Sunday, January 17, 2010

Radio With Pictures: Iconic Cover Art from Books About Radio

As I said before in a previous post about the best radio books, it's sometimes more fun to read about radio (history and contemporary issues) than it is to actually listen to radio. For me, this is because much like radio, the words of a good book about radio get inside your head and make their own pictures.

Thus, as part of my ongoing campaign to raise the profile of books about radio, I STILL LOVE RADIO is proud to present the online exhibit Radio With Pictures: Iconic Cover Art from Books About Radio.

Over the past nearly 90 years, hundreds of books about radio have been produced highlighting various aspects of the industry, from gushing biographies for fans to technical manuals for aspiring broadcasters. While you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, publishers have rarely deigned to neglect the power of the cover to help tell the story inside, to make a book pretty, and (hopefully, for them) attract more readers and buyers. Publishing, after all, is a business (like radio!).

The illustrators, photographers, graphic designers and layout artists responsible for the cover art presented in Radio With Pictures: Iconic Cover Art from Books About Radio are largely anonymous. Each drew on a vocabulary of images that now seems cliche, but that during the period these books were published (mostly 1920s-1940s) were likely fresh and exciting. We see microphones (American carbon mics, RCA 77s, RCA 44s; and BBC-flagged models), studios, sky-scraping transmitter towers and brave broadcasters doing their jobs no-matter-what. It's hard to think of another industry that provides this range of icons, from the tiny and inanimate, to the human, to the gargantuan and electric.

Radio With Pictures: Iconic Cover Art from Books About Radio
Prepared by Feliks Banel for I STILL LOVE RADIO

Radio emerged a mass phenomena in the early 1920s, and writers and publishers leapt on the ethereal bandwagon.

Radio Drama and How To Write It (1926)
by Gordon Lea
The art for this British book from the 1920s is positively spiritual, as a single person stands atop the earth, broadcasting to the Universe and all its life forms (or those smart enough to build receivers, anyway). A hauntingly simple, hand-drawn pen and ink.

The Electric Word: The Rise of Radio (1928)
by Paul Schubert
This art nouveau-inspired cover entangles rectilinear man-made towers with stars and roiling, fluffy clouds. A great visual representation of how radio was sometimes talked about in this era, as an unseen force harnessed and put in service to man. Illustration by Constance Garland.

Throughout broadcast radio's first three decades, drama was a fixture on the daily schedule. While popular comedies and mystery programs of the "Golden Age" are most remembered nowadays, great playwrights and poets also found a home on radio and many published their works as books.

We Stand United and other Radio Scripts (1945)
by Stephen Vincent Benet
The transmitter and towers seen here on Benet's collection are a beacon of freedom for a world at war, a Statue of Liberty of free speech and a free press. The rocky outcroppings look as if they might be the northern coast of Maine, as close geographically to the conflict in Europe as any piece of American soil.

They fly through the air with the greatest of ease (1939)
by Norman Corwin
Unofficial poet laureate and bard of American radio is Norman Corwin, and this book of one of his earliest plays (inspired by the Spanish Civil War) is hauntingly illustrated by Laszlo Matulay.

World War II was radio's finest hour, and it also inspired some of the most articulate accounts of radio's potential (for good and for harm).

Radio In Wartime (1942)
by Sherman H. Dryer
Sherman H. Dryer's collection of critical essays about American radio during World War II puts a ribbon mic atop a stand in martial formation with flag standards, capped with big and bold letters and all bathed in an eerie red glow. Radio has been inducted, and is marching to battle.

Voices in the Darkness: The European Radio War (1943)
by Tangye Lean
Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, refugees from European countries overrun by the Nazis are broadcasting back to their native lands with the help of the BBC. We see as much in the brightly lit control room and darkened studio, as the title curves across and bridges the divide.

The Axis on the Air (1943)
by Harold Ettlinger
Swastikas (at least two of them) figure prominently on this frightening cover from the midst of World War II. That the otherwise black and white images are soaked in blood red makes it all the more menacing.

The Complete Biography of Lord Haw-Haw of Zeesen (1940)
by Jonah Barrington and Fenwick
What was menacing in black, white and red photographs, is, in a mostly yellow cartoon, absurd. Jonah Barrington's tongue-in-cheek "biography" of the Nazi broadcaster known as Lord Haw-Haw (aka William Joyce) shows the resilience of wartime Brits through comic illustrations by Fenwick.

Voices From Britain (1947)
by Henning Krabbe
The drama is gone from this collection of wartime scripts, collected after the war was won. We look skyward, following the towering transmitter tower as it points into the heavens.

From the 1920s to the 1940s, books about radio were a little bit about the present and a lot about the future. By the 1950s and 1960s, they were mostly about the past.

Modern Radio (1944)
by Kingdon S. Tyler
Radio is darn near (pre-Hiroshima and Nagasaki) atomic in this futuristic take on the broadcasting industry published toward the end of World War II.

This Fascinating Radio Business (1946)
by Robert J. Landry
According to the muscular cover art, this post-war look at the radio industry by Variety radio editor Robert J. Landry is all about bright, victorious colors and looking optimistically skyward.

I Looked and I Listened (1954)
by Ben Gross
The whimsical sketches on this book of columnist Ben Gross' reminiscences were created by Paul Galdone, who would not surprisingly go on to illustrate dozens of children's books.

Radio, Television and Society (1950)
by Charles A. Siepman
Radio, television and society were in upheaval in 1950 when this book was published, as the cubist-inspired cover illustration, replete with giant vacuum tube, circuitry and other unidentifiable elements, clearly shows.

On The Spot Reporting: Radio Records History (1967)
by George N. Gordon and Irving A. Falk
Published in 1967, this book romantically looks back to radio journalism's glory days. The cover seems to combine Pearl Harbor and the Hindenburg Disaster and one well-positioned, brave broadcaster.

Broadcasting has always been about personalities, and radio produced more than its fair share going back to its earliest days of the 1920s.

Ten Years Before the Mike (1935)
by Ted Husing
We see legendary broadcaster Ted Husing's profile superimposed on a carbon mic, since the man and the tool that lets us all hear him are useless without the other.

I Live On Air (1941)
by A.A. Schechter with Edward Anthony
Early NBC Radio news director A.A. Schechter's tell-all finds a ribbon mic planted like a flag on basketball-like planet.

Hello America! (1938)
by Cesar Saerchinger
The big worldwide carbon mic of CBS was pointed by Cesar Saerchinger (who preceded Edward R. Murrow as European Director of Talks) at all kinds of big heads, including the Duke of Windsor, Benito Mussolini, George Bernard Shaw, Hitler and others.

The Power Behind the Microphone (1941)
by P.P. Eckersley
The BBC's famous ship-like Broadcasting House glows in the background, while a giant BBC microphone in the foreground emits its own peculiar radiation.

It didn't take long for radio stations to become settings and radio people to become characters in novels and films. These are but a few of the many titles produced in the glory years.

Ginny Gordon and the Broadcast Mystery (1956)
by Julie Campbell
Radio was in its awkward phase when this book was published in 1956, that is, all but abandoned by the networks, and not yet an outlet for selling rock and roll records. The painting here shows a stiff, buttoned-down formality.

Go Ahead, Garrison! (1940)
by A.A. Schechter
War rages (albeit without Americans yet) and waters rise (and a football game ensues) as our heroic radio newsman looks on and brings it all to us live from the scene.

By Feliks Banel

1 comment:

  1. Nicely done - I hadn't seen a few of these.