing it in the same manner as an eyewitness would." In many locations throughout the east, volunteer amateurs received the transmission and amplified it for the benefit of audiences in theaters and halls; the price of admission was a charitable contribution to the Committee for a Devastated France and the Navy League.74 The New York Times estimated that at least 500,000 people followed the fight by wireless.75
That fall, RCA's first broadcasting station, WDY in
Roselle Park, New Jersey, went on the air. By February of 1922 WDY operated three nights a week, from 8 to 10 p.m. Because all stations were licensed to broadcast on the same wavelength (360 meters), WDY shared its schedule with Westinghouse's New York-area station WJZ.76
74Pierre Boucheron, "Reporting the Big Scrap by Radiofone," Radio News 3 (1921): 97.
75"Wireless Telephone Spreads Fight News Over 120,000 Miles," New York Times 3 July 1921: 6.
76"Broadcasting Station WDY," Wireless Age Feb. 1922: 19.
The BCL Hobby
With the advent of entertainment broadcasting, the ranks of receive-only hobbyists--now called "BCLs" or Broadcast Listeners--steadily grew. Most found the greatest pleasure in trying to receive distant stations, or "DXing", a pursuit that required skill and patience.
In November, 1921, Popular Science Monthly's lead story described "How I Listen In on the World by Radio: Sets Now Bring Amazing Wireless Adventures to Every Home."'77 The next month, "Home Workshop" plans for building a receiver were accompanied by the following boxed note:
Do you know the joy of receiving radio messages
and radio concerts? Long wintry nights are ahead of us. Have you thought of sitting in your warm,
comfortable room and bringing the news of the
world to your ears? Nothing is more fascinating.
You can do it. Only a few dollars and a few
simple tools found in every tool chest are needed.
The Fad Begins
In a December 1921 Radio News editorial, Hugo
Gernsback wrote that "during the past six months it has become apparent that we are finally headed in the right direction as far as popularizing radio is concerned"'79 and
77Armstrong Perry, "How I listen In on the World by Radio, Popular Science Monthly Nov. 1921: 84.
78"Simple Radio Receiver for Everybody," Popular Science Monthly Dec. 1921: 84.
79Hugo Gernsback, "The Radiotrola," Radio News 3 (1921): 479.
in January 1922 declared the birth of popular radio:
It seems that 1921 will go down in radio history
as the birth of the radio telephone, as far as its
universal adoption, and its cognizance by the
public are concerned. An art may be said to have
"arrived" when it becomes universally known, and
when the public begins to use it one way or
By the end of 1921, most people still viewed radio as "an alluring mystery, a black art understood only by highbrow college professors and curious youngsters who have grasped the fundamentals, and who, through infinite patience and care, have assembled a crude radio equipment with which they listen in on the world.",81 And then, in the spring of 1922, "all of a sudden it hit us. The first most of us saw of it . was in first-page, first-column headlines from New York . proclaiming that the East had gone mad over radio. ,,82
80Hugo Gernsback, "Radio 1921-1922,"1 Radio News 3 (1922): 584.
81Raymond Frances Yates, "Winning the Public to Radio," Radio News 3 (1921): 494.
82Wilbur Hall, "The Pacific Coast is 'On the Air!'," Radio Broadcast 1 (1922): 157.
THE RADIO FAD: 1922
Wonder at the veritable epidemic of interest in the new radio art is pretty sure to be followed whenever radio is being talked about--and it is
being talked about wherever people congregate--by
the question as to whether this interest will
"Is Radio Only a Passing Fad?"
Literary Digest, 3 June 1922
By the middle of April, 1922, at least 2,250,000 American families--subscribers to the Saturday Evening Post--knew that something was "Up in the Air.1 For those who missed the story, there was Norman Rockwell's cover drawing two weeks later: an elderly couple share headphones, a newspaper on the man's knee open to the listing of "radio concerts."'2 In June writer and advertising executive Bruce Barton introduced "This Magic Called Radio" to the 1,750,000 homes receiving American Magazine.3
iFloyd W. Parsons, "Up in the Air," Saturday Evening Post 15 April 1922: 6+. The claim "More than two million and a quarter weekly" appears on page 150 of that issue.
2Norman Rockwell, illustration, Saturday Evening Post 20 May 1922: cover.
3Bruce Barton, "This Magic Called Radio," American
Magazine June 1922: 11+. The circulation figure is from the masthead. Other introductory articles include Stanley
Home Entertainments and Amusements
Despite the emergence of motion pictures and the
nickelodeon theater in the first years of the twentieth century, Americans showed a growing interest in home amusements and entertainments in the years before World War
1.4 Many of these amusements involved music. Robert and Helen Lynd, in their anthropological study Middletown, noted the popularity of group singing at gatherings in turn-ofthe-century Muncie, Indiana.5 The piano and the phonograph had been instrumental in spreading the dance craze of the century's first decade,6 and their presence in the home was thought to contribute to a strong family life.7 By 1920 there were seven million pianos for a population of 105 million, one for every fifteen Americans, and by 1922 six million phonographs.8. In 1919, American industry produced
Frost, "Radio, Our Next Great Step Forward," Collier's 8 April 1922: 3+; Armstrong Perry, "Listening In on the Universe," Woman's Home Companion May 1922: 32.
4Lewis Erenberg, Steppin' Out: New York Nightlife and
the Transformation of American Culture. 1890-1930 (Westport: Greenwood, 1981) 237.
5Robert S. Lynd and Helen Merrell Lynd, Middletown:A
Study in American Culture (New York: Harcourt, 1929) 244-5.
6"Piano Business Thrives," New York Times 19 Dec. 1915, sec. 2: 18.
7President's Research Committee on Social Trends,
Recent Social Trends in the United States (New York: McGraw, 1933) 149.
8Arthur Loesser, Men. Women and Pianos (New York:
Simon, 1954) 611; "Phonograph Sales Show Big Growth," Ne
more than a hundred million dollars' worth of pianos and organs, and almost one million dollars' worth of phonographs; factories also turned out more than two hundred thousand player pianos that year.9 Music continued to be an important part of life during the war years and after.10 Well into the 1920s sheet music publishers ran lyrical ads in popular magazines, with claims such as "every chap that has ever dreamt of a lovely girl will like this song," and "the mystic East will cast its magic spell over you when you hear 'My Desert Fantasy."'111 Family magazines featured piano question-and-answer pages, song arrangements, and dance diagrams, much as they soon would offer technical advice and wiring diagrams to the new radio fans.12
York Times 22 Jan. 1922, sec 2: 13.
9William Howard Shaw, Value of Commodity Output Since 1869 (New York: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1947) 121; Harvey Roehl, Player Piano Treasury, 2d. ed. (Vestal: Vestal, 1973) 51.
10England tried limiting the sale of musical
instruments as a luxury, but soon realized both soldiers and civilians needed the relief music provided. The popularity of musical instruments continued after the war; in 1924 an estimated thirty million Americans played musical instruments. John Howe, "Are You Among the 30,000,000 Who Play Musical Instruments?" American Magazine Nov. 1924: 42.
1""Sing Stasny Songs," advertisement, American Magazine March 1920: 247.
12For example "New Social Dance: The Pavlowana," Ladies Home Journal Jan. 1915: 10-12; Josef Hofman, "Piano Questions Answered," Ladies Home Journal March 1916: 50; John M. Williams, "If Your child is Taking Piano Lessons," Ladies Home Journal Sept. 1916: 19.
The Era of Fads and Crazes
America has been called "a nation of faddists," and the 1920s the era of fads.13 One 1920s columnist wrote that America "seemed to slumber along . for several years with no particularly violent craze for amusements" until the arrival of the Chinese table game mah-jongg in 1922.14 At the height of the fad sets with genuine ivory tiles might sell for $250, although less expensive sets were available for $14.50 to $75 from the company that claimed to have introduced the game to America,15 and a one-dollar complete set "in brilliant colors" was offered by mail through an ad in American Magazine.16 Mah-jongg was replaced in 1924 by the crossword puzzle, a challenging fad embraced by "highbrows, low-brows, and near no-brows.",17 The fads of the 1920s were played out against the background of minor crazes that surfaced and sank more quickly.18 Several other fads
13Peter L. Skolnik, Fads: America's Crazes. Fevers & Fancies (New York: Crowell, 1978) 2.
14Reginald T. Townsend, This. That. and The Other Thing (Freeport: Books for Libraries, 1929) 79.
15"Mah Jongg," advertisement, Saturday Evening Post 12 Aug. 1922: 101.
16"Mah Jong [sic] Set," advertisement, American Magazine April 1924: 196.
17Alan Harding, "Why We Have Gone Mad Over Cross-Word Puzzles," American Magazine March 1925: 28.
"8Donald A. Laird, "Have You a Fad?" Review of Reviews March 1935: 33. New "crazes" were often featured in the rotogravure section of the Sunday paper; for example, on
of the era, such as bobbed hair and wrist watches, matured into permanent elements of the culture. The greatest of these was radio.19
The Era of Goods and Gadgets
By 1920, the wartime financial boom had begun to collapse; the gross national product declined and unemployment rose.20 In January of 1921 the publishers of Collier's magazine placed an ad in the New York Times, urging consumer confidence,21 and the editor of McClure's magazine used the development of radio technology as a metaphor when he editorialized against business pessimism.22 Recovery began in 1922; production expanded, marking the beginning of a growing market for "consumer durables" and the acceptance of household debt through installment buying.23 Electrical appliances began to appear throughout
February 27, 1921 the New York Times proclaimed the newest craze to be butterfly "tattoos" made from real insects, applied to women's bare shoulders.
19Emory S. Bogardus, "Social Psychology of Fads," Journal of Applied sociology 8 (1924): 241.
20George Soule, Prosperity Decade: From War to
Depression: 1917-1929 (1947; New York: Harper, 1968) 96.
21"Stage Coach or Automobile? America Always Moves
Forward," advertisement, New York Times 12 Jan. 1921: 18.
22Herbert Kaufman, "Don't Listen to the Liar," McClure's 21 Jan. 1921: 5.
23Martha L. Olney, Buy Now, Pay Later: Advertising.
Credit, and Consumer Durables in the 1920s (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P1 1991) 85-86.
the home; the United States of the 1920s was becoming a "country of gadgets."'24
The Era of Youth
Fitzgerald called 1922 "The peak of the younger generation."'25 American youth, aided by the growing presence of the automobile, had begun to seek such pleasures as "the joy ride, the silver flask and the jazz orchestra."'26 Player pianos were advertised as the only way to make the home "compete with jazz halls and shallow plays."'27 Buy a new suite of furniture, another advertisement counseled, and "you will then be bidding intelligently against the outside world for the interest and companionship of your children--a spirited challenge to the Age of Jazz.''28
241rving Werstein, Shattered Decade 1919-1929 (New York: Scribner's, 1970) 71.
25F. Scott Fitzgerald, "Echoes of the Jazz Age," Scribner's Magazine Nov. 1931: 460.
26"Competing with the Silver Flask and the Jazz
Orchestra," advertisement, American Magazine March 1925: 201.
27"How Can the Home Compete with Jazz Halls and Shallow Plays?" advertisement, Saturday Evening Post 20 May 1922: 63.
28"Competing with the Silver Flask and the Jazz
Orchestra," advertisement, American Magazine March 1925: 201.
It is not known how many youngsters stayed home to
admire the sofa, but many began to spend hours fiddling with wireless radiophone receivers. Some invited friends over for radio concert dance parties. The wireless hobby, popular with America's young people since before the war, grew rapidly.29 Adults generally supported the youngsters' scientific pastime; according to one article, "At the very least it is taking the minds of the younger generation from amusements that may be questionable and giving them something that will be of tremendous use in the future.",30 It was not long, however, before parents and other members of the family discovered the joys and challenges of radio listening, and often preempted the receiver and its headphones (in this era before the loudspeaker made radio a family pastime) *31
The BOL Hobby
The growth of leisure time early in the twentieth
century fed the development of adult hobbies, encouraged by
29Walter S. Hiatt, "A New Style of Adventures," Collier's 18 Oct. 1913: 27.
30"Far-Reaching Influence of the Radio Telephone," Electrical World 4 March 1922: 419.
31Fitzgerald wrote of these years in general they had the feel of "a children's party taken over by the elders, leaving the children puzzled and rather neglected and rather taken aback." F. Scott Fitzgerald, "Echoes of the Jazz Age," Scribner's Magazine Nov. 1931: 460.
society as a way to maintain the American work ethic during leisure hours.32 The definition of "hobby" was elusive, but consensus seemed to require active participation; going to the movies or listening to the radio might not be hobbies but creating scrapbooks of screen stars or compiling log books of stations received would qualify. Broadcast listening, especially when it involved DX (reception of distant stations), required a certain measure of skill during the earliest years of radio broadcasting.3
Amateur radio continued to grow in popularity during the early 1920s. At the start of America's involvement in the World War in 1917, the government had closed down 3,741 amateur stations run by 3,302 operators.34 In 1920 the government licensed 5,719 amateur stations and in 1921 an additional 7,351.35 Growing even faster, however, was
32Hobbies would take on even more importance during the enforced leisure of the 1930s depression years. See Steven M. Gelber, "A Job You Can't Lose: Work and Hobbies in the Great Depression," Journal of Social History 24 (1991): 741767.
33Although a radio amateur won second place in American Magazine's 1916 "My Hobby--And Why I Recommend It" contest, the only technology-based hobby featured in 1923's version of the contest was photography; the other two winners were an executive with a "natural craze for earning" and a housewife whose pastime was "thinking pleasant thoughts." "My Hobby--And Why I Recommend It," American Magazine, June 1916: 103-104; "My Hobby and Why I Recommend It," American Magazine June 1923: 86+.
34United States Department of Commerce, 1919 Report of the Secretary of Commerce and Reports of Bureaus,
(Washington: GPO, 1920) 983.
interest in merely "listening in''36 on wireless communication, which required no license.37 The new radio enthusiasts were often older and less technically proficient than the amateurs, and were frequently "people of some affluence and of influence in their communities."'38 These Broadcast Listeners, or "BCLs", often included "the mayor, the eminent politician, the bank president, the leading merchant, the doctor, the minister, the president of the board of education."'39
The greatest division between amateur radio and
broadcasting came early in 1922, when the Department of Commerce ruled that amateurs could no longer broadcast musical concerts, in order to eliminate interference with
35United States Department of Commerce, Annual Report of the Commissioner of Navigation to the Secretary of Commerce for the Fiscal Year ended June 30, 1921
(Washington: GPO, 1921) 25.
361n the usage of the 1920s one would "listen in" to radio, and the audience was made up of "listeners-in." At the same time, one spoke of "tuning" station KDKA rather than "tuning to" or "tuning in."
37The Radio Bureau of the Department of Commerce in
mid-1922 offered a "conservative estimate" of 600,000 radio receivers in use. United States Department of Commerce, Annual Report of the Commissioner of Navigation to the Secretary of Commerce for the Fiscal Year ended June 30, 1922 (Washington: GPO, 1922) 17.
38Clinton B. DeSoto, Two Hundred Meters and Down (West Hartford: ARRL, 1936) 75.
39"Phones and Amateur Radio," editorial, OST March 1922: 31.
transmitting stations holding commercial licenses.40 In addition, amateur stations were required to remain silent from 8 to 10:30 p.m. daily and during Sunday morning church broadcasts.41 Radio enthusiasts' magazines campaigned to popularize BCL in order to secure radio's position and garner support in the face of attempts at stronger regulation. In 1922 the American Radio Relay League suggested radio clubs open meetings to the "broadcast public," in order to diffuse criticism of the amateurs' interference with broadcast reception and to promote greater public interest in radio.42 The Radio Fad of 1922
In the early months of 1922, newspapers still treated
broadcasting as a publicity stunt. Stories featured unusual uses of the new technology: a soprano performed a benefit
40"Government Curbs Amateur Radio Music," New York
Times 4 Feb. 1922: 3. The amateur licenses now read, "This station not licensed to broadcast weather reports, market reports, music, concerts, speeches, news, or similar information or entertainments." "Monthly Service Bulletin of the National Amateur Wireless Association," Wireless-Age Feb. 1922: 41.
41United States Department of Commerce, Annual Report of the Commissioner of Navigation to the Secretary of Commerce for the Fiscal Year ended June 30, 1923
(Washington: GPO, 1923) 20.
42Raymond Victor Bowers, "A Genetic Study of
Institutional Growth and Cultural Diffusion in Contemporary American Civilization, an Analysis in Terms of Amateur Radio," diss., U of Minnesota, 1934, 203.
concert from an airplane circling New York; the following week a woman and man were married aloft in the same plane (piloted by Belvin W. Maynard, the "flying parson") while guests (and anyone else with a receiver) listened in by radio on the ground.43
By 1922 both the American public and American business were ripe for the growth of radio's popularity. The recent war had expanded the geographical boundaries of people's thought, and drawn them together in a common effort.44 The country was finally relaxing from the strain of the war years.45. Some businesses seeking recovery from the depression of 1920 turned to radio manufacturing.46
As the radio fad took hold, the words radio and
broadcasting began to appear in advertisements for other products and services. As early as 1916, American Safety Razor company had advertised "Ever-Ready Radio Blade Safety
43"Concert from Plane Aids Veterans' Camp," New York Times 15 April 1922: 3; "To Wed in Plane 3,000 Feet Above Times Square," New York Times 24 April 1922: 1.
44Paul Schubert, The Electric Word: The Rise of Radio (New York: Macmillan, 1928) 192. According to Carl Dreher, Paul Schubert was the pseudonym of Pierre Boucheron, who was in charge of press relations for RCA. Dreher, Sarnoff: An American Success 56.
45Frederick Lewis Allen, Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the Nineteen Twenties (New York: Harper, 1931) 76-7.
46Hiram L. Jome, Economics of the Radio Industry (1925; New York: Arno, 1971) 86.
Razors" in the Saturday Evening Post.47 Now girls and women could wear Radio Boots that went "on and off in a flash.",48 By June of 1922, boys were advised in a full page ad to buy Waterman's "Radio Recording Pen," the "favorite recording instrument with both professional and amateur operators,"149 and in December could also choose the Esterbrook "Number 920 Radio Pen.",50 The broadcasting metaphor was used to sell chewing gum, men's suits, and even other media of advertising ("Broadcast Your Message in Colors Via Poster Advertising!" advised a billboard company in 1922; "People remember what they see far more vividly than what they hear.",)51 Campbell's soup advised women to "Listen in!" to what their friends were saying about Campbell's Tomato Soup:
"1C E D is the station for me-C-ampbell's E-very D-ay!
47"Ever Ready," advertisement, Saturday Evening Post 15 July 1916: 38.
48"Radio Boot," advertisement, Saturday Evening Post 4 Nov. 1922: 80.
49"Recording Radio Messages," advertisement, Saturday Evening Post 5 June 1922: 143.
50"Number 920 Radio Pen," advertisement, Saturday Evening Post 16 Dec. 1922: 56.
51,,After Every Meal," advertisement, Saturday Evening Post 25 Nov. 1922: 56-57; "Reviving and Broadcasting Throughout the Nation," advertisement, Saturday Evening Post 26 Aug. 1922: 76; "Broadcast Your Message in colors via Poster Advertising," advertisement, Printers' Ink Monthly April 1922: 43.
Its radiation brings jubilation-Just hear what your neighbors say!52 Radio Enters the Home
In 1922 the Radio Corporation of America published a 127-page catalogue cum instruction manual called Radio Enters the Home. Radio equipment had entered the house many years earlier, but it was not until 1922 that radio was to become part of the American household.53
In spite of post-war social changes, "marriage and
family remained the primary goal and homemaker the primary occupation" for American women in the 1920s.54 According to the 1920 census, only 9 percent of married women were gainfully employed; by 1930 that had risen to only 11.7 percent.55 In 1875, Abby Morton Diaz had asked, "How may woman enjoy the delights of culture, and at the same time fulfill her duties to family and household?" Her solution was local women's clubs, women's publications, and national women's congresses.56 In the early 1920s, many homemakers
52"Great For Breakfast," advertisement, Literary Digest 26 Aug. 1922: 37.
53Radio Corporation of America, Radio Enters the Home (1922; Vestal, NY: Vestal, [1980?]).
54Dorothy M. Brown, Setting a Course: American Women in the 1920s (Boston: Twayne, 1987) 247.
55United States Department of Commerce, 15th Census-1930, vol. 4: Occupations, (Washington: GPO, 1933) 77.
56Abby Morton Diaz, A Domestic Problem: Work and
Culture in the Household (Boston: Osgood, 1875) 7, 104.
realized that daytime radio programming could also provide a solution.
The introduction of electrical appliances into the home in the 1920s may have increased the efficiency and reduced the drudgery of daily housework, but in many cases the new equipment merely allowed a larger number of chores to be crammed into the homemaker's workday.57 Fewer households included live-in servants and extended-family members,58 and while appliances such as vacuum cleaners and clothes washers could make up for the loss of an extra set of hands, nothing replaced the lost companionship for house-bound women... until radio entered the home.
The Department of Agriculture began offering home economics courses by radio in late 1921, based on the interest shown by rural housewives in the agricultural market reports the government had been sending out since earlier in the year.59 By the end of 1922 Wireless Age
57"Thus, in spite of efficiency, the 12-hour workday
continued to be passed from one generation of housewives to the next like an heirloom," according to Annegret S. Ogden, The Great American Housewife: From Helpmate to Wage Earner. 1776-1986 (Westport: Greenwood, 1986) 153.
58Ruth Schwartz Cowan, "The 'Industrial Revolution' In the Home," Technology and Change, ed. John G. Burke and Marshall C. Eakin (San Francisco: Boyd, 1979) 279.
59j. Farrell, "The Housewife's Radio," Radio News 4 (1922): 1237.
claimed that "Broadcasting service that lightens the daily household tasks has aroused enthusiasm among women, making newspapers secondary in interest.",60
"Though still a toy the radiophone has pushed back the world's horizon so far that no woman can claim she is either shut in or shut out," proclaimed Good Housekeeping in the summer of 1922.61 Broadcasting had from the beginning been seen as a boon to "shut-ins," those physically unable to leave the home. For various physical and societal reasons, much of the female population was "shut in" during this period. Many stations that broadcast during the daytime offered programs for homemakers: Detroit's WWJ offered "hints to housewives" on weekdays from 9:30-9:40;62 WGI offered clothing and marketing talks.63 Yet, as Diaz had pointed out, the housebound woman's greatest need may have been for programming outside the realm of homemaking information. According to Christine Frederick, one of the early advocates of scientific home management, "The mind, emotions and senses need exercise also.",64
60Rosemary Clarke, "Listening In with the Home Folks," Wireless Age Dec. 1922: 45.
61In the introduction to Christine Frederick, "A Real Use for the Radio," Good Housekeeping July 1922: 77.
62Radio Staff 25.
63"Women Interested in Radiophone," Radio News 3 (1922): 967.
64Christine Frederick, Household Engineering:
In the summer of 1922 Mrs. Frederick (her byline
usually carried the honorific before her name) told Good Housekeeping's readers of radio's benefits for women in the home. She proposed a plan of daytime broadcasting that included physical education (setting-up exercises, health and beauty talks), children's programs, household interests, cultural topics (correct English, musical programs, drama and book reviews, fashion and dress discussions), and social interests (news, politics, worship, club activities).65 Women in Radio
Women had participated in radio from the beginning. In 1908 inventor Lee de Forest married civil engineer Nora Blatch, granddaughter of early feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Blatch later studied electrical engineering and worked in the laboratory with her husband.66 California's "Doc" Herrold began teaching radio in 1909; in 1913 his new wife learned Morse code and began giving classes at the family dining table.67 Mary Texanna Loomis, a relative of
Scientific Management in the Home, (Chicago: American School of Home Economics, 1919) 500.
65Christine Frederick, "A Real Use for the Radio," Good Housekeeping July 1922: 77+.
66De Forest called this the "first grave mistake" of their relationship, which ended within a year. Lee de Forest, Father of Radio (Chicago: Wilcox, 1950) 223.
67Erik Barnouw, A Tower in Babel (New York: Oxford UP, 1966) 35.
19th-century radio experimenter Mahlon Loomis, went to Washington to find war work, and signed up for radio school. Her government license as a First-Class Radio Operator earned her only the position of secretary at the radio school, so in 1920 she founded her own school, Loomis Radio College.68
"The Ladies are Coming," the American Radio Relay
League announced in its magazine OST in August 1917. An editorial cautioned that when wartime restrictions were lifted, amateurs should no longer feel free to use the common nickname "Old Man" for fellow radio enthusiasts contacted in code, as several hundred women were expected to sign on. "Here's to them," the editorial closed, "and it gives us great pleasure to extend the glad hand of fellowship when the happy day comes, and we all re-open.",69 In 1920 at least one hundred women were licensed as amateurs in the New York area,70 and one writer noted the amateurs in his town included a "great range of ages, nationality, religion, station in the social life of the town, yes and
68Mabel Nelson Thurston, "This Young Woman Founded a Radio School," American Magazine May 1924: 73-74.
69"The Ladies Are Coming," editorial, OST April 1917: 19. That month's cover showed a woman seated at a radio receiver.
70Miss Marianne C. Brown, "One of the Gang," Radio Amateur News 2 (1920): 148.
even the difference of sex.",71 Photographs of women and girls at their radio sets often appeared in enthusiast magazines, almost always without gratuitous comments on gender.72 A long article about a Brooklyn homemaker who designed and built receivers noted the "value and interest that radio holds for women.",73 oblique acknowledgment of female interest in radio was reflected in the language of many books and articles, such as a sentence that began: "Even when the user knows what he or she is doing. ..o0 Exceptions to the equal treatment of male and female enthusiasts were rare, but most often appeared in the pages Radio News, whose breezy style sometimes lent itself to facile stereotypes. (It was in Radio News that young men were urged to interest their friends in the hobby by pointing out the growing presence of "the fair sex" in the ether, asking "what could be more interesting than a radiofone conversation during a long, lonesome evening with a sweet-voiced girl . ?o7
71Wireless Age September 1920: 41-42.
72For example, "The Girls at Radcliffe College . .. Radio News 3 (1922): 1090.
73Alfred M. Caddell, "A Woman Who Makes Receiving
Sets," Radio Broadcast 4 (1923): 28-33. Women were often employed by radio equipment manufacturers; see, for example, "Making Five Thousand Radio Sets a Day," Popular Mechanics Jan. 1925:13-16.
74A. Hyatt Verrill, Radio for Amateurs: How to Use. Make and Install Wireless Telephone and Telegraph Instruments (New York: Dodd, 1922) 144.
75"Get Your Friends Interested," Radio News 2 (1922):
Women and the Radio Fad
A Radio Broadcast article suggested radio retailers
could help make radio more attractive to women by setting up the showroom to look like a living room.76 Radio News also suggested that to attract more business, radio manufacturers should cater to the "female faction;" editor Hugo Gernsback envisioned a future in which women used "boudoir radio outfits" with velvet knobs and gaily colored tubes to listen to gossip and scandal all day.77 The women's magazines took a much less frivolous view of the new technology. For example, People's Home Journal's radio column offered purely technical information, although no articles for men or children were published in this otherwise traditional homemaker magazine.78
"Instead of their symptoms, elderly women on our boats and trains and in our sewing societies discuss the number of
680. Editor Hugo Gernsback also suggested that since the boys of amateur radio were "radio bugs," the girls might be called "radio butterflies." There is no indication the terminology ever caught on.
76Lewis Wood, "Making Radio Attractive to Women," Radio Broadcast 4 (1923): 221-2.
77H[ugo] Gernsback, "Soon," Radio News 3 (1922): 822.
78The column headed "Journal's Radio Department" first appeared in July 1922. Marshall D. Beuick, "First Steps in Radio," People's Home Journal July 1922: 31. The magazine printed no non-technical radio articles until a September 1923 story about church broadcasts, "Preaching by Radio," People's Home Journal Sept. 1923: 25.
stages of amplification necessary for DX reception," a California writer claimed in December 1922.79 A woman won Radio Broadcast's 1924 DX contest, an achievement reported without any comment about gender.80 Literary Digest printed instructions for constructing an inexpensive radio receiver, and later featured two schoolgirls who with no radio training or knowledge successfully built their own set from the magazine's plans. No emphasis was placed on the youngsters' gender.81 Even as radio sets became easier to operate, articles often noted many women's interest in technical aspects of radio reception, and the number who were joining the audience by building their own receivers.82
A newspaper story about radio classes in the public schools was accompanied by the picture of a girl who had built a portable set into her hat.83 Both males and females appeared in articles about so-called "freak" portable
79Wilbur Hall, "The Pacific Coast is 'On the Air'," Radio Broadcast 1 (1922): 157.
80Mrs. Rhodes won in the category for "ready-made
receivers." "The DX Contest Winners," Radio Broadcast 5 (1924): 346.
81"How Two Girls Made a Receiving Radiophone," Literary Digest 10 June 1922: 29.
82"Women and Wireless," Literary Digest 15 Dec. 1923: 25.
83"Radio Receiving Sets Capable of Picking Up Concerts
,Miami Herald 19 March 1922: 12A.
radios--but while the men most often showed off achievements in miniaturization (the ring radio, the radio hiking belt), women's greater number of fashion encumbrances led to stunts like the umbrella aerial,84 or fantasies like the "Radio Girl"--fully equipped for receiving or sending--with hoop skirt for a coil and parasol for an antenna, headphones hidden under her curls, a microphone in her fan, and batteries in the hem of her skirt.85
According to Literary Digest, many women who attended the 1923 radio show in New York showed "alert and intelligent interest . in new circuits, equipment, and recent improvements in the art.",86 But women in general were even more interested in the content of radio programming, and were quick to appreciate the various programs offered by broadcasters during the first years of the radio fad. Radio Broadcast's "Listener's Point of View"
84"Get Your Friends Interested," Radio News 2 (1922): 680.
85A. Mae Rogers, "The Radio Girl," Radio Amateur News 2 (1920): 74. Although there was no implication of any purpose other than the wearer's own enjoyment, the "radio girl" is reminiscent of the "illuminated girls" used to publicize electricity in the 1880s. See Carolyn Marvin, When Old Technologies Were New (New York: Oxford UP, 1988): 137-138.
2.86"Women and Wireless," Literary Digest 15 Dec. 1923:
column was written by Jennie Irene Mix from its inception in April 1924 until her death in 1925.87 "Listening in" in 1922
The radio listening experience in 1922 was molded by
the level of development of receiving equipment, the type of service offered by the broadcasters, and the needs and expectations of the listening audience. The Equipment
Although Westinghouse had entered broadcasting in order to create a market for its radio equipment, the company was prevented by patent problems from selling receivers to the public until it reached an agreement with RCA in June of 1921.88 Westinghouse produced the first home radio set advertised by RCA, the Aeriola Jr.89 By mid-1922, more than 200 manufacturing firms were producing radio receivers, according to survey by the National Retail Dry Goods Association.90 A 1925 study explained:
The period of the popularization of radio
87"Listener's Point of View," Radio Broadcast 4 (1924) 474.
88United States Federal Trade Commission, Report on the Radio Industry (Washington: GPO, 1924) 23-24. Westinghouse ran an ad in the October 1921 Wireless Age showing a receiver in a family setting. "Radio in The Home," advertisement, Wireless Age Oct. 1921: 7.
89"Every Family Can Now 'Listen In'," advertisement, Radio News 3 (1922): 798-99.
90"Radio Business Growth," New York Times 11 May 1922: 28.