Monday, September 17, 2007

I heard it on the radio!

Both of these ads are from 1946: the Bendix Radio ad from Life Magazine, and the G.E. ad from Look. Click on the pictures for full-size images.

The G.E. ad, for the brand new clock radio, says, "Post-war from tip to toe." In those days things made of plastic were considered modern, which they were. Those were the days before plastic was considered cheap. The Bendix ad even touts their radios as "Perfection In Plastic"!I'd love to own the G.E. clock-radio. Sometimes I need a little buzz in the morning.
These ads were placed just before radio got its first real competition from the new medium, television. In a larger sense, I think radio was one of the greatest inventions of the Twentieth Century. Our family got its first television in 1950, but in our living room we also had a large console radio, a holdover from the 1940s. Before television, families used to sit around looking at the radio. Television was firmly post-war, but radio went back into the 1920s, and while telephones were the great invention for personal communication, radio was the first real invention for mass communication.Despite being mass communication, radio was, and is, personal. I listen to it all day while driving, and 50 or 60 years ago my father listened to it in his car while driving his own route. He was a traveling salesman for Quaker Oats, and his territory included Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. Talk about empty spaces and long roads with distant horizons! Especially in those days, where many parts of a state like Montana were still part of the Old West. For Dad, the radio was indispensable. He'd come back from his sales trips telling us what he'd heard, what radio shows he listened to on his long drives. I remember his stories, related from the radio. At night the 50,000 watt stations ruled the airwaves: Dad would listen to stations from all over the country, picked up on his AM car radio. A powerhouse station like WSM beamed the Grand Ole Opry all over the country and Canada, introducing people to music they'd never heard before. KSL in Salt Lake City was also heard by people all over North America.

In urban and rural areas, smaller stations niche-programmed to their listeners, playing country, hillbilly, rhythm and blues, and even country blues. What a great time that would have been, traveling around, listening to all of the local stations.

Nowadays there are a lot of things to compete with radio, but it is still one of the most vital mediums available, and while programming, styles of music and listeners may change, radio will still be vital long after all of us are gone.

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