A revolutionary invention
Imagine America at the end of World War I. Brief notices of important events were still sent by telegraph, the fastest communication that existed.
People read newspapers and magazines to learn details about happenings in the world beyond their hometowns. In small towns, the news was often out-of-date before the publications arrived. For that matter, much of the news was old even when it was written.
A decade later, a surge of interest, development, and investment in commercial radio had transformed the nation.
Election results were broadcast by radio for the first time ever in 1920 (by KDKA in Pittsburg.) Owners of radio sets heard the news first. They didn't have to wait for printing presses to grind out an extra and newsboys to run it through the streets.
With that broadcast, radio gained a new measure of respectability. Its potential was examined and found promising; it was recognized as more than a curious hobby.
By 1927, radio frequencies were so crowded that Congress set up a regulatory agency, the Federal Radio Commission, to issue broadcast licenses.
The 1930 census inquired whether the household owned a radio set. Many people did. The wealthy purchased a commercial model, and the poor built their own crystal sets or vacuum tube radios using the plans published in hobby magazines.
Americans tuned in regularly for the news, farm reports, and weather reports, and for other favorite programs -- music, drama, quiz shows, humor, and more. The radio often became the family gathering place, assuming a role that the piano or the phonograph had previously enjoyed.
Franklin D. Roosevelt used radio to bring his "Fireside Chats" into American living rooms, starting in 1933. He employed the cutting edge of technology to speak directly to the people in an unprecedented way.
From that era, here are two interesting quotes:
I live in a strictly rural community, and people here speak of “The Radio” in the large sense, with an over-meaning. When they say “The Radio” they don’t mean a cabinet, an electrical phenomenon, or a man in a studio, they refer to a pervading and somewhat godlike presence which has come into their lives and homes.
—E. B. White, 1933
God Hears Prayer
If radio's slim fingers can pluck a melody
From night -- and toss it over a continent or sea;
If the petalled white notes of a violin
Are blown across the mountains or the city's din;
If songs, like crimson roses, are culled from thin blue air --
Why should mortals wonder if God hears prayer?
-Ethel Romig Fuller (from the 1937 anthology, 1000 Quotable Poems)
Related post: I Grew Up in Radio Land