Monday, November 30, 2009

JFK Assassination Radio Coverage

I had the best intentions to write a thorough post about radio coverage of the JFK assassination, but that may have to wait until next year. There are several Dallas radio station airchecks in circulation that are worth taking a listen to, including some available for purchase via the web. Though the event is mainly remembered for marathon national coverage on NBC and CBS television networks (and justifiably so), at its heart, the story was about three shootings in Dallas, and local radio stations there were well positioned to cover it, and did so admirably.

Though I didn't get a chance to write an ISLR post about the radio coverage, I was invited to appear last Sunday on Seattle ABC affiliate KOMO AM-FM's weekly public affairs program Beyond The Headlines to talk with host Charlie Harger about how the event was covered on radio and TV. I also wrote a piece about local reaction in Seattle for

Public Radio International's New Board President

Public Radio International (PRI) recently elected a new president who happens to be from Seattle. Here's a link to a profile of Linda Larson that I wrote a week or so ago for, which also includes an exploration of the "ecology" of NPR, PRI and APM, along with some speculating about the future of broadcast vs. podcast.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Links Between the Rise of Radio Broadcasting and the Rise of the 20th Century American Christmas

(Editor's Note: With the holiday season approaching, I thought I'd dust off this paper about radio and Christmas that I wrote five years ago as part of my successful application to grad school (though I ended up choosing to not enroll). My scholarship has improved somewhat in five years and I've edited this material for other purposes, but I also thought it was worth posting the original if only for self-indulgent reasons.)

Two major cultural phenomena ascended to prominence in the United States during the early and middle twentieth century. While each has been studied in isolation from the other, with numerous academic studies and dozens of mass market books, and documentary films and radio programs being produced in the past 50 years, the reciprocal influences and cross-fertilization of and by these phenomena has not been fully explored. It can be argued that the relationship between radio broadcasting and the American celebration of Christmas was critical to the rise of each in the years between World War I and World War II. A survey of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day radio timetables and radio columns in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 1921 to 1939 demonstrates the “Audible Night” or a series inextricable links between radio and Christmas, while a survey of key history texts focused on either radio or Christmas demonstrates the cursory study that has been given the two fields as they relate to one another.

Erik Barnouw’s epic three-volume history of broadcasting in the United States briefly mentions Reginald Fessenden’s historic first known broadcast of the human voice—on Christmas Eve 1906 (Barnouw, A Tower In Babel, 20)—and then makes no further reference to the holiday anywhere in the series. Likewise, Michele Hilmes Radio Voices mentions Fessenden, but also digs a little deeper into the cultural ramifications of a broadcast on Christmas Eve:
His choice of material—at this point completely unprecedented, though limited by material—remains eerily reminiscent of what would come to dominate radio in the 1920s . . . An announcer, “quality” music, amateur performance, the Christian religion, and a little self-promotion—a foretaste of things to come (Hilmes, 36)

Susan J. Douglas’ Inventing American Broadcasting presents Fessenden’s seminal broadcast as more of a technical feat than a cultural milestone:

The Christmas Eve broadcast is still considered the first radio broadcast in American history, and a truly dramatic demonstration of the alternator’s capability. (Douglas, 156)

A biography of Reginald Fessenden published in Canada in 1970 equates the miracle of broadcast, perhaps a bit overzealously, with the miracle of Christ’s birth:
Though Reg had no idea that this miracle of the first broadcast foretold a change in the habits of people greater than almost any single event in history, he was overjoyed to have shown the world what his wireless telephone could do, and this on the very night which celebrated another wonder, that which had taken place so long before in a manger in Bethlehem. (Raby, 128)

Books examining the history of the celebration of Christmas in America have paid some attention to radio, though more often lumping radio together with print media and television. Karal Ann Marling’s Merry Christmas describes President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s lighting of the National Christmas Tree just two weeks after Pearl Harbor:
With British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, America’s staunchest ally, at his side, Franklin Roosevelt set the National Christmas Tree ablaze with colored lights, as millions listened to the carols and the speeches on the radio and imagined a beacon of joy and hope shining over a darkened Washington. ‘Let the children have their night of laughter . . . before we turn again to the stern tasks and formidable years that lie before us,’ Churchill told the nation. (Marling, 186)

However, no mention is made of Roosevelt’s presiding over similar festivities during the darkest years of the Great Depression, when radio was a greater novelty and perhaps more influential than in 1941.

One of the earliest modern histories of the Christmas in the United States is James H. Barnett’s The American Christmas, published in 1954. Barnett gives cursory mention of radio and television, but does acknowledges the pervasiveness of that iconic Yuletide tale, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol on the audio and video airwaves each year. (Barnett, 15).

In a deeper exploration of Dickens’ popular holiday story (called The Lives and Times of Ebenezer Scrooge), Paul Davis describes the annual radio broadcast during the 1930s and 1940s that featured American actor Lionel Barrymore as Scrooge, and quotes from Orson Welles’ introduction of a particular broadcast:
Each Christmas Eve, while the president (Roosevelt) was reading Dickens’ story to the first family in the White House, Barrymore performed his Carol for the nation. Introducing one of Barrymore’s annual performances, probably in the 1940s, Orson Welles characterized the audience as a family extended to national proportions: ‘There is, I think, in all America nothing more eagerly awaited or more firmly rooted in the hearts of the radio family that numbers in millions than this yearly performance of A Christmas Carol. (Davis, 152)

It is perhaps Penne L. Restad who comes closest to recognizing the unique link between radio and Christmas in Christmas in America, though she lumps radio together with all modern (though pre-Internet) media:
Meanwhile, a potent combination of commerce and new communication media had enabled the festival to permeate nearly all levels of American life. In addition to print advertising, radio, movies, books, songs, and television molded its salient images and language into a Christmas more uniform and secular than any preceding it, and found a following for it in every corner of the nation. Under media influence, millions of listeners and viewers experience the same modern Christmas lore simultaneously, the annual rewindings and rerunnings of Christmas programs themselves becoming a nostalgic ritual for many Americans. (Restad, 164)

It is this “uniform and secular” quality combined with the “millions of listeners” experiencing the “same modern Christmas lore simultaneously” (what I would call the “Audible Night”) that I wish to further explore, as I believe that the role of radio and its interplay with Christmas deserves further scrutiny than any of these historians of broadcast and Christmas have given. Understandably, the texts cited (except for Davis) are focused broadly on two very large subject areas: radio or Christmas. However, evidence supporting the mutual influence of radio and Christmas can be found in newspaper archives for any major American city. But first, it’s important to take a step back and examine in detail the first broadcast on Christmas Eve 1906.

Few people nowadays know that the first known broadcast of the human voice took place on December 24, 1906. That evening, Canadian-born scientist Reginald Fessenden transmitted a program of spoken word and music from Brant Rock, Massachusetts. Telegraph operators at shore stations and aboard ships at sea who were accustomed to hearing the dots and dashes of Morse Code, instead heard the voice of Reginald Fessenden in their crude headphones. An Edison phonograph recording of Handel’s Largo was played. Fessenden read from the Bible (Gospel of St. Luke), then played O Holy Night on the violin, accompanying his own singing. He signed off, inviting those within the sound of his voice to listen again one week later on December 31. (Hilmes, 36) Thus, broadcasting (and the basic radio format of talk and music) was born. More specifically, a unique relationship between radio and the American Christmas of the 20th century was begun—a relationship that is arguably represents one of the strangest yet most natural links between a national (and international) holiday and a form of technology.

It is perhaps coincidence that Fessenden’s work on his transmitter was complete in time for the first broadcast to take place on Christmas Eve, though choice of this particular night provided Fessenden (and those who followed in his footsteps in subsequent decades) with unmistakable cues as to what material should be broadcast—the body of work available for any Christian layperson to draw on would far exceed that of nearly any other day of the year. Fessenden was not known to be a particularly religious or irreligious man, but he would have not had to be to choose content for his “program.” While regularly scheduled radio broadcasts were nearly two decades away, the link between the Christmas holiday and radio broadcasting was simultaneously initiated and fully exploited in the very first Christmas Eve broadcast; material presented on radio on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day throughout the 1920s would vary little from Fessenden’s sacred music and spoken word.

While Fessenden’s choice of Christmas Eve may have been coincidence, it seems that as radio matured, Christmas Eve was deliberately associated with many firsts in radio broadcasting in the United States, as well as elsewhere in the English-speaking world. For example, the first broadcast of a play written especially for radio, The Truth About Father Christmas, took place on Christmas Eve 1922 in Great Britain (Hartley, 16). The first broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera with Milton J. Cross took place on Christmas Eve 1931. The first broadcast of the NBC Orchestra with Arturo Toscanini conducting took place on Christmas Eve 1937. (Elizabeth McLeod, via Internet)

Why would so many ground-breaking broadcasts take place on Christmas Eve (and Christmas Day) and not on any other day of the year? There are a few simple reasons that seem plausible. First, since 1890, when Christmas had been recognized as a legal holiday in all states and territories (Barnett, 19), Christmas Eve and Christmas Day had become a time when the majority of American businesses and institutions are closed. Thus, the majority of people are home, and most have time for leisure activities, such as listening to the radio. Second, during the 1920s (and 1924 in particular, the so-called “Radio Christmas” when radio sales eclipsed sales of gramophones and other recorded-music players (Millard, 138) radios were common Christmas gifts (also related to gift-giving, during the pre-WWII years, I have anecdotal, as yet undocumented evidence that American families were more likely to exchange gifts on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas morning as is now a more common practice—thus many new radio sets in the 1920s and 1930s were unwrapped on Christmas Eve in time for evening broadcasts)). Third, Christmas is a holiday rife with content (including some hundreds of years old) that is ideally suited for radio broadcast—poems, songs, stories, plays and biblical passages (and much in the public domain requiring no licensing arrangements and/or fees)—more than any other holiday on the American calendar. It is an interesting exercise to try list similar material that would be appropriate to broadcast on another major American holiday such as Easter, Fourth of July, Hallowe’en, Thanksgiving or New Year’s Eve—the list for these holidays is comparatively short.

Another reason for this inextricable link between radio and Christmas requires a bit more indulgence from the reader. It could be argued that the quality of radio that overcomes time and distance—allowing all people with receivers in a given geographic area to hear the same words and music simultaneously—is analogous to messages sent from a supreme being. The term I would like to propose here is “terrestrial spirituality”; the essence of this concept being the man-made technology of radio being used to communicate with all willing listeners, giving those listeners a sense of sharing in a celebration with others in their own country and overseas. With even more indulgence, it could be argued that a radio broadcasting operation from the 1920s and 1930s comprised a modern “secular nativity scene,” with the studio serving as a barn and manger, and the antenna functioning as the Christmas Star—and the audience an assortment of shepherds and wise men receiving messages both Christian and secular. These relationships and these analogies would have been unthinkable before the rise of commercial radio broadcasting in the 1920s.

It’s important here to address the “commercialism” of Christmas that is often criticized each year by religious leaders, environmentalists and others dismayed by the advertising, shopping and displays of greed that accompany the run-up to the holiday. Radio certainly plays and has played a significant role in commercializing every aspect of American life. However, the broadcasts made on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day enjoy a certain immunity from blame in this instance—the shopping is mostly completed by the time these programs hit the airwaves (though it would be na├»ve to completely ignore promotional announcements that were undoubtedly made during holiday programs).

To understand the growth of radio broadcasting on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, a survey was made of radio timetables and radio feature writing in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for the years 1921 to 1939. The quantity of programming offered on these days is astounding, as is the rapid growth from year to year in the number and diversity of programs listed (though one can assume that due to technical difficulties inherent in radio of that era, not all broadcasts came off as described in advance). One can also debate the quality of the content and talent of the performers of the actual broadcasts, particularly obscure musicians and productions of otherwise unknown music or dramas (in some cases, neither of which are heard of again). But these factors are beyond the scope of this survey, conducted with microfilm of newspapers, which plainly shows that commercial broadcasters in Seattle (and elsewhere where local radio stations were ultimately affiliated with the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) and the Columbia Broadcast System (CBS)) began airing “special,” and in some cases, eventually what could be called “blockbuster,” holiday programs beginning in 1921. It also demonstrates steady growth of the number and ambitiousness of such programs well into the 1930s.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer began limited broadcasting from its own station in July 1921 (Richardson, 187). Five months later, the front page of the Post-Intelligencer on Christmas Eve 1921 announced a special broadcast of carols that would carry the “spirit of Christmas” to men “snowed in” and to men “sweltering under the . . . equatorial sun.” The full article read:

Sounding through the air like the voices of angels that sand at the birth of Christ in Bethlehem, Christmas carols, bringing the same message, “Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men,” will carry the spirit of Christmas from the Post-Intelligencer office tonight to the men snowed in in the banked huts in the mountainous North and to men sweltering under the rays of an equatorial sun beating on a tropical sea. The Lotos Male Quartet will sing through the radiophone and through the ether the waves of sound will carry the message. The program will start at 9 o’clock.

“Adeste Fideles” (“Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful”) will be the first number. The literal translation of the title, “Be Thou Faithful,” is the command of the world over to the followers of Christianity.

“Noel,” the French carol, and “God Rest You Merry Gentleman,” the British carol, so often sung in those countries as to be almost national Christmas songs, will follow. Then a typical United States carol, “O, Little Town of Bethlehem,” and closing with the old German “Silent Night, Holy Night,” perhaps the simplest and most inspiring of all Christmas songs. The quartet is composed of Milford E. Kingsbury, first tenor and leader; Harry E. Knoff, second tenor; Thomas E. Sandry, baritone; and Clarence J. Sylliaasen, bass.
(Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 24, 1921, Page 1)

One year later, in 1922, the Post-Intelligencer’s December 25 edition featured the first Christmas radio timetable, with a special concert (transmitted how, it’s not clear) from Missouri on the Post-Intelligencer’s own “radiophone” station (now known as KFC), and hours (but no program listings) for four other Seattle stations: KZC, KDZE, KJR and KHQ. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 25, 1923, Page 16) The following year, in 1923, the Post-Intelligencer’s radio station, now bearing the call letters “KFJC” offered another special Christmas Eve program:

Christmas Eve will be fittingly celebrated by KFJC, the radio station of the Post-Intelligencer. Miss Annabel M. Trent, whose concerts are always popular events with the radio listeners, will present her group of singers in a program of Christmas carols at 8:30 tonight.

Included among the artists appearing before the microphone will be all the soloists who have made “old songs” so popular in Northwestern radio circles. Both solo and ensemble numbers will be given. Many weeks of preparation have been spent by Miss Trent and the soloists on this special Christmas program.
(Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 24, 1923, Page Unknown)

On December 25, 1923, KFJC was silent “in observance of Christmas Day,” while two other Seattle stations listed, KHQ and KFHR, offered “Musical programs” and no mention was made of KDZE and KJR (both of which had offered programming on Christmas Eve). (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 25, 1923. Page 16.)

By December 25, 1924 (the previously mentioned “Radio Christmas”), the Post-Intelligencer had divested itself of KFJC (Brubaker, 92) but made an arrangement (of which the exact details are unknown) with Seattle station KJR to co-produce programs. The number of Seattle radio stations in the Post-Intelligencer with scheduled Christmas Eve broadcasts was two (though it is interesting to note that other stations were operating in Seattle at this time and that the Post-Intelligencer chose not to list their programming—KFOA is listed most likely because that station’s operator, Rhodes Department Store, was a regular advertiser in the Post-Intelligencer):

Hopper-Kelly Company have prepared a special Christmas Eve program which is to be given between 6:45 and 8:15 over Station KFOA, Wednesday evening.

One of the features of the program will be Christmas readings of particular interest to the kiddies by Miss Dorothy Denee Snowden of the Snowden Dramatic School, Seattle. Miss Snowden will read:
“Christmas Prayer to the Master” by Middleton; “My Ships” by Ella Wheeler Wilcox and the famous and much loved “Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clark Moore.

KJR Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Seattle, Washington, 273 Meters
Wednesday, December 24, 1924
Today’s Schedule
4:00—Aunt Bunny the Story Lady.
5:00—Leading Soloists of the Brandon Opera Company in specialty songs for “Spark Plug”.
8:30—Special Christmas Eve program.
(Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 24, 1924. Page 7.)

While Christmas Eve programming grew in the early years of Seattle radio broadcasting, Christmas Day 1924—the “Radio Christmas”—ironically found KJR again silent. Still, the Post-Intelligencer for the second year in a row listed other broadcasts available to certain Seattle residents—the so-called “DXers”—who were willing to try to tune in far away stations, such as Los Angeles (KNX) and Schenectady, NY (WGY):

KJR Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Seattle, Washington, 273 Meters
Thursday, December 25, 1924
Today’s Schedule
Station KJR will be silent today.

The spirit of Yuletide will rule air throughout the East and West today. Special Christmas music and Christmas programs will be broadcast at nearly every hour of the day.

A play-by-play report of the University of Southern California-University of Missouri football game will be broadcast in the afternoon starting at 2 p.m. from KNX.

WGY at Schenectady, N.Y. will present a cantata “The Hope of the World,” at 5 p.m. Seattle time.

Tune in on Eastern stations and let the editor of this paper know what you receive.
(Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 25, 1924, Page 6)

In 1925, the local programming available to Seattle residents again expanded from the previous year’s offerings:
Christmas Spirit Will Prevail at Bats’ Broadcast Tonight
KJR Concert For Radio Listeners Comprises Wide Variety Of Fun, Musical Numbers
The spirit of Yuletide will prevail tonight at the regular meeting of the Keep Joy Radiating Order of the Bats, broadcasting from their belfry in the Terminal Sales Building over KJR, starting at the usual hour of 10:30 o’clock.

Mose (undecipherable) Grady, who had the honor of being the first to contribute to the Spark Plug part of the Post-Intelligencer Christmas fund, and one of Seattle’s leading photographers, will be initiated into the Bats with all the glory that goes with such an honor.

Jan Naylor, one of Seattle’s most accomplished cellists, will be the guest of honor, along with Clyde Lehman, pianist, both members of Henri Damski’s Puget Sound Savings and Loan Association concert orchestras.

George D. Grant’s E and J orchestra will again be on the job to offer the customers their incomparable jazz numbers and will have a new repertoire for this meeting.

The Misses Betty and Louretta V. Harding and Howard Harding will sing Christmas carols during the evening, with Louretta V. Harding at the piano.

At least two pre-Christmas programs will be broadcast from Seattle tonight when the Poole Electric company will present a classical program starting at 7 o’clock from KJR, followed by a program by the Puget Sound Savings and Loan Association concert under the direction of Henri Damski.
(Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 24, 1925, Page 6)

Listings in the Post-Intelligencer also showed the growth of commercialization of radio—in the form of advertising revenue—for the first time including a list of sponsors for Christmas Eve programming blocks on KJR (SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER, FREDERICK AND NELSON, THE POST-INTELLIGENCER, A.A. HOUSMAN AND COMPANY, POOLE ELECTRIC COMPANY, THE PUGET SOUND SAVINGS AND LOAN ASSOCIATION, THE POST-INTELLIGENCER), as well as sole sponsorship of stations KFOA (Rhodes Department Store) and KTCL (New Washington Hotel). (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 24, 1925, Page 6.)

The year 1926 finds the first of the Post-Intelligencer’s regular radio columns to appear on Christmas Eve, with a hyperbolic description of radio offerings for the holiday, and much philosophizing about the progress of radio and, along the lines of “Audible Night,” its ability to make “the whole world kin”; put “nations in instant touch”; unite “the family at home at the fireside” in a bond of “common sympathy.” The complete article reads:

And Yuletide Programs Will Bring Home Benefits of Popular Entertainment Device
With a wealth of fine radio offerings, many symbolic of the season, Christmas Eve affords a melodic feast for all air fans, whether they tune in on local stations or travel afar on the ether waves.

Effort is evident on the part of many broadcasting stations to present radio listeners tonight programs of especially good features.

And at this time, when so many listeners will have new radio sets and so many others will have added improvements to old sets, it might not be amiss to stop a moment and consider all that radio has done, and the wonderful progress it has made in the past five years.

Radio has made the whole world kin. It puts nations in instant touch. Europe listens to American programs. Residents of the Pacific Coast may tune in on Japan.

But of more personal interest than feats in attaining distance is the great good radio has done in a less spectacular way. Probably nothing more conducive to development of home life has ever been presented in history. It unites the family at home at the fireside, and cements it in a bond of common sympathy.

Radio enables its followers to be in close contact with the events of the day. The lone sheepherder on distant slopes is put into direct touch with metropolitan affairs.

Radio has opened new vistas to shut-ins. It even has brought a measure of hearing to the deaf. Its virtues are legion.
(Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 24, 1926, Page Unknown)

The following year (1927), the unnamed Post-Intelligencer radio editor again waxed on the bounteous offerings of Christmas radio:

Coast Network Will Offer Three-Hour Program With Christmas Motif; Special Broadcasts
All that a critical fan could ask for in the way of diversified entertainment is promised on the ether waves tonight with the festive spirit of Christmas adding a pleasing note in almost every broadcast.

The Coast network will have three full hours of program, beginning with a concert at 8 o’clock. A fifteen-piece wood-wind ensemble and a group of soloists will alternate at the microphone. The music will be of the semi-classic group, refreshing and melodious, opening and closing with a short, descriptive poem to the accompaniment of the old-fashioned music box.

Second of the chain programs, going forth over KOMO and KFOA at 10 o’clock, will be a special Yuletide feature. To open the hour, and orchestra will play Olney’s “Santa Claus Overture,” followed by a choral group singing traditional Christmas carols. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman,” “Good King Wenceslaus” and the more familiar “Silent Night” are typical of the carol numbers.

Between 10 and 11 o’clock, KOMO and KFOA will carry the final network broadcast, coming as a combination dance and revue program.

More seasonal music will be forthcoming over KOMO during two special broadcasts. At 7 o’clock a one-hour concert, featuring the Totem Brass Quartet and vocal soloists, will be on the air, carried simultaneously by KGW Portland.

Then at 11:15 p.m., the KOMO staff will make merry at their annual Christmas party. The performers are going to have a lot of fun, and all of it will be available to dial twisters. Two orchestras, the Totem Concert and Warren Anderson’s, will add to the jollification. Following the distribution of gifts, the Totem Mixed Quartet appropriately will bring the party to a close with Christmas carols.

A special Christmas program over KPCB, starting at 7:30 o’clock and continuing for one hour, will bring a medley of music under the direction of Marion Elwell. Handel’s “Pastorale Symphony,” from “The Messiah,” will be the opening number played by an instrumental trio. The feature offering will be a cantata, “The Star Divine,” by Lansing, depicting the journey of the wise men to the manger.
(Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 24, 1927, Page Unknown)

The following year, in a column clearly marked as “Editorial,” the Post-Intelligencer went over the top with praise for radio and its appropriateness as a holiday gift. It is unclear what stake, if any, the Post-Intelligencer had in the sale and manufacture of radios:

Radio Is Christmas Gift Of Real Worth
A radio receiving set is the perfect Christmas gift. In the giving it fills all specifications of the spirit; in its continued companionship in radiates felicity after whimsies join the endless procession of forgotten things.

It conjures the harp of Aeolus; it captures the rustle of the garments of the muses; it vibrates to the voice of ether-riding angels; it carries the listener with the Valkyries over the roaring battlefield and on Valhallaward; it thunders with the tympani, coos in lullaby, lilts with the violin, sobs with the cello, instructs with the savant, comforts with the dominic. It fills the boresome gaps of day and charms the home at eventide.

Tennyson visioned the parliament of nations and argosies to fill the air. But Longfellow was subconsciously describing radio when he wrote:

“And the night shall be filled with music,
And the cares that infest the day
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away.”

Help somebody’s cares to fold their tents by giving a radio for Christmas.
(Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 23, 1928, Page 10)

Also in 1928, the range and extent of programming increased again over the previous year, with offerings from around Seattle and across the continent:

Yuletide Programs From Far And Near Will Be Broadcast Sunday, Monday and Tuesday
The festival of Christmas will find no greater expression today, tomorrow and Tuesday than on the cheery Yuletide programs to be carried far and near on radio.

All local stations and all broadcasting chains will join in sending merry Christmas messages over the air. KOMO and the Post-Intelligencer will present today’s major Christmas festival in music, starting at 9 p.m. Tomorrow evening DXers may hear a pretentious program sponsored by Hearst newspapers by dialing to Eastern or mid-West stations of the NBC chain.

The Hearst song service may be tuned in on KYW, Chicago; WREN, Kansas City; WLW, Cincinnati, or KWK, St. Louis, at 8 o’clock, Pacific time.

On Christmas Day the National Broadcasting Company’s Pacific Coast network is going to send holiday greetings in the form of a two-hour presentation of Handel’s “Messiah,” starting at 3 o’clock.

Churches, too, will broadcast their Yuletide services. KOMO today will release Plymouth Church’s morning worship, while KXA is broadcasting from the First Methodist Episcopal Church auditorium and KTW is sending out music and sermons from the First Presbyterian Church. Several other religious organizations have places on the KOMO schedule for today and Tuesday.

From the San Francisco NBC studios today programs will all have a Christmas flavoring. The afternoon broadcast reaches a climax at 4:30 p.m. with a Bible drama, “The First Gift.” The 6:15 p.m. transcontinental broadcast from New York City over KOMO will be all-Christmas music. The Persians likewise will offer Yule melodies at 7:30 p.m.

KOL has announced holiday music from early morning until the station signs off at midnight on Tuesday. Occupying a prominent place on the evening’s program will be “Tiny” Burnett’s Orchestra, coming before the microphone at (undecipherable)?:30 p.m. Kaal’s Hawaiian Quartet is another ensemble to be featured on Christmas Day. “Henry (indecipherable) The Boss” will entertain KOL listeners at 7 o’clock Tuesday. The (indecipherable) Trio will furnish two hours of entertainment earlier in the day. On Christmas Night at 8 o’clock KXA will offer its biggest holiday broadcast. It will be a two hour program with Arnold Krauss, concert violinist with the (Seattle) Symphony Orchestra, heading the bill. Vocalists assisting will be Eva Gonella, soprano and Ben H. Wold, baritone.

Peace On Earth (photo caption)
Two of the ten nationalities which will sing the same message in different languages on the Post-Intelligencer-Totem Broadcasters’ Christmas music program tonight over KOMO. Mrs. Iku Izuta of the Japanese Missions’ choir, left, and Miss Mabel Berg of the First Norwegian Lutheran choirs.
(Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 23, 1928, Page 10)

The crash of the stock market in 1929 apparently did nothing to dampen holiday spirits among Seattle radio stations or at the national networks of NBC and CBS. Christmas of this particular year featured the first local broadcasts of international feeds, bringing the worldwide celebration of Christmas into American homes for the first time, creating a global manifestation of what I referred to earlier as “terrestrial spirituality”:

P.-I. Yule Program Over KVI Tonight
Station KVI will be the Seattle outlet for tonight’s pretentious Christmas broadcast sponsored by the Post-Intelligencer and associated Hearst newspapers.

The program includes orchestra, choir and organ music, coming from St. Ignatius Church in San Francisco, where high mass will be celebrated at midnight.

Ernie Smith has been assigned to microphone duty and will picture the whole colorful setting for listeners. After the service begins, there will be no announcements. Microphones in the choir loft will pick up Christmas hymns. Another instrument at the altar will “catch” the words of the mass.

Tune in to KVI on 394.5 meters (760 kilocycles), at 11:45 p.m.
(Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 24, 1929, Page 1)

Christmas programs on the radio won’t be forgotten by the fans for many a day. Three international broadcasts are announced for this morning. Two national chains have a wealth of holiday features, and every local station promises good things in the way of entertainment.

Only the forces of nature can upset elaborate plans made by the National Broadcasting Company for linking Europe and America three times between 8 a.m. and noon. At 8 o’clock England and Holland will be listening in for Christmas greetings from New York City. At 9:45 and again at 11:30 the United States will hear from Europe, one program from Berlin and one from London.

KOMO, Seattle’s unit in the NBC system, has scheduled all three transoceanic broadcasts and will transmit them on 325.9 meters (920 kilocycles).

Another morning special will be a carol service over KVI and associated Columbia chain stations at 9 o’clock from New York City. The program lists twenty-two numbers, featuring Henry Burr, recording artist; Ben Alley, tenor; Helen Nugent, contralto; Marie Girard, soprano; Irving Jackson, baritone; a symphonic orchestra and the Columbia Male Trio.

During the noon hour, KVI audiences will hear from San Francisco Don Lee studios. The program is to be a near duplicate of ceremonies held simultaneously in Orange County, California under the spreading limbs of a giant redwood tree. This tree was 2,000 years old when Christ was born.

The radio broadcast will include the reading of a message from Herbert Hoover by Mayor James J. Rolph of San Francisco. Gov. C.C. Young also may speak.

Two dramatic sketches, “By Starlight” and “Some Counted Blessings” are on today’s NBC “Salute” program, coming over KOMO from 4:30 to 5 o’clock.
(Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 25, 1929, Page Unknown)

The new decade brought more of the same, as well as live broadcasts from Washington, DC of the lighting of the National Christmas Tree—oddly, though characteristic of the 20th century American Christmas, putting a federal imprimatur on a Christian holiday in a country known for separation of church and state. One apparent result of the increase in national and international programs was a decrease in broadcasts that originated locally. This was true year-round at this time, as programming offered by both CBS and NBC increased as more and more advertising dollars were directed toward radio.

Two Church Services of Great Attraction; Hoover Message, London Chimes Highlights
Church services in two Western cities, a message from President Hoover, Christmas parties and a London rebroadcast will be radio’s contributions today to the festival of Christmas.

KOL and KVI are local stations scheduled to carry the Don Lee-Hearst Radio Service broadcast of midnight mass at St. Ignatius’ Cathedral in San Francisco.

Similar services at St. James Cathedral, Seattle, with the Cathedral choir of 100 men and boys singing a special program of Christmas music, will be radioed by KOMO.

The midnight programs at St. Ignatius’ Cathedral includes Gounod’s “St. Cecelian Mass” and the “Credo” from Caesar Franck’s mass. Soloists for the service are Margaret O’Dea, who will sing Adams’ “Cantique de Noel,” and May Dearborn Schwab, who will sing “Adeste Fidelis.”

Connection with London will be made at 4 p.m., Seattle time, by NBC, so that America may hear the chimes of Big Ben in Westminster Tower tolling midnight, Greenwich time.

At 1:30 p.m. KOMO will have a program of Christmas choral music sent out from the eighty-first floor of the Empire State Building, New York City.

President Hoover will be on the air at 3 p.m. to open a community Christmas tree program in Washington, D.C., in which Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, congressmen, members of the judiciary and the United States Marine Band will participate. The program will be relayed here by KOMO, KOL and KVI.

From 12 to 12:30 p.m., KOMO will have the principal features of the annual community Christmas tree celebration in Times Square, New York City. Mayor James Walker will be one of the speakers and a chorus will sing Christmas carols.

The English Singers, a concert group from London, will be Christmas Eve guests of NBC’s “Topnotchers,” who broadcast at 7:30 o’clock.

KOL and KVI schedule a CBS program of Christmas carols from 9 to 10 p.m.
(Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 24, 1930, Page 6)

All Stations Plan Christmas Programs; England, Germany and U.S. in 3-Way Setup
Radio’s Yule gifts come special delivery today on all wave lengths at all hours. KOMO, KOL and KVI will be outlets for some of the finest network programs of 1930. KJR’s day is the longest, and KOL has the first broadcast.

KOMO will be standing by at 2:35 p.m. for a three-way exchange of Christmas greetings between England, Germany and America. KOL and KVI hope to rebroadcast services at the Parish Church of St. Mary’s in Whitchapel (sic), London, between 10:30 and 11 a.m.

KOL begins the day at 6 a.m. with a broadcast of organ and choral music from on of the downtown theatres. Studio and chain releases will follow until 11. From 11 to 12:30, KOL will be silent in deference to station KTW, the voice of the First Presbyterian Church.

Christmas services at Washington Cathedral, Washington, D.C., will be broadcast from 8 to 9 a.m. by KOL and KVI.

Between 1 and 2 p.m. KOMO’s audience will hear the third of a series of concerts by the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, with Leopold Stokowski conducting. Other NBC offerings to be carried by KOMO are: “The Evolution of Christmas in Drama and Song,” starting at noon; a “Melodies” program at 6:30, featuring Richard Bonelli, leading baritone of the Chicago Civic Opera, and a concert by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, 7:30 to 8:30.

At 3:05 p.m., KOMO will present the Teacup Philosopher in a program of Christmas cheer for shut-ins.

Nina Kamalian, eleven-year-old pianist composer, is guest artist for a “Seattlight” broadcast over KOL at 4:45. Miss Kamalian has written sixty-five musical works, including hymns, lullabies, ballads, piano studies and “A Christmas Carol.” (sic) She will be introduced at the microphone by Joe Roberts.

Another feature of Roberts’ program will be a ten-minute address, “The Seattle Spirit at Christmas Time,” by Frank Laube, city councilman.

KJR has considerably augmented its staff, and completely revised its Thursday schedule in observance of Christmas. A mixed quartet form Plymouth Congregational Church will sing between 9 and 10 a.m., and again during a Cathedral Hour broadcast starting at 1 p.m.

At 4:30 p.m., KJR schedules a dramatic sketch, “What Is This Thing Called Christmas?” which will be followed by an orchestral program under the direction of Vic Meyers. Henri Damask’s Woodwin (sic) Ensemble, Pearle Dempsey’s Orchestra, and the Fifteen Jolly Friars will be heard in Christmas programs during the evening.
(Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 25, 1930, Page Unknown)

The year 1931 brought the inaugural broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera on NBC on Christmas Day. It also featured the first mention in the Post-Intelligencer of regularly scheduled variety, drama and/or comedy programs (such as Amos ‘n’ Andy) being broadcast at their regular times, but featuring Christmas themes (rather than being preempted by special programming). This is an important convention that was to be adopted by television programs in the 1940s and 1950s—giving the audience a sense of participating in a national celebration along with the performers (some in character, some as themselves) heard live on the radio on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Virtually every type of Christmas program adaptable to radio will be heard over the air between noon today and midnight tomorrow.

Operas, oratorios, hymn singing, an parties, symphony concerts, church services, plays and pageants, not to mention music and talks from overseas, will supplant the ordinary schedule of broadcast programs.

Of course, Amos ‘n’ Andy, “Bing” Crosby, Lanny Ross, Rudy Vallee and other favorites of the air will continue in their regular spots, but they, too, give heed to the holiday theme.

Mass To Be Heard
Midnight mass this evening in St. Dominic’s Catholic Church, San Francisco, will be broadcast over the NBC-KOMO network, starting promptly at midnight.

The same chain offers a program at 5 p.m. featuring Mme. Ernestine Schumann Heink, retired opera singer;; a popular musicale, 6:30 to 7, by Lanny Ross, Don Vorhees and others; symphony music, 8:15 to 9:15, by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, and a Christmas party, 9:45 to 10, out of San Francisco studios.

Mme. Schumann-Heink will be guest artist with Vallee’s Connecticut Yankees. She is going to sing “Holy Night” and other songs of the Yule season.

Party At Capital
The annual community Christmas tree party in Washington, D.C., in which the president and members of his cabinet always participate, may be tuned in over KJR at 2 this afternoon.

Music for a dancing party on the NBC-KOMO chain between 7 and 8 p.m. will be provided by Seymour Simons’ Orchestra, playing in Detroit; Emerson Gill’s Orchestra, playing in Cleveland, and Herb Gordon’s Orchestra, broadcasting from the national capital.
(Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 24, 1931, Page Unknown)

Elaborate Schedules From All Parts Of United States Will Be Sent Over Air Today
Radio’s intangible but precious gifts of the moment will flow today in dazzling array out of the world’s leading broadcast centers.

New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco—even the guardians of Grant National Park in California, and the purveyors of wireless features in far off London—offer unusually elaborate programs in keeping with the Yule festival. Oratorios, cantatas and other Christmas works of the great music masters will be sung at all hours of the day and night. One opera, numerous plays, and the major outdoor celebrations from the Atlantic to the Pacific are crowded into the day-long schedule of holiday treats for Mr. and Mrs. Radio Public.

Metropolitan Opera, the finest in America, goes on the air at 10:55 a.m., via the NBC-KJR network, to inaugurate a series of Metropolitan broadcasts. The production today will be “Hansel and Gretel,” sung in German. Editha Fleischer and Queena Mario, sopranos, are tentatively cast in the leading roles.

The first London program today comes at 9:30 a.m. over KOL and KVI. Gilbert K. Chesterton, English historian, will talk on “Charles Dickens and Christmas.”

Britain’s second contribution, 12:40 to 1 on KJR, will be an Aladdin pantomime.

The Grant Park program, originating outdoors in the high Sierras, is scheduled at noon by stations of the Columbia chain. Messages from the President and Governor Rolph will be read, a choir will sing Christmas music, to the accompaniment of Meredith Willson’s Concert Orchestra.
(Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 25, 1931, Page Unknown)

A further increase in attention given to network programming is shown in 1932. The lead item in (and the headline for) the Post-Intelligencer’s Christmas Eve radio column is, uncharacteristically, devoted to the appearance on radio of a Post-Intelligencer columnist (rather than a nod to the bounty of holiday programming to be featured that night). Another interesting note is the reference to trouble with the landline connection to NBC network programming, and the fallback position of stations in the region sharing local programming to cover gaps.

Arthur Brisbane, noted editorial writer for the Post-Intelligencer and other Hearst newspapers, will address a nation-wide audience tonight on NBC’s Christmas program, “Frank Black in Bethlehem.” He will be heard in Seattle over KOMO and KJR.

The broadcast will begin at 6 o’clock, and will bring Brisbane before the microphone at approximately 6:30. He will be introduced by Merlin Hall Aylsworth, president of NBC. The subject of his address has not been announced.

The program of Yuletide music will include numbers by Mme. Ernestine Schumann-Heink, beloved opera and concert contralto.

For the second time this week, NBC service to KJR and other Northwest stations of the “gold” network has been disrupted by band line breaks caused by storms between Dunsmuir and Redding, Calif.

The network has been out since early yesterday, and service is not expected to be resumed until about 11 a.m. Pending restoration of service, KJR will release programs to KEX, Portland and KGA, Spokane, the other members of the “gold” network.

The lighting of the national Christmas tree in Washington, D.C., will be described for CBS-KOL and NBC-KJR audiences from 2 to 2:30 p.m. The program will include music by the United States Marine Band and a large chorus.

Early dialers will hear Christmas carols from England in a special international broadcast over NBC-KOMO from 7:30 to 7:45 a.m.

Midnight mass at the Church of the Madeleine in Paris will be brought to CBS-KOL audiences from 3:59 to 4:30 p.m. A dramatization of Dickens’ “Christmas Carol” will be heard over the same network from 7 to 8 p.m.

The singing of carols during the solemn novena to the Infant Jesus at St. James Cathedral will be broadcast over KJR from 9:15 to 10:30 p.m. The last thirty minutes of the program will be sent over the “gold” network of the National Broadcasting Company.

Christmas greetings to all veterans will be broadcast over NBC-KJR at 4:15 p.m. by Louis Johnson, national commander of the American Legion. The entire performance of the Metropolitan Opera Company’s production of “La Boheme” is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. as another NBC-KJR highlight.
(Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 24, 1932, Page Unknown)

Christmas Spirit Prevails In All Broadcast; Trans-Atlantic Programs Are Listed
Christmas carols, religious services and other holiday features will make up the brilliant array of national and trans-Atlantic broadcasts to be brought to Seattle today over NBC and CBS networks.

One of the biggest programs of the day is promised NBC-KJR audiences from 9:15 to 10:30 a.m., when the first Roxy Mammoth Symphony is presented.

Composed especially for the occasion by Desidir D’Antalffy, “Voics (sic) of Millions,” an impressive oratorio, will have its premiere. It will be offered by the Tuskegee Negro Choir, the Music Hall Choir and a 225-piece symphony orchestra under the direction of Erno Rapee.

Soloists will be Elizabeth Lennox, contralto; Fred Hufsmith, tenor; Phil Dewey, baritone, and Max Panteleieff, bass. Viola Philo and Amy Goldsmiths, sopranos, will also be heard.

Following a half-hour concert by the Salt Lake City Tabernacle choir and organ, CBS-KOL will present an international series of broadcasts from 9:30 to 10 a.m. The programs will come from London, Paris and Berlin, and will feature Christmas carols sung by children.

“A Modern Christmas Carol,” a dramatic program of the present day, will be presented over NBC-KOMO from 10:30 to 11 a.m. From 3:45 to 4:15 p.m. the network will feature a recital by Armand Tokatyan, Metropolitan Opera Company tenor.

Christmas in the spirit of days gone by will be portrayed by “Smiling Ed” McConnell during his program of monologue and song from 11 to 11:15 a.m. over CBS-KOL.

With Rosa Ponselle, celebrated dramatic soprano, featured, the “Sunday Circle” program will return to NBC-KOMO at 6:15 p.m. Forty-five minutes later the same chain will present Edna St. Vincent Millay, noted poet, in the first of a series of four broadcasts.

Christmas carols sung in three Scandinavian languages will be broadcast over KOMO from 10:30 to 11 p.m. Choirs from the First Norwegian Lutheran, the Gethsemane Lutheran (Swedish) and St. John’s Danish Lutheran churches will sing.

The spirit of the Yuletide likewise will prevail in most of the other programs to be heard throughout the day over all stations.
(Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 24, 1932, Page Unknown)

Subsequent years feature the same amount of programming, with a few notable changes to the Post-Intelligencer’s coverage of radio. The timetable was not present in the 1933 Christmas Eve and Christmas Day newspapers as the conflict between the print media and broadcasters over radio scooping newspapers (and the perceived and real threat to newspaper advertising revenue) had only just been settled via the “Biltmore Program.” (Barnouw, The Golden Web, 20-21) The timetable is present again by 1934 when Lionel Barrymore begins his multi-year run as Scrooge. By Christmas 1935 the listings for the first time include foreign shortwave broadcasts.

By 1936, the large number and wide variety of Christmas celebrations broadcast on radio are characterized by the Post-Intelligencer radio editor as “typical”—featuring live programs from around the United States and Europe, and very little in the way of locally-originating programs. Also, the Post-Intelligencer for the first time since makes no distinction in the timetables between local and network broadcasts. Also notable in 1936 is recognition of the deteriorating situation in Europe; this is the year that Pope Pius XII made a “RADIO APPEAL FOR PEACE” in a Christmas Eve broadcast after which he collapsed from exhaustion. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 25, 1936, Page 2) The Post-Intelligencer radio column headline and subheadline on Christmas Eve read:

Typical Christmas Day Celebrations to Be Carried Over Networks by Local Stations
(Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 24, 1936, Page 23)

The following year 1937 is notable for more drumbeats of war, and for what appears to be the first mention of soon-to-be-legendary CBS broadcaster Edward R. Murrow in a Seattle newspaper, though his name is misspelled. It is also interesting to note that Murrow’s first appearance as a broadcaster on CBS would take place three months later, when Hitler led the Nazis into Vienna. Much has been made of the first use of this so-called “round-up” format of the broadcast on March 13, 1938 that Murrow took part in along with newsmen from several other European capitals, at the behest of William Paley of CBS. With a moderator in London, live reports from around Europe were broadcast back to the United States. (Barnouw, The Golden Web, 77-79) Examination of Post-Intelligencer radio timetables show that the “round-up” term could have been applied to Christmas broadcasts as early as 1930, and it is perhaps CBS’s technical experience with these earlier Christmas broadcasts that made the “round-up” news format possible in 1938.

The 1937 Post-Intelligencer Christmas Eve and Christmas Day radio columns read:
Christmas Greetings From President Tops Today’s Yule Program
Radio will circle the earth today to give American broadcast listeners closeup glimpses of outstanding Christmas Eve ceremonies.
(Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 24, 1937, Page Unknown)

King George, Haile Selassie Will Be Heard on Air Today In Christmas Broadcasts
Merry Christmas, radio fans!
And now that the kiddies have gone romping off to show the neighbors their toys, maybe you’ll have a few minutes’ time to red-pencil the programs you consider outstanding on today’s heavy schedule of Christmas broadcasts. The fare is so varied, and there are so many big features, it’s difficult to single out any one that rates above all others.

9:30 to 9:45 a.m.
Greetings from Haile Selassie, deposed emperor of Abyssinia. Translation by E.R. Murror (sic), CBS foreign representative.

1 to 1:30 p.m.
“Twelve Thousand Miles of Merry Christmas,” with broadcasts from New York City, the United States House in Paris, station KGU, Honolulu, and Matanuska Valley, Alaska. Americans in Paris will tell how they spend Christmas. Honolulu will present a police glee club program, and the Matanuskans will sing “Silent Night.”
(Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 25, 1937, Page 8)

The next-to-last year of the survey, 1938, is remarkable for a few important reasons. First, it is the last Christmas before World War II begins in Europe. It’s also the last year that the Post-Intelligencer publishes a radio column (and not simply a timetable with a “Best Bets” sidebar). Lastly, a holiday tradition better (or almost solely) known for its manifestation on television, the Bing Crosby holiday special, makes its first appearance on radio:

Widely Varying Programs for All Hours to Cover Events In Many Parts of World
Putting Christmas on the air is a man-sized job, but the folk behind the kilocycles seem to have done a nice bit of work for today. There are scores of special features, some of theme spanning the Atlantic, and regular programs will revolve around the day.

Just to give you a few of the many outstanding highlights:
“At Home with the Crosby’s,” NBC-KOMO, 8:15 a.m.—coming from the home of Bing Crosby and showing the reactions of his four sons when they come downstairs to see the Christmas tree and gifts.
(Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 25, 1938, Page Unknown)

By 1939, the bold internationalism and global interconnectedness of early 1930s radio had taken a step backward, it seems, when considering the dearth of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day programming from overseas. While King George VI’s annual message was broadcast locally, there were no further “pickups” from overseas capitals. Still, it is remarkable to examine 18 years of holiday broadcasting in Seattle and watch it grow from a single male quartet singing for 30 minutes in 1921, to nearly a dozen stations broadcasting 18 or more hours a day in 1939.

This attempt to examine the influence of radio and Christmas is admittedly small and unscientific, and given the scope of its research, it makes some fairly grand claims. Hopefully, it will encourage further study of radio’s role in promoting Christmas and Christmas’ role in promoting radio, as there are several logical next steps in conducting such study. First among these is to examine a wider range of publications in Seattle as well as other cities in the United States, including radio trade publications and entertainment magazines. Conducting a tally of programming hours devoted to Christmas will allow quantifiable comparison to holidays of similar magnitude, and would help “rank” of Christmas against programming during other holidays. It would also be worthwhile to study audience surveys and program ratings from the period to see how audience sizes for different programs compared during the Christmas celebrations over the years. Expanding the years of the study to encompass World War II would likely find Christmas radio programs that better exemplify the concepts of “terrestrial spirituality” and “Audible Night,” as millions of Americans at home kept apprised of developments affecting loved ones overseas through the growing presence of NBC and CBS news personnel (and those overseas tuned in the Armed Forces Radio Service for entertainment from home). Lastly, interviews with the dwindling number of elderly folks who lived through the 1920s and 1940s would provide a human context that microfilm and even archival recordings lack.

The power of radio as a social force to spread information and dictate popular taste, particularly in the 1920s and 1930s, is easy to imagine as much weaker without the Christmas holiday and its abundant, accessible material. Christmas, without radio to broadcast the words, music and plays and live events from remote places, is easy to imagine as a much less significant holiday on the American calendar. Thanks to the innate qualities and mutual influence of and by these respective phenomena, the American Christmas in the 1920s and 1930s was, for those listening to their radios, an “Audible Night.”


Barnett, James H. The American Christmas: A Study in National Culture. New York: The Macmillan Company. 1954.

Barnouw, Erik. The Golden Web: A History of Broadcasting in the United States 1933-1953. New York: Oxford University Press. 1968

Barnouw, Erik. A Tower in Babel: A History of Broadcasting in the United States to 1933. New York: Oxford University Press. 1966.

Briggs, Asa. The Golden Age of Wireless. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1995.

Brubaker, William Hanford. A History of Radio Broadcasting in Seattle Up To The Establishment of the Radio Act of 1927. Unpublished Masters Thesis, 1968.

Crook, Tim. Radio Drama: Theory and Practice. London and New York: Routledge. 1999.

Davis, Paul. The Lives and Times of Ebenezer Scrooge. New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press. 1990.

Douglas, Susan J. Inventing American Broadcasting 1899-1922. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press. 1987.

Hartley, Ian. Goodnight Children . . . Everywhere. New York: Midas Books/Hippocrene Books. 1984.

Hilmes, Michelle. Radio Voices: American Broadcasting, 1922-1952. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press. 1997.

Marling, Karal Ann. Merry Christmas: Celebrating America’s Greatest Holiday. Cambridge, MA and London, England: Harvard University Press. 2000.

McLeod, Elizabeth. Old Time Radio Moments of the Century. Via the Internet, posted at:

Millard, Andre. America On Record. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Raby, Ormond. Radio’s First Voice: The Story of Reginald Fessenden. Toronto, Ontario: Macmillan of Canada. 1970.

Restad, Penne L. Christmas in America: A History. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1995.

Richardson, David. Puget Sounds: A Nostalgic Review of Radio and TV in the Great Northwest. Superior Press. 1981.

Smulyan, Susan. Selling Radio: The Commercialization of American Broadcasting 1920-1934. Washington, DC and London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Recent Special News Coverage in Seattle

In the past 10 days, Seattle broadcasters have had two opportunities to cover significant news during the early afternoon period normally filled with talk shows, soaps and tabloid TV.

I wrote a week or so ago for about radio (and TV) breaking news coverage of Boeing's announcement that it would locate a new factory someplace other than the Seattle area. It was HUGE news around here, where Boeing's been a major economic, civic and cultural factor for decades.

Then, yesterday (Friday, November 6, 2009), a massive memorial service was held for a Seattle Police Officer who was murdered on Halloween. While not breaking news, it was a major community event that all four local TV news departments and both commercial radio news stations preempted regular programming in order to air. I wrote today for about differences in style and extent of radio and TV coverage.

Here's hoping for more UNINTERRUPTED talk shows, soaps and tabloid TV shows in the weeks, months and years ahead.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Pioneer Mikes: A History of Radio and Television in Oregon
By Ronald Kramer

Published by Western States Museum of Broadcasting and JPR Foundation
Order via or 541-552-6301

470 pages $26.95 softcover
300 illustrations, index, selected bibliography

Just in time for the holidays comes a nostalgic look at broadcasting in the Beaver State (that’s Oregon for you non-Northwesterners) called Pioneer Mikes. The beautifully-designed book was written by Ronald Kramer and published by a consortium that includes Kramer’s nascent Western States Museum of Broadcasting in Ashland, Oregon.

The danger in regional broadcasting histories is that they can all start to sound the same—early amateur experimenters playing phonographs beget department store and newspaper stations featuring live music; frequency battles create chaos as competing stations jam each other’s signals; the Radio Act of 1927 remedies some of the most pressing issues; NBC and CBS begin to affiliate with local stations and radio becomes a truly national medium.

Fortunately, Kramer has been so thorough in his research, he’s teased out dozens of stories of both radio and TV broadcasting that set Oregon’s history apart—such as the devastating 1943 KEX-KGW studio fire (that, in spite of the catastrophic damage, kept the stations off the air for only 12 minutes); how a protozoic cable system brought Seattle TV programs to Astoria in the late 1940s; and the toppling of the KGW-TV tower during the 1962 Columbus Day Storm.

Kramer has also gone so wide and deep (with specific staffing, licensing and ownership details for seemingly every radio and TV station that ever operated in the state), that I decided to put Pioneer Mikes to the test. I spent a summer in Southern Oregon’s Rogue River Valley 20 years ago, and listened to daytime-only station KAJO from nearby Grants Pass nearly every day. As a city boy, I was enthralled with KAJO’s folksy birthday announcements and on-air garage sales. Sure enough, page 342 of Pioneer Mikes tells me that KAJO signed on back on August 15, 1957, and that the station is still owned by its founders, the Wilson family.

Further, the perspective Kramer brings to Pioneer Mikes on local broadcasting—particularly regarding the influence of the national networks and how they managed to physically connect to Oregon, Washington and California—is very clearly West Coast. As regular readers of I STILL LOVE RADIO know from previous posts, this is a rarity in any kind of writing about radio history. Kramer appreciates the significance of time zone differences between the West Coast and network studios in New York, and the importance of the many regional networks (some of which preceded the wires which finally connected the West Coast to NBC and CBS).

In addition to encyclopedic details of call-letters, frequencies, sign-on and sign-off dates, Pioneer Mikes is also lavishly illustrated with hundreds of photos and pieces of radio station ephemera. From the image credits, it’s clear that the Western States Museum of Broadcasting is in possession of a pretty cool collection of priceless material.

My only complaint with Pioneer Mikes is that some of Kramer’s research and writing on the broad national stories and issues feels a little cursory, resulting in some muddled though, admittedly, minor facts. For instance, H.V. Kaltenborn’s famous “Munich Crisis” broadcasts in 1938 were for CBS, not for NBC (Kaltenborn moved to NBC in 1940); and Edward Noble, who purchased from NBC the radio network that became ABC, made his fortune with Life Savers, not Wrigley’s Gum (though Life Savers became part of Wrigley's in 2004).

For anyone who’s ever spent time listening to or watching Oregon media, Pioneer Mikes is a great way to learn more about the people and businesses who made it all happen—even if you’ve never listened to KAJO.