America Learns to Play: A History of Popular Recreation, 1607-1940

By Foster Rhea Dulles | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIX
ON THE AIR

IN 1920 THERE WERE SOME FIVE THOUSAND AMATEUR RADIO FANS in the United States. Their chief amusement was picking up on crude, home-made receiving sets the wireless-telephony messages, principally from ships at sea, which symbolized the quarter-century advance in communications since Marconi's experiments in the 1890's.1 Broadcasting grew out of this amateur activity. When experiments were made in putting news and music on the air, the realization grew that this new medium had startling potentialities for entertainment. They had been foreseen some four years earlier by David Sarnoff, ambitiously planning a "Radio Music Box" for every home, but apart from a few limited demonstrations it was not until 1920 that broadcasting in its modern sense became an actuality.

Among the experiments with music in that year, those of Lester Spangenberg, a former navy radio operator, have been credited with constituting the first regular broadcasting. Volunteer pianists and banjo-players began to meet nightly at the Spangenberg home in Lakeview, New Jersey, and a program was sent out on which hundreds of other amateurs tuned in.2

A few months later, enthusiasts who lived near Pittsburgh were also surprised to hear music which was being broadcast -- though the word was hardly known -- from a plant of the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company. They liked it; a number of them wrote in suggesting a regular program. One was consequently put on the air -- baseball scores and popular music every Wednesday and Saturday night -- and soon afterwards a Pittsburgh department store began advertising "ap

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