radio

The Emergence of Radio Programming to 1925

American radio programming was born in a shack atop a six-story building in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The date was November 2, 1920; the shack housed the 100-watt transmitter of station KDKA; and the first scheduled, non-experimental, public program was an evening broadcast of results from the Presidential election that day between Warren G. Harding and James M. Cox. It was an inauspicious beginning for radio—a medium which in a few years would be a daily indulgence for millions—as no more than a few hundred listeners had the proper equipment to hear that transmission. Nonetheless, technicians and executives of the Westinghouse Electric Company, the owners of KDKA, were convinced that radio was commercially and scientifically feasible.

Their faith in the medium would soon be rewarded. Within eighteen months of that first recognizable radio program, public interest in broadcasting became a national fad. Newspaper and magazine accounts of the achievement in East Pittsburgh spread the message of radio's potential. Whatever it was called—"wireless telephone," "wireless musicbox," "radio telephone," or simply "radio"—the new invention encouraged hundreds of thousands of people throughout the nation to jam electrical shops and department stores to purchase receivers. Those who lacked the technical skill to assemble the simple and inexpensive crystal sets that were so popular turned often to friends, relatives, or the prospering new businessman, the radio repairman. By 1921, however, stores were selling ready-made radios. Most of these were vacuum-tube models, more powerful than crystal sets. But, regardless of model, most required headphones; few, indeed, were equipped with speakers.

Despite inconveniences, listeners were fascinated with this new form of amusement which brought music and the human voice into the home. Reception of radio emissions was not always clear. Listeners had to endure static, weak signals, and other forms of interference. But the allure of the novelty even made tolerable .the crackling and popping noises of primitive reception.

The profit-making potential in owning a radio station led many businesses, institutions, and wealthy individuals to acquire federal licenses and establish their own broadcasting facilities. Since licenses and stations were easy to acquire [see the Sears and Roebuck catalogue in 1922], by the end of 1922 they were owned by such disparate entities as Gimbel's Department Store (WIP, Philadelphia), the Ford Motor Company (WWI, Detroit), the Omaha Grain Exchange (WAAW, Omaha), St. Matthew's Cathedral (KFBU, Laramie), the Alabama Power Company (WSY, Birmingham), and Packard automobile dealer Earl C. Anthony (KFI, Los Angeles). Westinghouse did not remain idle while others participated in the broadcasting boom. As well as KDKA, that company established WJZ (Newark), KYW (Chicago), and WBZ (Springfield, Mass.).

Colleges and universities recognized the importance of radio as an academic subject, and at the end of 1922 a total of seventy-four institutions of higher education had their own stations. Newspapers also established radio outlets. WWJ was the "voice" of the Detroit News; KWH was owned by the Los Angeles Examiner; KSD by the Des Moines Register and Tribune; WHAF by the Kansas City Star; and WSB by the Atlanta Journal. By December 1922, sixty-nine newspapers owned stations.

That radio had struck a responsive chord within the American citizenry was obvious. Two years after the KDKA inaugural broadcast, there were 1.5 million sets in the country; there were more than 550 stations; and there was at least one station in every state—ranging from California with sixty-nine, to several states with only one.

Given the quality of programming in its earliest years, it is a miraculous achievement that radio flourished. In contrast to the breadth and technical sophistication of later broadcasting, the earliest programs were austere. Stations only operated at specific times of the day. Most programs were filled with recorded music. And talk shows were usually news and sports announcements, or lectures on domestic topics. Typical of such programming is the radio log for the Bamberger's Department Store station, WOR (Newark), as it appeared in the New York Times on May 29, 1922:

    10:30 A.M.—"Packing the Week-End Bag," by Vanity Fair
    11:30 A.M.—"Smiles," by J.E.K.
    12:30 P.M.—A period of song selections from the recordings of Alma Gluck and Homer Rodeheaver
    1:30 P.M.—During this period the numbers requested by our radio audience will be played
    2:30 P.M.—Richter String Quartet: Beethoven Quartet, op. 18, No. IV, First and Second Movements, and "Andante Cantabile."
    3:30 P.M.—Carl Bannwart, Superintendent of Olivet Sunday School, ex-President of the Presbyterian Union, will speak on "The Man with a Handicap."
    4:30 P.M.—Ruth Dale, soprano: "The Awakening," "The Morning-Glory Song," "There Are Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden."
    5:30 P.M.—A talk to Boy Scouts
    5:40 P.M.—A talk on timely vegetable garden topics, by Charles H. Nissley, Extension Specialist in Vegetable Gardening from the Agricultural and Extension College at New Brunswick, N.J.
    6:30 P.M.—Sky pictures for the kiddies, by Mr. Radiobug.
    6:45 P.M.—Good-night stories for the children by Uncle George of The Newark Ledger.

Missing from this schedule was the diversity of dramatic series, the various types of audience participation shows, and the array of comedy programs that later came to typify radio. Absent, too, was the adept use of sound effects by which broadcast engineers made believable the images that spoken words alone could only propose.

Because of the newness of the art, and because of the primitive quality of the equipment, mistakes often occurred in these early broadcasts. Harold Arlin, an early announcer with KDKA, recalled pitch-black smoke from a passing locomotive engulfing the studio and covering everything with soot, including a renowned and elegantly-dressed soprano in the midst of a show. He also related how one hot summer evening, filled with moths and other flying insects, proved unsettling for a tenor who, in the middle of his aria, inhaled a bug and began choking.

Less startling, however, were the common mistakes that were invariably met with innovation. Thus, if a program lasted more than its allotted time, it was not considered bad form to follow it with the regularly scheduled, but now late, show. And if a program ran short, the time gap might be filled with the announcer telling stories or with recorded music.

Despite shortcomings, radio in its first years was a spectacular invention which continued to explore new dimensions. On Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1920, the Texas A & M University station, WTAW (then operating experimentally with the call-letters 5XB), aired the first college football game. In January 1921, directly from the Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh, KDKA transmitted the first church service in radio history. The first debate in radio was broadcast in May 1922 on WJH (Washington, D.C.). The subject was "That Daylight Saving Is an Advantage." And in 1922 WJZ used a remote hook-up to air a theatre production directly from the stage.

One of the most important types of programming began at WGY (Schenectady) in October 1922, when the first radio drama, "The Wolf," by Eugene Walter, was produced by the WGY Players. This dramatic unit continued to air radio plays—and by the end of its second radio season had produced eighty-three dramas. Importantly, the success of WGY was imitated by other stations. Professional theatrical troupes, such as the Provincetown Players, the Washington Square College Players, and the Cherry Lane Players were regularly airing plays by early 1924. Other stations, such as KGO (Oakland), developed their own dramatic units, and soon stations like WGBS (Astoria, New York) were producing several dramas weekly.

The appearance of radio drama was responsible for the great advancements made at this time in the field of sound effects. Without sound effects, drama would have been little more than recitation. Since sound alone was the device that created the mental pictures in the mind of the listener—the “theater of the mind” as some called it--sound effects were as important to effective broadcasting as were the words of the play. Sound effects "lend color and realism," wrote the radio producer and personality Samuel L. “Roxy" Rothafel. “A performance unaccompanied by noises that indicate actions on the part of the actors and actresses," he continued, "would result in a bare and somewhat unreal presentation."

While sound effects would not be perfected until the 1930s, innovative engineers at this early date developed convincing ways to produce common noises. Forest fires were duplicated with the roar of a blowtorch and the breaking of wooden match sticks near the microphone. Rain on a roof was accomplished by rolling dried peas down a paper tube, and thunder was reproduced by waving a thin sheet of metal. Other standard devices included doorbells, alarms, telephone bells, locks and dummy doors that could be opened and shut to indicate the coming and going of a character.

The short trade film from the 1930s, Back of the Mike, demonstrated the techniques and importance of radio sound effects.

If the development of drama broadened creativity within radio, the heavy usage of radio by politicians made broadcasting an influential medium within American society. Because of its ability to reach millions of voters simultaneously, political office-holders and candidates quickly adopted the medium. President Harding was most supportive of it. The fact that he owned a radio receiver—with its antenna prominently attached to a tall tree on the south side of the White House—helped to popularize and legitimize broadcasting.

Although Woodrow Wilson had been the first President to have his voice carried by radio, Harding's Armistice Day speech in 1921 was the first address by a Chief Executive that was transmitted live by coast-to-coast radio. This event was heralded by the editors of the New York Times, who remarked:

quoteWhen the very voice of the President of the Republic can be heard by tens of thousands of people, in hall and park and street, at the selfsame moment in New York and San Francisco, and when a wireless message from the President can be heard almost in the same instant, as it was a few days earlier by the heads of twenty-eight different Governments before it returned, within the space of seven seconds, from its circuit of the earth, one's imagination leaps to the political, social and moral consequences of these physical achievements.

Even more a "radio" President was Harding's successor, Calvin Coolidge. Within three months of his taking office, he had made three separate radio speeches including a eulogy for Harding on December 10, 1923, and addresses on Abraham Lincoln's and George Washington's birthdays. When he ran for election in 1924, Coolidge utilized the radio, concluding with a dramatic election-evening broadcast heard on a network of stations running from coast to coast. At his inauguration in March, 1925, President Coolidge spoke to a radio audience estimated at twenty-three million. While he had earned the nickname "Silent Cal" for his less than loquacious style in public, Coolidge found early radio flattering to his flat, soft voice, an effective way to reach a maximized audience with a minimum of effort. One contemporary observer, Charles Michelson of the New York World, suggested that given Coolidge's weak physical appearance, it was his voice that actually carried him to election victory in 1924.

Radio expanded the implications of democracy in America. Political personalities now began to appeal directly to the public. The words in 1925 of Governor Alfred E. Smith of New York summarized the potential which politicians saw in broadcasting: “The American democracy covers so vast a territory that we must heartily welcome an art that brings its Executives and Legislators into the most immediate contact with the public that they have been elected to serve.”

Foreign statesmen, such as David Lloyd George of Great Britain and Georges Clemenceau of France, now explained their intentions to a listening American public. Even the Presidential nominating conventions, once the private domain of party bosses and deal-makers, now became national events followed and understood by listening voters. During those held in the summer of 1924, for instance, radio showed the American political process as never before. Millions of Americans could not help but be struck by a comparison of the smooth-running Republican convention which nominated incumbent Coolidge on the first ballot, and the lengthy and quarrelsome Democratic meeting which, after fifteen days of smoke-filled-room conferences and over one hundred ballots, finally settled on the obscure John W. Davis as its compromise nominee.

Throughout the ensuing Presidential campaign the Republicans continued to demonstrate their understanding of the new medium as a form of communication. To ensure listeners, they effectively mixed speeches by Coolidge and administration spokesmen with appearances by entertainers such as Al Jolson. While Davis spoke over a six-station hook-up, Coolidge addressed the nation over a chain of twenty-two stations. In later Presidential elections both parties would make greater, more efficient use of broadcasting. But even in the campaign of 1924, the future of radio as an informational and democratizing influence was clearly established. According to one critic at the time: “Hundreds of thousands of voters, otherwise uninfluenced, will cast their ballots for the candidate with whom they feel acquainted, because they ‘like his voice’ and his ideas and the planks of his party which they picked up on the radio.”

As limited as radio programming was during this formative period, in two areas it made significantly popular achievements: sports and music. As a vehicle for the dissemination of sports information, radio had always been effective by relaying scores and related information. This was especially the case during the baseball season when several times a day regularly-scheduled programs reported the results of ball games. By the fall of 1922, football was being broadcast on a regular basis. WOR, for example, aired a game every Saturday; and WGI (Medford Hillside, Massachusetts) transmitted all football games played in Harvard Stadium.

Boxing was also a popular attraction with listeners. One of the milestone technical achievements of early radio, in fact, was the broadcast of the heavyweight championship bout between Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier on July 2, 1921. Here the ringside "announcer" telephoned his "blow by blow" description as the match progressed; a technician sitting in a transmitting station received the phone call, wrote down the information, and then relayed the description to his audience of thousands. In this same manner WJZ aired a "running description" of the World Series in the fall of 1921.

Within a year, however, sporting events would be aired directly from the stadium or ball park, and sportscasters like Graham MacNamee, Major J. Andrew White, Phillips Carlin, and Ted Husing would become early radio celebrities. The excitement of sports contests, especially to male listeners, was always attractive. Interestingly, when television began to replace radio a quarter-century later, televised sports was one of the most alluring features of that medium.

Radio was most effective as a purveyor of music in all its forms. For a nation of music listeners, if not music-makers, the new instrument provided inexpensive and well-produced musical entertainment. According to an early radio scholar, one reason for radio's initial adoption was its musical potential and its superiority to the phonograph in reproducing music. E. C. Millis, the president of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), went so far as to suggest that "Music is the foundation upon which the structure of radio in its popular aspects rests." Early polls by radio stations and trade journals confirmed the fact that music—whether classical or popular—was the favored type of programming with the public. Well over sixty percent of all broadcasting time in the 1920s was dedicated to music.

Classical music was especially prominent in early radio. In the minds of many pioneers of the radio business, the new device was to be used for uplifting and upgrading the tastes of the American masses. As an educational medium, it was envisioned as a means through which the most acclaimed singers and instrumentalists could demonstrate their talents to listeners hungry for culture and aesthetics.

Although the concept was somewhat simplistic and failed to anticipate a commercialized future for radio in which popular music would find greater acceptance with a mass audience, early broadcasting presented outstanding musicians. In 1921 station KYW (Chicago) was formed for the purpose of broadcasting the Chicago opera season. By 1925 stations like WGBS were transmitting live performances by virtuosi such as violinist Efrem Zimbalist and conductor Josef Stansky.

Light classical music was heard regularly on programs featuring groups such as the A & P Gypsies, the Victor Salon Orchestra, the Goodrich Silver Cord Orchestra. The most ambitious musical undertaking in radio at this time was The Victor Hour (later called The RCA-Victor Hour) which premiered in 1925 on WEAF (New York City), the station owned by the American Telephone and Telegraph Company. The program featured the finest in classical music provided by the reputed Victor Salon Orchestra and regular performers John McCormack and Lucretia Bori of the New York Metropolitan Opera Company. The weekly program also presented performances by singers like Frances Alda, Reinald Werrenrath, and Emilio DeGogorza, and violinist Rene Chemet. The popularity of this series soon led to other classical music "Hours," such as those sponsored by Cities Service, Philco, Brunswick, and the Edison Company.

By the middle of the 1920s radio was developing the types of programs and the personalities that would flourish for the next three decades. It was already demonstrating its potential as an electrical communicator of news and information, much to the consternation of slower-paced newspapers. The variety show was born in December 1923, when WEAF inaugurated The Eveready Hour, a broadcasting extravaganza which throughout the decade presented a wide spectrum of entertainment from minstrel shows and drama to comedy and classical music. On this seminal program listeners also encountered celebrities from motion pictures, vaudeville, musical comedy, and the legitimate stage.

Radio was also making its first attempts at regular comedy programming. The success in 1922 of Ed Wynn's appearance on WEAF in his play, "The Perfect Fool," illustrated early that verbal humor—if not the wild physical antics of slapstick comedy—was readily adaptable to broadcasting. By late 1925, several comedy series had already appeared including The Smith Family with Jim and Marian Jordan (later known as Fibber McGee and Molly). Comedy patter was amply mixed in the musical fare of Billy Jones and Ernie Hare (The Happiness Boys), Trade and Mark (The Smith Brothers), and Goldy and Dusty (The Gold Dust Twins). And the broad comedic styles of minstrelsy and vaudeville found their models in the success of comedians like Sam and Henry (Freeman Golden and Charles Correll, later known as Amos 'n' Andy) and the novelty-singer Wendell Hall. Radio even produced at this time its own nationally known personalities in the likes of announcer Milton Cross and popular singer Vaughn de Leath.

Radio was healthy and prospering by the end of its first five years. While this era has been historically labeled "the Jazz Age" or "the Roaring Twenties" for the overwhelming majority of the citizenry at the time it was the Radio Era. By 1925 there were millions of radio receivers in American homes. That year citizens spent $430 million on radio products. This represented more than twice as much money as was spent on all sporting goods, and about seventy-five cents for each dollar spent on phonographs, pianos, and all other musical instruments. It is no wonder that in 1924 inventor Lee De Forest could announce that radio was now out of the laboratory stage, and a noted economist could proclaim that "radio has passed through the fad stage and has become a utility. It has rightly achieved its proper permanent status among the important industries of the country."

Not only had radio "arrived" in terms of economic importance, but it was definitely an influential force in creating American popular culture. Radio aerials now began to clutter the skyline, and people shopping for new homes began looking for locales with good reception. Since early 1922, a daily radio log listing programs for the day became a regular feature of most newspapers, and by the end of the year twenty-seven different fan magazines were being published in the United States. Christmas of 1922 was the first Yule season in which a new radio was suggested by newspaper advertisements as "the perfect gift," and the first National Radio Week was proclaimed for the last week of November 1923.

Radio began to influence daily routines. Thousands religiously did their morning exercises to the cadence of physical culturists broadcasting calisthenics routines. In 1924, a prominent lexicographer revealed that because of radio at least five thousand new words had entered the English language.

Major cities began observing a "Silent Night" one evening per week in which all local stations ceased broadcasting about 6 P.M. to allow distant signals—sometimes from the East or West Coast, from the South and Midwest, and even from Havana or London—to be heard by local listeners. More than ten million people listened to radio each night, and in a spirit of optimism, General David Sarnoff, later the president of the Radio Corporation of America, predicted in 1924 that before the end of the decade there would be fifty million listeners.

Radio was affecting even popular music, providing material for novelty songs like "I Wish There Was a Wireless to Heaven (Then Mama Would Not Seem So Far Away),” "Mister Radio Man (Tell My Mammy to Come Back Home) ," "Tune in On L-O-V-E," and "Love Her by Radio." One of the more revealing reflections of the penetration of radio into the daily lives of Americans was the sentiment which prefaced a radio scrapbook published in 1925

Memories—like firelit flames
Will quickly fade—so write their names
Within this book—and keep the glow—
Heart of the home—the Radio!

The emergence and flourishing of broadcasting in the United States was the result of four strategic developments:

  1. technological achievements in the producing of radio;
  2. commercial interest in the medium;
  3. governmental concerns about radio; and
  4. the generally-optimistic spirit of the times.
From the interaction of these trends, radio evolved from a faddist national craze to a mass medium of communication and entertainment integral to American civilization. 

Ultimately, radio was one more technological contribution to American society from scientific investigation. In an age that saw the popularity of the telephone, electric lights, phonographs, automobiles, motion pictures, and countless other electrical devices, the radio receiver was another achievement serving to confirm the faith of Americans in technology.

But the medium did not appear suddenly. For several decades it had been the focus of scientific research and development. In 1896, the Italian researcher Guglielmo Marconi improved upon the older telegraph system, with its reliance on electrical wires and undersea cables, by transmitting a "wireless" coded message through the air. Five years later he demonstrated the advancement of wireless telegraphy by sending an intercontinental transmission from Europe to Canada.

It was the development of the oscillating vacuum tube, the Audion, by Lee De Forest, however, that made it possible to transmit the human voice instead of the dots and dashes of telegraphic codes. The invention of this vacuum tube in 1906 made it possible to conduct a "telephone" conversation through a wireless transmitter, hence the early name for radio, the wireless telephone. Experimenting broadcasters throughout the country soon discovered that rather than a monotonous single voice, those people equipped with receivers preferred to hear recorded music on the air. A pioneer in this respect was Charles D. Herrold of San Jose, California. In 1909 he began regularly sending music programs from his small 15-watt transmitter. Although his listeners at first were confined to students at his College of Engineering, Herrold's site later became KQW and eventually KCBS, the Columbia Broadcasting System outlet in San Francisco.

The requirements of the World War caused the United States government in 1917 to seal or confiscate all wireless equipment in the country. Full power to develop broadcasting was given to the Department of the Navy. Professional and amateur radio experimenters, however, were not thwarted by such developments. Under the control of the Navy, radio made great technical strides. Improvements in transmission equipment and output soon enabled consistent and clear communication from the Navy's station NNF, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, to the Allied forces in Europe. Importantly, too, the Navy's dictatorial control effectively ended patent suits, business rivalries, and other factors that were retarding the development of a streamlined, standardized radio industry.

By the end of the war, the Navy had forged a rationalized industry able to mass-produce receiving and transmitting components. Amateur radiophiles were also not abandoned. Throughout the war, publications for enthusiasts, such as The Electrical Experimenter, reported on new advancements in wireless techniques. The magazine's editor, Hugo Gernsbach, was quick to dispel fears that his publication was violating governmental wartime controls. As he editorialized in December 1917:

quoteAs most of our radio readers are undoubtedly aware, the U.S. Government had decided that all Amateur Wireless Stations, whether licensed or unlicensed, or equips [sic] for receiving or transmitting, shall be closed. This is a very important consideration, especially for those who are readers of THE ELECTRICAL EXPERIMENTER, for the reason that we desire to continue to publish valuable articles on the wireless art from time to time, and which may treat on both transmitting and receiving apparatus. In the first place, there are a great many students among our readers who will demand and expect a continuation of the usual class of Radio subjects which we have publisht [sic] in the past four years, and secondly, there will be hundreds and even thousands of new radio pupils in the various naval and civilian schools throughout the country, who will be benefitted by up-to-date wireless articles treating on both transmitting as well as receiving equipment. Remember that you must not connect up radio apparatus to any form of antenna.

The election-night broadcast on KDKA in 1920 may have capped two decades of experimentation by those who saw a great potential in radio, but it did not diminish scientific investigation and engineering innovation. In the next several years radio was improved. This was accomplished by advancements made in station apparatus, microphones, tubes, and speakers. In 1923, for example, manufacturers introduced an all-electric radio model that could operate without the cumbersome storage batteries required for the earliest models.

One of the most significant innovations at this time was the utilization of telephone lines to broadcast across great distances. Broadcasters in early 1921 were limited in the range of their signal. On a clear night, when there was a minimum of atmospheric interference, it was possible for a radio signal to travel long distances. But during the day, and on most evenings, especially in the summer when the sun dissipated the strength of radio signals, such coverage was not possible. The use of long-lines telephone equipment, however, enabled a transmission to travel anywhere in the country—much like a long-distance telephone call—then to be fed directly to radio stations along the electrical route. Here the signal would be amplified to its original strength and sent on to another city, and/or broadcast from that station. Although it appeared to be a lengthy operation, the radio signal actually travelled at the speed of electricity.

This type of broadcasting allowed the creation of a "chain" or “web” of stations that simultaneously aired the same program. In this manner, the first network broadcast was made January 4, 1923, when a concert was broadcast in New York City on WEAF, and simultaneously in Boston on WNAC. Within two years, the future of chain broadcasting seemed bright. When President Coolidge spoke before the United States Chamber of Commerce on October 23, 1924, his words were carried live on the largest chain to date. Twenty-two stations, from WEAF and WCAP (Washington, D.C.), to KFI and KFOA (Seattle) broadcast the address. In the words of one historian, it was a technical feat of amazing proportions. It also set the stage for the next logical step: the establishment of permanent radio networks.

If radio was made possible because of technological innovations, it was rendered viable because of commercial interest. From its inception broadcasting was envisioned by American business as a commercial vehicle through which to make profits. The ownership of early stations by specific businesses and corporations clearly illustrates the future anticipated for radio. In this regard, by 1922 several major American corporations—General Electric, American Telephone and Telegraph, Westinghouse, Radio Corporation of America, and United Fruit—sought to monopolize high-powered radio broadcasting in the United States. Although the monopoly never was successfully achieved, out of their effort would emerge the first radio network, the National Broadcasting Company.

Despite the ownership of radio by wealthy business interests, the first years of commercial radio were filled with the problems of finance: how to pay for a station and its personnel, how to obtain good and popular talent for programs. In its earliest days radio programming was free. Because most broadcasters and listeners disliked the idea of filling the air with commercial messages, radio did not generate revenue from advertisers. Yet, a lack of income prevented stations from paying those who appeared before their microphones. Those who did broadcast were offered only the free publicity which their appearances created.

Compounding this problem of live talent, by 1922 lawyers for ASCAP demanded an annual fee for the right to air phonograph recordings of music composed or recorded by ASCAP members. Since this included most of the popular music of the day, stations had to pay annual fees ranging in 1925 from $250 to $2500. It should not be a surprise that many early stations went bankrupt. In the period from 1922 to 1925, for example, although there were 1079 new stations established, 626 were closed.

The debate over methods of financing radio was intense by late 1922. Some looked to European methods which relied upon taxing owners of radios with the revenue allotted to radio stations by the government. Others, averring governmental interference, suggested answers that ranged from reliance upon philanthropy or the sale to the public of subscriptions and/or memberships, to a two-percent tax on manufacturers for each receiver built, or the sale by each station of electrical devices needed to unscramble programs intentionally garbled in their transmission.

The debate brought forth prominent voices. Martin Rice, Director of Broadcasting for General Electric, felt that the public should be made to pay for radio programs by subscriptions or by a tax. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover argued for the creation of six or seven national networks that would air "simultaneous broadcasts" and thereby lessen costs. But David Sarnoff of RCA stridently opposed commercializing radio. In 1923 he passionately stated his position against taxing listeners for owning and using their radios.

It is my firm conviction that broadcasting can be made commercially practicable without any means being found for collecting from the consumer, that the greatest advantage for broadcasting lies in its universality, in its ability to reach everybody, everywhere, anywhere, in giving free entertainment, culture, instruction, and all the items which constitute a program, in doing that which no other agency has yet been able to do, and it is up to us, of the radio art and industry ... to preserve that most delightful element in the whole situation—the freedom of radio. Just as soon as we destroy that freedom and universality of radio and confine it to only those who pay for it ... we destroy the fundamental of the whole situation.

The most important breakthrough in this quandary was the broadcasting of paid commercials by station WEAF. The first such announcement was aired August 28, 1922, and concerned Hawthorne Court, a complex of tenant-owned apartment homes in Jackson Heights in New York City. Long and verbose by later standards, this paid announcement earned $100 for WEAF and provided a model for other stations. The courage and success of WEAF were soon emulated by others. Within three years these so-called toll stations were prevalent throughout the country. With them came the first appearance of the rhetoric that advertisers would develop throughout the history of radio. Thus, as at KGW (Portland, Oregon) businesses were informed that sponsorship should be considered "the contribution to home entertainment which the firm makes for the public good-will and friendship to be derived." In a sense, the air was becoming a magazine—filled with stories, features, and now, advertisements. As with magazines, the quick success of toll radio signified that public approval of the entertainment offset public annoyance with rude interruptions for commercial messages.

By the middle of the decade, the effects of commercialized broadcasting were obvious. Many shows were now named after the sponsor. Guests on The Eveready Hour cost the Eveready Battery Company up to $1000 per performance. From toothpaste companies (The Ipana Troubadours) to tire manufacturers (The Goodrich Zippers), radio programs became integrally linked to business enterprises. Yet, given the traditional distaste for governmental interference by free enterprise, given the inability of radio to finance itself with public donations, and given the necessity of finding sources of revenue to survive, the development of American radio as a commercialized medium was inevitable. Proof of this rested in the conversion of David Sarnoff. Long an opponent of advertisements on the air, by 1925 he had changed his thinking and now paved the way for the leadership of RCA in forging the commercialized NBC radio network.

A few statistics demonstrate the rapid growth of radio in its first years. Government figures indicate that in the period 1921-1922, ownership of radio receivers rose by a rate somewhere between 1100 and 1900 percent. Where in early 1921 there were less than fifty thousand radios in the United States, within a year figures suggested anywhere from 600,000 to one million sets in circulation. And broadcasters responded by opening new stations. In the ten months between August 1921, and May 1922, a total of 286 new facilities were opened. Underscoring such expansion, between 1922 and 1924 public investment in radio equipment soared from $60 million to $358 million.

With its sudden growth the radio industry quickly developed problems. Some stations complained of infringements on their assigned wavelengths by more powerful stations. Others feared that those stations with more powerful wattage would eventually dominate all broadcasting. A good number of broadcasters resented the commercialization of the air by toll stations. And there were many legal altercations involving stations, manufacturers, equipment distributors, and other components of the new industry.

It was in this atmosphere of rapid development and consternation that Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover convened the first Washington Radio Conference in 1922. The conference signaled to all parties that the United States government was taking an alert, arbitrational role in the development of radio. As Hoover told the conferees: “It is the purpose of this conference to inquire into the critical situation that has now arisen through the astonishing development of the wireless telephone; to advise the Department of Commerce as to the application of its present powers of regulation, and further to formulate such recommendations to Congress as to the legislation necessary.”

Even before this conference, the federal government had established a regulatory role for itself in the nascent radio industry. The Radio Law of 1912 assigned to the Department of Commerce the task of licensing experimental radio stations. During the World War the Department of the Navy controlled all transmitting equipment in the United States, and exercised its monopolistic options to establish by late 1918 a streamlined industry capable of meeting the demands of a mass market.

The government was also indirectly involved with the development of radio through federal court decisions, contracts for large-scale purchases of radio equipment, and its refusal to allow the Navy Department to maintain its control of broadcasting beyond the end of the war. When Secretary Hoover convened the leaders of the industry at the Radio Conference, therefore, it was not an unfamiliar role that the government was playing.

During the conference of 1922—and in Radio Conferences in the three following years—Hoover and the government maintained their fundamental Republican principles concerning the role of government in the realm of free enterprise. Hoover felt that government at best was an arbiter. Its function was to enforce laws and work at the will of the industry to ensure a healthy situation. When representatives at the conference recommended to Congress that the Secretary of Commerce should be given "adequate legal authority" to act effectively as an arbitrator, they knew that Hoover would be sympathetic to their demands for respect of private interests and corporate independence.

The striking defect in the role of the government in regulating the new industry was the lack of suitable legislation. Until 1927 the only regulatory legislation under which the Department of Commerce could act was the Radio Law of 1912. Written with no idea of radio as a multimillion-dollar enterprise touching the lives of most Americans, that law lacked specifics for dealing with the problems besetting radio in the 1920s. Such simple problems as denying an application for a radio license, or actions to be taken when the broadcast spectrum was filled and no more stations could be created, were not envisioned by the law. Further, the Department of Commerce was not given power to enforce its decisions.

Under Hoover, however, the department did play an active role in the radio industry. It attempted to overcome problems of broadcast interference by reassigning all wavelengths, trying to separate on the radio dial those powerful regional stations from the weaker local transmitters. Hoover also deplored the notion of monopolistic control of radio. He cooperated with the Federal Trade Commission in its investigation of the trust established between GE, RCA, Westinghouse, United Fruit, and AT&T. He also operated his department as an "honest broker" between various radio interests, acting to encourage development, improvement, and expansion of broadcasting.

Although he lacked substantial power and legislative direction, Hoover was greatly responsible for the manner in which the radio industry developed. He assiduously left its control in the hands of businessmen and entrepreneurs, reserving for the government the nebulous right to interfere to protect the public interest. Even had he so desired, Hoover did not have the specific right to exercise strong control. Not until passage of the Radio Law of 1927 in which Congress established the Federal Radio Commission (replaced in 1934 by the FCC, the Federal Communications Commission) was there a regulatory body with specified powers to settle the problems besetting modern broadcasting.

Hoover never allowed personal prejudices to compromise his laissez-faire economic ideals. Although he deplored cluttering the air with commercial announcements, he never acted to prevent stations from charging tolls. Although he favored the creation of several national networks, he did not compel stations to create such arrangements. If radio in America later became a healthy, vital, and entertaining medium aiming its programming at the so-called "common man" instead of a more discriminating and esthetic audience, it was in great part because the government refused to thwart radio's early growth toward becoming a commercialized communication forum seeking to sell its various programs to mass consumers.

An invention like radio, bringing free entertainment directly into the home, fit the spirit of the time in which it was born. Postwar America was one of the nation’s most energetic eras. The 1920s has been called a time of normalcy. This was not only incorrect grammar, it was a misnomer. It was a decade generally typified by prosperity, self-confidence, isolationism, and a relative wealth of leisure time. Coming as it did after World War I with its austerity and self-sacrifice, the new decade was an innovative time in which new values and social patterns emerged.

One mark of the 1920s was its faddist nature. Flagpole sitters, miniature golf, mahjong, dance crazes, flapper dresses, real estate booms, and auto-suggestive health cures all enjoyed popularity for a while. This was the era of the celebrity faith healers from fundamentalists Billy Sunday and Aimee Semple McPherson, to Frank Buchman of Moral Rearmament and Jiddu Krishnamurti, a Hindu visitor heralded as the New Messiah. Even radio was destined to produce its own faith healer, Dr. John Brinkley of KFKB in Milford, Kansas, who for years sold patent medicines to people throughout the nation.

While followers of such fads may have been gullible, their credulity should not be taken as a sign of mental aberration. According to Dr. Emory S. Bogardus, founder of the University of Southern California journal, Sociology and Social Research, fads are a healthy sign, for "they flourish only in social environments in which people are looking forward and seeking progress by trying out new things and ideas.”

The 1920s also witnessed the emergence of mass spectator sports. Sports such as horse racing had been attracting large crowds for many decades, but now fans thronged to football, baseball, golf, boxing, and tennis. Annual attendance at professional sporting events doubled during the decade. Gigantic concrete stadiums were erected to house such spectator sports.

America also lionized its heroes of sport. Red Grange, Knute Rockne, Bobby Jones, Helen Wills, Babe Ruth, and Jack Dempsey all became readily-recognized personalities. The writer who said of football in 1928, "It is at present a religion ... sometimes it seems to be almost our national religion," could well have made such a statement about sports in general.

American society in the decade was also in love with technology and its practical realization in electrical gadgets. New industries of mass production were created to meet the demands of mass consumption. Never had so many enjoyed the fruits of so much technology in so short a time. Automobile registration rose from 9.3 million in 1921 to 23.1 million in 1929; telephone ownership rose from 14.3 million in 1922 to 20.3 million by the end of 1930; and the domestic use of electricity increased 135 percent during the decade. In 1926 the first scheduled air service was inaugurated and 5782 passengers utilized it that year. By 1930—just three years after Col. Charles A. Lindbergh had become the most renowned man of the era because of his solo non-stop flight across the Atlantic—the number of people utilizing air service had risen to 417,505.

New technology in the 1920s gave Americans innovative forms of entertainment. During that decade motion pictures soared to new heights of popularity, becoming by 1930 an industry worth over $2 billion, employing 325,000 people, and weekly entertaining up to 15 million Americans. Technological developments were applied in other areas. From the development of rayon and the irradiation of food to increase vitamin content, to the mass production of typewriters (one million by 1929) and the development of the electric dishwasher, Americans were inundated with innovative products. The fervent faith in science created by such invention was evidenced by a New York Times correspondent who noted in 1925 that if Coolidge's voice could be broadcast live throughout the nation at his inaugural ceremony, surely in four years the next inauguration should be televised—perhaps even in Europe.

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