UNITED STATES EARLY RADIO HISTORY
THOMAS H. WHITE
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Broadcasting Becomes Widespread (1922-1923)
Led by Westinghouse's 1920 and 1921 establishment of four well-financed stations -- located in or near Pittsburgh, Boston, Chicago and New York City -- there was a growing sense of excitement as broadcasting activities became more organized. In December, 1921, the Department of Commerce issued regulations formally establishing a broadcast service. Then, in early 1922, a "broadcasting boom" occurred, as a sometimes chaotic mix of stations, sponsored by a wide range of businesses, organizations and individuals, sprang up, numbering over 500 by the end of the year.
"BROADCASTING BOOM" OF 1922
Eventually the scores of individual station efforts, from small town amateurs to major electrical firms, coalesced into a broadcasting boom, which swept across the United States in early 1922. In 1899, the London Electrophone had claimed Queen Victoria as a listener, and the rise of broadcasting introduced U.S. President Harding to radio, via a receiver installed by the Navy, according to President Enthusiastic Radio Fan "Listens-in" Almost Daily from the April 8, 1922 Telephony. Lists of the wide variety of stations making broadcasts to the general public began to appear, including What Anyone Can Hear, by Armstrong Perry, from the March, 1922 Radio News, First American Radio Charts from the March, 1922 Popular Science Monthly, Radiophone Broadcasting Stations of the United States, from the May, 1922 edition of The Consolidated Radio Call Book and Louis Jay Heath's The Romance of the Radiophone, from the 1923 annual supplement of The Home magazine. In fact, the Department of Commerce became worried that too many stations -- especially amateur and experimental -- were making broadcasts intended for the general public, and, effective December 1, 1921, adopted regulations which restricted public broadcasting to stations which met the standards of a newly created broadcast service classification. I've put together an overview of this tumultuous period, Building the Broadcast Band, which reviews some of the struggles that took place with the rise of widespread radio broadcasting in the U.S.
With enforcement of the new regulations, the number of private U.S. stations permitted to make broadcasts intended for the general public dropped to 67 as of the March 10, 1922 list of broadcast stations, which appeared in the March 1, 1922 issue of the Commerce Department's Radio Service Bulletin. However, even with the restrictions broadcasting continued to grow explosively, and at the end of the year there would be over 500 broadcast stations, located in every state, their growth chronicled by the monthly broadcast station reports appearing in Radio News. WHAS in Louisville went on the air in July, 1922 as the first broadcasting station in Kentucky, 45th of the then-48 states to get a station. Credo Fitch Harris, a multi-talented journalist who incidentally knew virtually nothing about radio, was appointed station manager. In 1937, Harris recorded his experiences being assigned the job of starting up operations during "the horse and buggy days of radio" in the opening sections of Microphone Memoirs (operations extracts)--a task he poetically likened to being "led into the garden of Parizade and placed beneath her Singing Tree whose leaves dripped harmonies".
PROGRAMMING AND POPULAR CULTURE
The tremendous growth of radio broadcasting saw the development of a wide variety of innovative program offerings. Starting in October, 1921, children listening to WJZ, Westinghouse's recently established station in Newark, New Jersey, were informed that "The radiophone, which is the wireless, has made it possible for the Man in the Moon to talk to you", as the station began evening readings, by Newark Sunday Call journalist Bill McNeery, of short stories written by Josephine Lawrence. In 1922, a collection of these "Man in the Moon Stories: Told Over the Radio-Phone" was published, beginning with Chapter I of The Adventures of the Gingerbread Man. Credo Fitch Harris, the station manager at WHAS in Louisville, Kentucky, reviewed in Microphone Memoirs (programming extracts) the kinds of programs produced by his station in 1922 and 1923, beginning with its inaugural broadcast on July 18, 1922, which overwhelmingly consisted of live -- and unpaid -- amateur talent. As radio's mysteries captured the public imagination, it was increasingly reflected in popular culture, including the publication in 1922 of the wistful song, I Wish There Was a Wireless to Heaven (The Radio Song), followed six years later by a somewhat happier tune, A Bungalow, a Radio and You.
Radio themes had occasionally appeared in juvenile books up through 1921, three early examples being John Trowbridge's 1908 "The Story of a Wireless Telegraph Boy", "The Motor Boat Club and the Wireless" written in 1909 by H. Irving Hancock, and the 1911 "Tom Swift and the Wireless Message", by Howard Garis using a syndicate pseudonym of Victor Appleton. However the 1922 broadcasting boom triggered a huge increase in radio related literature, including the introduction of at least three competing lines of Radio Boys books, in addition to a series about a group of Radio Girls. In most of these books radio activities served mainly as a prop or provided a loosely related background plot. A notable exception to this superficial coverage was the "Allen Chapman" Radio Boys books, written by John W. Duffield, with forewords by Jack Binns. The teenaged protagonists in this series do engage in the standard activities of besting bullies, while impressing the leading citizens -- and their daughters -- in the fictional town of Clintonia, located not too far from New York City. But extracts from the first five books in this series also provide an unusually detailed and technically accurate review of the excitement of the rapid spread of radio broadcasting in 1922. In the series' opening book, The Radio Boys' First Wireless, the boys build award winning crystal receivers, which use headphones. In The Radio Boys at Ocean Point, they improve their receiver design, by adding a vacuum-tube detector and loud-speaker, while experimenting with umbrella and loop antennas. The Radio Boys at the Sending Station includes a visit to WJZ, the Westinghouse broadcasting station in Newark, New Jersey, and they are also thrilled to pick up their first trans-Atlantic signals. In The Radio Boys at Mountain Pass our heros continue to spread word of the wonders of the new technology of radio through the community, witness the broadcast of a local church service, and speculate on the day when cars will be equipped with receivers. And in The Radio Boys Trailing a Voice they learn about radio communication applications in the forest fire service, while Dr. Dale predicts that: "Radio is yet in its infancy, but one thing is certain. In the lifetime of those who witnessed its birth it will become a giant--but a benevolent giant who, instead of destroying will re-create our civilization."
PUBLIC ADOPTION OF A NEW TECHNOLOGY
As radio broadcasting began to establish itself as an ongoing public service, there were questions about the types of stations and kinds of programming they would offer. In Concerning "Canned Music Now Broadcast" from the September, 1922, Radio Dealer, George H. Fisher came to the defense of small stations like WHAW in Tampa, Florida, whose programming consisted almost entirely of phonograph records. Meanwhile, the possibility of radio stations becoming a major source for news was covered in the September, 1922 Popular Radio by Homer Croy, who noted in The Newspaper that Comes Through Your Walls that an audio news service, like that which had been available for over twenty-five years to subscribers to the Budapest Telefon Hirmondó, could now potentially be transmitted by radio broadcasting stations over much wider areas.
In 1922, the increasing interest in broadcasting led to the publication of numerous books and articles intended for the general public, to explain this exciting innovation. Rhey T. Snodgrass and Victor F. Camp, in Radio Receiving for Beginners, reported that "thousands of twelve year old boys, and girls" had already successfully set up radio receivers for "entertaining their families and friends", and that their introductory book would show others how to participate in the "magic" of the "radio wonderland". Basic information, plus explanations of technical terms like "static" and "interference", appear in the following selections from the book, beginning with How Can I Receive Radio? Another review, aimed at slightly older readers, talked of radio as "unlimited in its scope of subjects, just as it is virtually unlimited in the size of its audience", according to the Radio-Phone Broadcasting--What It Is and What It Means section from Austin C. Lescarboura's Radio For Everybody.
Radio's ability to conquer distance helped reduce the isolation of sparsely populated regions. In the March 17, 1922 issue of Country Life, Frank H. Mason in Britain reported in Wireless and the Country House how he had originally used a crystal receiver, which didn't require electricity to operate, to pick up time signals from the Eiffel Tower station in Paris, France. However, the introduction of broadcasting caused a dilemma, because reception of the weaker signals sent out by broadcast stations required more sensitive vacuum-tube -- or "valve" in British usage -- receivers, which were battery operated, and in the early 1920s most of the British countryside did not have electricity. So Mason built a small water wheel to power a generator, which recharged the set's batteries, and also operated a couple of lights in the outhouses. In the December 16, 1922 issue of The Country Gentlemen, John R. McMahon reviewed his adventures in setting up a radio receiver, and also answered the question of What Makes the Radio Laugh? -- "the cat's whisker tickled the galena and this made the radio laugh". After successfully installing a receiver, McMahon optimistically concluded that "The radiophone is a marvel. After the automobile, it is to become the foremost agency of civilization. Anybody who feels discouraged about things in general should clamp on a pair of ear phones and tune up." Somewhat less sanguine was Tom P. Morgan's article, A Wireless Warning from the April 22, 1922 The Country Gentleman, which reviewed, in a humorous way, potential downfalls. Morgan foresaw the introduction of pagers that would jab wearers in order to get their attention, to be followed by "a stern voice commanding him to get to work". Also, after a benign beginning where radio broadcasting would allow listeners in "the Red Front Grocery in Peeweecuddyhump" to hear Presidential addresses, the author feared that less benign impulses would soon be let loose, as broadcasting fell under the control of hectoring do-gooders, leading to a future where "the Hons. have torn loose and are flapdoodling like mad". Radio as a Revolutionist from the March 29, 1922 The Nation also sounded a cautionary note, asking readers to "Think of the tragic fate of some future Thoreau who goes to his beloved woods in search of solitude only to find the night made suddenly hideous by the 'famous laughing saxophone' played at station XYZ and received and amplified by equipment in possession of the Boston Boy Scouts in camp not far away!" And in contrast to the speculation by many that radio would help bring world peace, this review closed noting that "if another war comes, which radio-telephony may make easier to bring about, radio control of the means of destruction will add immeasurably to its horrors" although possibly these were "the fears of a crotchety generation that is passing. Certainly they are not shared by the young men and women who make up our radio clubs. May they make better use of this new conquest over the powers of nature than we have done with some of ours."
The 1922 boom in radio broadcasting was also a boon for radio equipment sellers. How to Retail Radio informed merchants that radio was poised to take its place "in the stalls of business along with the camera, the victrola, the dictaphone, the typewriter, and all of the other merchandise that makes for the transference of sight or sound or thought between men". There was a caution, however, that the current sales boom would eventually level off, and "although radio is here to stay, not every radio dealer is here to stay". Ideas on how to avoid that unhappy fate were included in chapters such as What Kind of Radio Stock and How Much? by F. W. Christian, and Where to Look for Radio Customers by J. C. Milton. Meanwhile, the 1922 edition of O. A. Witte's The Automobile Storage Battery, noted that "It is in the sale of batteries for radio work and in the recharging of them that the battery man can 'cash-in' on the radio phone 'craze.' ", according to the Radio Batteries chapter of the book. And a 1922 pamphlet by Frederick Dietrich, Beginner's Book of Radio, stated that "the beginner is apt to make the mistake of purchasing a horn attachment for his receiver" in a doomed effort to use it as a radio loud-speaker, but warned "the results obtained with such an arrangement will be extremely disappointing" -- better to "buy several headphones and connect them in series" -- as explained in the Radio Telephone and Telegraph Receivers chapter. (The author, by the way, was president of C. Brandes, Inc., major manufacturers of headphones). Not everyone, however, went to the expense of buying headphones. An international problem developed, as unscrupulous persons began snipping off the receivers from public telephones, as reported in Radio Craze Brings Raids On Telephones for Equipment from the June, 1922 Telephone Engineer, and French Pay Stations Robbed of Receivers for Radio Use, from the April 15, 1922 Telephony.
|"A few days later, I remarked to a fellow reporter that I had spent several evenings listening to programs. 'Do you think radio is here to stay?' I quoted the popular gag of the day. 'God forbid!' he said. Apparently the young man who functioned as radio editor of the News shared his sentiments. Convinced that there was no future either in broadcasting or in writing about it, he resigned his job, and some time later I stood before the city editor again. 'Gross, you're it,' said the boss. 'I don't like radio,' I said. 'I want to be a drama critic.' 'You'll be a radio critic,' he insisted. 'But I'm not qualified,' I protested. 'I don't know a thing about radio.' 'Oh yes you do! From now on you're our expert--our great authority. And do you know why? Because you're the only guy around here who knows how to turn one of those damned things on!'"--Ben Gross, I Looked and I Listened, 1954.|