Radio in Revolution: Wireless Technology and State Power in Mexico, 1897-1938

Radio in Revolution: Wireless Technology and State Power in Mexico, 1897-1938

Radio in Revolution: Wireless Technology and State Power in Mexico, 1897-1938

Radio in Revolution: Wireless Technology and State Power in Mexico, 1897-1938


Long before the Arab Spring and its use of social media demonstrated the potent intersection between technology and revolution, the Mexican Revolution employed wireless technology in the form of radiotelegraphy and radio broadcasting to alter the course of the revolution and influence how political leaders reconstituted the government.

Radio in Revolution, an innovative study of early radio technologies and the Mexican Revolution, examines the foundational relationship between electronic wireless technologies, single-party rule, and authoritarian practices in Mexican media. J. Justin Castro bridges the Porfiriato and the Mexican Revolution, discussing the technological continuities and change that set the stage for Lazaro Cardenas's famous radio decree calling for the expropriation of foreign oil companies.

Not only did the nascent development of radio technology represent a major component in government plans for nation and state building, its interplay with state power in Mexico also transformed it into a crucial component of public communication services, national cohesion, military operations, and intelligence gathering. Castro argues that the revolution had far-reaching ramifications for the development of radio and politics in Mexico and reveals how continued security concerns prompted the revolutionary victors to view radio as a threat even while they embraced it as an essential component of maintaining control.


On Valentine’s Day, 1924, the residents of Mexico City awoke to discover a strange and tragic story in the daily El Demócrata. After scratching a brief note into a piece of maguey, a middle-aged man purportedly distraught over his wife’s adulterous affair had climbed to the top of one of the radio towers near Chapultepec Castle and jumped to his death. the article described his end in gruesome detail. the next day, however, the tale took a dramatic turn when the newspaper revealed that instead of a heartbroken lover, the deceased had actually been a member of a rebellion recently started by Adolfo de la Huerta, a former high-level member of the revolutionary leadership who was attempting to overthrow the president, General Álvaro Obregón Salido (1920–24). According to this new twist, the death in question had actually resulted when the man electrocuted himself in a botched attempt to sabotage an important component of Obregón’s communications system.

This tale of espionage, sensational as it was, touched upon real fears. Just as surely as infidelity wreaked havoc on Mexico City marriages, Delahuertistas had taken a number of important wireless stations in the country. Spies were operating radios from the rooftops of crowded houses in the nation’s capital. General of the Federal District Arnulfo Gómez, then ruthlessly hunting down insurrectionists, went so far as to tell journalists that radio was “the principal enemy of the government.” He demanded that radio owners register all their devices. in reality, Gómez was articulating an uneasiness about wireless communications . . .

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