Just like today, technology was at the top of everyone’s holiday wish list in 1926. Every family–farm families included–hoped that Santa would deliver a radio set to their home. By then radios were wireless allowing everyone in the room to hear the featured program through the horn-shaped speaker. Tuning into the radio station had become simpler with fewer dials to adjust. And the sets were sleeker-looking with tubes and batteries built inside the radio box. Ultra-modern (and very expensive) radios ran on electricity, a luxury that was still ten years away for very rural homes.
The article below illustrates just how meaningful radio programming was a century ago. It also discusses the challenges of operating the new technology and the need for government regulation over radio stations. By the mid-1920s radio was fast becoming a key component in the Ideal Farm Home. Happy Reading!
The Wonder of Radio
HAVING had a radio in our farm home since radio infancy and also having had many different types, I can say something about the radio and what it means to the farm family. And what I will say today is much different from what I might have said in those first days, as much difference as between radios then and now. Then we thought it amazing to hear the tap, tap of the time signals from Arlington, and when we heard a faint suggestion of music—only a suggestion and that so faint that we had to give our imagination broad play, we could hardly conceive the wonder. Many a night, in those early days, I was routed out of my warm bed by the excited calls of my young son to come quick—he thought he heard music!
Our son worked diligently on the farm every summer and when fall came, we tried to buy for him the thing he most wanted. From the time he first knew about radios, he desired one. We watched him through one summer trying to “codger” something together that could be called a radio and reading everything he could get hold of on the subject. By fall, we decided the fever was not going to wear off, so we let him send for one. They had to be “sent for” in those days. It came at the time of our town fair. Do you imagine he went to the fair—something he never before missed? He could not be coaxed to go but spent the time installing his radio. For a long time, his new toy did not mean much to his father and mother—only a trial to get him to bed. But it meant bliss to him! One day, imagine my consternation when I found the radio in pieces spread over his bed—the radio that we had strained our pocketbook to the limit to buy! I do not know exactly what I said but whatever it was I now am ashamed of it. Son is a man now and his business is radio which explains, of course, that unconquerable temptation to pull to pieces the first one he knew; also, it explains our having had so many different sets in our farm home.
Arts and Education Through Radio
SO RADIO has meant a life work for our boy and pleasure and education for his parents. With me, the pleasure and education have been so closely combined as to be difficult to separate. There is pleasure in the music. I like it all. I like some jazzy stuff; I like the beautiful old songs; I like the classics. There is education, also. I never before had a chance to know how lovely, how pretty and even “catchy” some classical music is. People who do not know, think that high-class music is humdrum—it is far from that. One can hear all kinds of life in classical music—that is what it speaks to me—life! Without effort, I have become familiar with composers. That never would have happened in my busy farm life had it not been for the radio. The announcers give sketches of the lives of the composers and the performers; and these sketches, given when we are listening to their music sink into our memories.
And to think that I, a farm woman, with neither time nor money for city concerts, have heard the great artist of the day—even Marion Talley (a nineteen-year-old opera singer with the Metropolitan Opera 1926—1929) who has stirred up so much excitement.
Politicians and Radio
I am interested in politics and surely the radio has brought me a lot of information. Reading speeches and debates does not carry conviction as does hearing them in the politician’s own voice. How we can judge a voice with its inflections of the seriousness of laughter, of sarcasm, of wheedling. A certain sort of politician can’t easily fool me now. And how fine it is to be familiar with the voices a well as the looks of the big people we admire. How thrilling it is to be familiar with the voice of our President (Calvin Coolidge)! How acquainted with him we feel!
Radio in Moderation
There are such a variety of things the radio brings to us: college lectures, talks of books, agricultural information, weather and market reports, church services for those who cannot attend—or that is the way it should be, for no radio service, no matter how good, can take the place of actual church attendance.
Radio listening may be overdone. With children, a firm hand is needed so that it does not usurp regular habits and work. It is not good when we let it rob us of needed sleep. It becomes a narrowing rather than a broadening factor when we will listen to only one line that is given over it. I know one woman who will listen only to jazzy tunes. Radio listening need not take a woman’s time from her work. While listening, my hands are usually busy, unless I am resting or am listening to something upon which I wish to closely concentrate. A loudspeaker, of course, is absolutely necessary. Ours can be heard plainly in my kitchen.
It is to be hoped most sincerely that broadcasting stations will keep to a high standard of programs. We had rather have fewer and shorter programs than necessitate the serving of trash.
Understanding New Technology
OUT of my experience with radio receiving sets, I know that they have to bear more blame and cursing than they deserve. There are many good kinds upon the market; there are poor ones. There are many factors that enter into poor reception besides the receiving set itself. It is all a marvel. Most often poor reception may be located in atmospheric conditions, poor batteries, poor tubes, or the aerial. The past winter has been the poorest for reception of any time during the many years of our experience. It has been puzzling, to say the least. Stations that used to come in clear and loud, we were not able to get at all. Occasionally there is trouble at the transmitting station. During the last Lenten season, we were listening to a noon service, when abruptly it stopped. We knew the trouble was not in our set, so we left it turned on and tuned in. In about twenty minutes the sermon continued. I know that day several people phoned for a “trouble” man to come, as their radios did not work—and it was not the radios at all! They never thought to try later but must instantly blame their machines. Too, it happens often that everything will seem all wrong one night and the next night, or sooner, the reception will be perfect. Some people have more aptitude than others in turning a set.
We have used four, five, and six-tube sets and single control with good results. For a long time, we used a four-tube and thought none could equal it; now we have a six-tube and like it. It gives great volume and, also, has a pleasing tone. The tone and selectivity, that is the ability to separate stations, are to be sought in selecting a set. I believe there would be more real pleasure in radio if there were not so many stations on the air, for many sent at once on practically the same wavelength.
Money spent on a radio will give more value to a farm family than anything else that can be bought for an equal amount. –Elizabeth M. Hoag 1926
The above article was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, November 1926; Webb Publishing Company. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.