Radio in the 1920s
Emergence of Radio in the 1920s and its Cultural Significance
Most radio historians asert that radio broadcasting began in 1920 with the historic
broadcast of KDKA. Few people actually heard the voices and music which were
produced because of the dearth of radio receivers at that time. The public, however,
was overcome by a radio craze after the initial broadcast. Radio became a product of
the mass market. Manufacturers were overwhelmed by the demand for receivers, as
customers stood in line to complete order forms for radios after dealers had sold
out. Between 1923 and 1930, 60 percent of American families purchased radios.
Families gathered around their radios for night-time entertainment. As radio
ownership increased, so did the number of radio stations. In 1920, KDKA was not actually the only
operating radio station, but it remains a benchmark in most accounts. And by 1922, 600 radio stations had sprung up around the United
States. Chicago's first radio station, KYW, begun in 1921 by Westinghouse Electric
and Manufacturing Company, was the first specialized radio station, broadcasting
exclusively opera six days a week. The radio station experienced immediate
popularity and continued to be a favorite in Chicago. After the opera season ended,
the station owners saw the need to diversify their programming. They began
broadcasting things like popular music, classical music, sporting events, lectures,
fictional stories, newscasts, weather reports, market updates, and political
commentary. Radio stations like KYW enhanced a sense of community among different
ethnic groups as each group could listen to programming suited to their interests and
needs. However, the advance of radio technology also created a tension between modernity
and the traditions and habits of Americans.
The rapid spread of radio listeners and programs lead to inevitable confusion and disruption. Radio waves were up for grabs, as stations competed with one another for time and listeners. Many programs overlapped. Listeners of one program were frequently interrupted by overlapping programs. In addition, the public, the government, and emerging radio corporations viewed radio as a means of public service, rarely as a vehicle for personal profit. Radio manufacturers alone experienced financial gain from the radio boom. Radio announcers, deejays, and stations worked on a non-profit basis. Advertising was not introduced until later in the 1920s, changing the public service face of radio, to one of private gain.
The federal government hesitated to regulate the airwaves. Radio stations, listeners, and emerging broadcasting corporations all asked the government for some sort of intervention to end the free-for-all that radio had become. The government responded slowly, gradually passing laws to govern the radio. The Federal Radio Commission was set up in 1926; the Radio Act of 1927 organized the Federal Radio Commission. This Act became the basis for the Communications Act passed after the rise of television. As the government spent more time investigating radio stations, apportioning time to different groups and programs, and monitoring the growth of the radio industry, they became more and more comfortable with the responsibilities of regulation. These federal bodies eventually ceased to doubt their right to regulate.
Radios in the 1920s
radio is crafted in the cathedral style. Other radios were made in the tombstone
style or in the crystal radio style, shown before. Radios were made in either
plastic, wood, or metal.
For further examples of each, click HERE.
Are you interested in buying, selling, collecting, or just browsing for other early radios?Click HERE.
Radio Advertisements of the 1920s; For more ads of radios in the 1920s, click HERE.
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