We offer this essay on the subject of the radio, not knowing how many of our readers are of such an age as can recall the same, and, particularly, the contextual era of which this simple electronic device was a paramount part. Contemporaneous electric and computer marvels [including “echo technology”] have so overshadowed the simple device that it has been essentially, forgotten or ignored.
Any fair and useful homage to the radio could not be meaningfully and accurately rendered, without some basic discussion of the relevant context of the extant American society, most particularly, the American family. It can fairly be said, that the subsequent exponential development and availability of more complex and utilitarian electronic devices, has so thoroughly metamorphosed society, as to make the contextual era of the family radio, (circa. 1940s to 1950s) unfamiliar ancient history.
Radios were customarily purchased from businesses, dealing in electrical appliances, except for those, which were installed in living or dining room, decorative furniture. In some homes and apartments, such item of showy furniture, containing the radio was located in a prominent place in the living room or family room, usually facing a sofa or armchair, but always, located where it was accessible by the family or any one of its members.
Radios came in all sizes, styles and shapes, dependent upon the intended destination in the home. Most were small and, perhaps, placed atop an “icebox,” (forerunner of the refrigerator) or an article of household furniture. The insides of these devices were relatively, bulky, containing tubes of various sizes, wires, and a mix of sundry electrical parts. (N.B.). This was prior to the advent of the portable radio, the latter device existing in an entirely, disparate contextual setting than is relevant to this writing.
Families in those days, usually, spent more time together and listening to the radio, was often done, by the assembled family; the latter ensemble, a veritable rarity, in contemporaneous times. Aside from the daily newspaper, or viewed on occasion, in the cinema, on “Movietone News,” the radio was the primary source of news information. The family listened, most intently, to the news during the worrisome years of the Second World War. One heard President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s, “Fireside Chats,” Churchill’s “Blood, Sweat and Tears” speech, and listened, for the latest news and commentary from the likes of, Walter Cronkite, H.B. Kaltenborn, Edward R. Morrow, Eric Severeid, David Brinkley, Howard K. Smith and many others, some, still familiar. We can poignantly remember that the youngest member of the family began to cry when he heard the report that Herr Adolph Hitler had threatened to launch German V-2 Rockets against New York.
As children, we looked forward to Sunday afternoons, when our favorite action programs were broadcast, such as, “The House of Mystery,” “Nick Carter, Detective,” “The F.B.I. In Peace and War,” and “The Shadow” (“The Shadow Knows”). The assembled family was mutually, entertained by regular Sunday evening comedy programs like those of, Fred Allen, Jack Benny and Red Skelton. Today, entertainment is ordinarily, sought outside the home and evaluated on a purely personal, basis.
The blitzkrieg advent, and exponential development and use of computers, most especially, handheld “smart” phones, marked the tragic end of radios and the radio era. With it, died the warm characteristics of family sentimentality and togetherness, personal sharing, of intimate feelings, and the comfort and assurance of personal recognition and intimately expressed conversation. Conversation became unitary, and solo, as opposed to shared or socially expressed, and was, now, faceless and exclusively, on a one-to-one basis. Rather than expressed in predictably expected, chosen words, they were transmitted, as cold and uniform, computer-like data, reflected on small, lighted, handheld screens, each distant from the place of the other party to the conversation.
Copious computer developments, inarguably, made work and life far more efficient and faster, but at the exorbitant cost of intimate friendship, humanity and individuality, as existed in the radio era.