"If any one doubted the tremendous grip of radio upon the public that one need only have strolled up and down the lines on Wabash avenue last evening to have understood that the new science is the favored child of poor and rich." Stephen Gilchrist, The Chicago Tribune, November 19, 1924

"Chicago's There!"

This headline in a November 21 article in the The Chicago Tribune greeted the Third Annual Chicago Radio Show of 1924. Billed as a "Wonderland of Radio" and the "A Veritable World's Fair," the Third Annual Chicago Radio Show aspired to be one of the best radio shows in the world. As Stephen Gilchrist, Radio Editor of The Chicago Tribune wrote, "Spurred by geographical and transportation advantages, this city's industries set out more than a year ago to make Chicago the actual radio hub of the world." According to figures and The Tribune, this goal was achieved and the radio show was "hailed at the time as the de luxe edition of everything of its kind that had gone before."

What Was the Chicago Radio Show?

The show took place on November 18-24, 1924 at the Coliseum, and it featured over 250 exhibits of radio receivers, parts, and receiver accessories, including exhibits from Italy, Japan, Germany, and France. "A stream of men, women, and children, all radio folk of one kind or another" paid 50 cents to attend the fair.  According to Gilchrist's articles in The Tribune, total business was $6,500,000, and total attendance was 139,902 people. Planning for the event was extensive: "A noted architect, several famous artists, and a score of scenic designers and builders devoted two months to its production."

The primary goal of the show was to exhibit new radio designs and products. According to Gilchrist, a technical look at the show revealed "a single striking impression: that this is very largely a high frequency year." According to Gilchrist, manufacturers boosted their radio frequency products "from the straight amplifiers of broadcast bands to the imposing super-hets of many types of long wave transformers." The show also featured amateur displays, including the short-wave station 9XBG. In addition, a series of experiments and demonstrations were performed "to bring to light and test out new radio inventions and theories." Gilchrist continued, "In addition to awarding suitable prizes to the successful inventors, the show management will endeavor to assist them to market their inventions to the best possible advantage." An amateur builder's contest awarded 25 cash prizes.

But the show wasn't just an exhibit of radio products--it was a true fair filled with entertainment and special attractions. The "Queen of the Radio World," noted concert singer Edith Bennett, sang "The Star Spangled Banner" and "Auld Lang Syne" at the Coliseum.  Four broadcast studios aired special programs from 2 to 11 daily in the south balcony of the Coliseum, so that the "curious public" could observe the radio broadcasts of four radio stations (WGN, WMAZ, KYW) in Chicago.  According to Gilchrist, "Chicago's most popular radio entertainers will appear on these exposition programs, and public receptions will be held in their honor every afternoon and evening." At the Chicago Tribune's booth, people ("including many women") came to read copies of the special radio section in the paper, "one of the many evidences of the tremendous interest that radio is commanding at the present time." From 11 a.m. until the gates opened at 1 p.m., manufacturers offered their products to buyers.

On the second evening of the show, over 100 people attended the "official radio show banquet in the Morrison hotel under auspices of the radio section of the Electric Club." Speakers at the event included George C. Clark, chief engineer of the Radio Corporation of America; Major Andrew J. White of WJZ, New York; Frank C. Thomas, Publisher; and Laurence Rockaday, technical editor. Entertainment was provided by Herbie Mintz.

Another major part of the show was its commitment to the blind. Sponsored by the American Radio association and conducted by The Tribune, the American Foundation for the Blind hoped to "place a receiving set in the home of every needy blind person in the country." As the sponsors billed it, they wanted to "let the sighted help the sightless." Part of the incentive for the drive was Joseph "Uncle" Bird, an electrical engineer who became totally blind eight years ago. A radio expert, Bird staffed the collection table at the Coliseum and devoted much of his time to "helping other people like himself." As Gilchrist writes, "Society leaders, radio manufacturers, jobbers, and dealers, and scores of others interested in the new science from one standpoint or another joined hands yesterday to pull over a gigantic auction sale of receivers and accessories on the main floor of the Coliseum for the benefit of The Chicago Tribune's radio fund for the blind. A total of $1,231 ("$10 of which was for a kiss donated and delivered on the spot by 'the Ultra dyne Girl") and $6,000 worth of radio equipment was donated to the fund.

Chicago: The Hub of Radio?

In the end, the Chicago Radio Show was hailed as the best of its time. "Records went by the board one after another, beginning Tuesday morning prior to the opening of the gates to the public, when the two hours of dealing set a first day mark for number of contracts written for radio apparatus," wrote Gilchrist.  In fact, the show was so successful, and the exhibitors were "so impressed with the tremendous public interest in radio in the middle west," that most of the space in the Coliseum was sold for the following year.

On the second day, 10,000 people were denied admission by the Fire Marshal to "preserve safety." They formed a line outside the entrances, and automobiles in the streets made "passage difficult in any direction." In fact, the Radio Show succeeded in attracting the largest crowd in the history of the Coliseum (roughly 25,000 each day), and it was determined that "the second day of the show had made a world record in demonstration of radio interest," according to Gilchrist.

One of the goals of the event was certainly to surpass New York City's radio show, and at the time, the organizers believed they had succeeded.  "Managers of the show, early in the evening, expressed confidence that this figure [of number of attendees] would be exceeded and New York left records before the curtain is run down on the exposition," wrote Gilchrist.  On the fourth day of the Chicago exhibition, the amount of radio equipment sold surpassed what was sold in the six days of the New York show. According to the manager of the show, Frank J. Err, in Chicago "radio interest is more intense than in New York, it is certain to stand."

In many ways, the rivalry between the Radio Shows of Chicago and New York evolved into a debate of the east versus the west.  In fact, Eastern manufacturers commented, according to Gilchrist, "upon the wider spread of radio knowledge commoner to the public of the west than of the east."

Below this cartoon in The New York Times was the following excerpt from John J. Ingalls "Opportunity." 

Master of Human Miracles am I. 
Countless millions on my wave lengths wait. 
Continents and seas I span; I penetrate unyielding steel 
And whisper lightly through the granite wall. 
I am the Radio. I knock at every eardrum. 
My waves in endless billows flood the world. 
If sleeping, sleep—if feasting, finish while I wait. 
It is the hour of 8, and they who follow radio reach every state. 
I laught at time and space. In a heartbeat I link the east and west 
And bring the nation's great to every door. 
Marvel at me, but do not try to understand.

stamp1.jpg (25392 bytes)

Back to Main Page