Academic journal article Journalism History

9XM Talking: WHA Radio and the Wisconsin Idea

Academic journal article Journalism History

9XM Talking: WHA Radio and the Wisconsin Idea

Article excerpt

Davidson, Randall. 9XM Talking: WHA Radio and the Wisconsin Idea. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006. 405 pp. $34.95.

"As an industry, broadcast radio has been a mediocre steward of its history," Randall Davidson notes near the beginning of 9XM Talking: WHA Radio and the Wisconsin Idea. Happily, he goes on to note, Wisconsin's WHA has been an exception, making available to researchers a vast amount of historical data on the station's formative years. Thus, Davidson, currently the chief announcer and "unofficial historian" of Wisconsin Public Radio, attempts in 9XM Talking to do his part to bring this archival material to a wider audience.

He begins at the beginning - before the beginning, actually - noting how engineer Edward Bennett worked with Reginald Fessenden on his groundbreaking wireless experiments in 1905-06. When Bennett was later hired as a professor in electrical engineering at the University of Wisconsin, he wasted no time in setting up wireless equipment in Madison. By 1914, he had received a licensed station 9XM, which later became WHA, and he soon handed off the operation to physics professor Earle M. Terry, who would be the driving force behind Wisconsin's broadcasting efforts for the next fifteen years.

It is in chronicling Terry's work at the station, which is roughly the first 100 pages of the book, that 9XM Talking is at its strongest. Using archival material available at the University of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Historical Society, Davidson weaves an engaging, even engrossing, narrative about the station's pioneering work in broadcasting under Terry's tutelage. A reader witnesses first-hand the struggles that small and educational broadcasters faced in the early years in what was nearly a constant battle to maintain a foothold in the frequency spectrum. Terry was particularly prescient in those very early years, foreseeing not only radio becoming "as common in Wisconsin homes as bathtubs" but the pressures that would mount on educational broadcasters as business interests became more dominant.

Davidson does an excellent job of keeping the early years exciting, illuminating not only the events and experiments but the personalities behind them. …

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