Early Radio

People living today do tend to take for granted the various items we have and not realize most of our ancestors did not have such conveniences. A good example is the ‘radio’. An excellent method for people in their homes to be connected with the outside world, to hear other voices, to be entertained, listen to sports events or know the national and global news.

This newest convenience was originally known as “radiophone” or “wireless telephone” in 1920. Those early radios cost about $200. By 1922, there were hundreds of radio stations broadcasting on the air. Everyone wanted a radio, which they did purchase and the name they settled on was radio. This radio was unique: it was the first mass medium to take people to an event in real-time, and listeners were amazed by it. Even President Harding had a radio near his Oval Office desk.

There were some people worried that the public would stay home to listen to the radio and not attend musical concerts, plays, sports events or people might not even read books anymore. By 1923-1924, the vast majority of newspapers had learned to accommodate the radio fans by providing a page of news about what the local stations were offering in programming.

Early radio broadcasts and stations had minimal revenue coming in to operate the station and many used volunteers. At this time commercials were frowned upon by the Department of Commerce which supervised radio broadcasting.

Some universities began operating their own radio stations and broadcasts by professors with topics such as the study of architecture, history, modern drama, world events, and economics.

To have a consistent national policy for radios was finally addressed. It happened as a result of the Radio Act of 1927, which created the Federal Radio Commission (FRC) to oversee broadcasting.

Near the end of the 1920s, a household could purchase a radio for about $35.

By 1934 about 60% of American households had a radio. It was even a question on the Federal census of 1930, household stated if they had a radio. In the 1930s the most popular radio show was “Amos ‘n’ Andy” – a situation comedy that lasted 30 years.

Nowhere did the coming of radio broadcasting have more social impact than in America’s rural areas. With radio, farm families that were once isolated by vast distances and poor roads were brought into immediate and continuous contact with the rest of the nation.

Yes, your ancestors were grateful to have a radio.

Photo: Group listening to the 1920s radio broadcast.

Related FamilyTree.com Blogs:

What Your Ancestors Had

1930s- The New Deal and our Ancestors

Inventions of the 1920s

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