Large Scale Central

1930s Radio

A few folks have commented on the old-style cathedral radio in my Repair Shop structure. You can see it in the upper left of the following photo, against the end wall just to the left of the cabinet, about halfway between the drill press and the lamp shade.

I have incorporated a couple of hidden speakers in the structure that are used to play sound effects for the machinery and blacksmith and to also play music selections. I chose eighteen different songs, nine instrumentals and nine vocals, that an observer can play by pressing buttons on the control panel.

While researching background material during the design phase for this structure, I concentrated on understanding the workers – how they dressed, how they worked, and even what music they listened to. As I dove deeper into the research, I got a much better understanding of how radio influenced the overall American experience of the late 1930s. Here is a summary of that research that can provide a good reference of what radio was like during that period.

The 1930s was a golden age for radio. At the start of the decade 12 million American households owned a radio, and by 1939 this total had exploded to more than 28 million.

But why was this ‘talking telegram’ so popular?

As technology improved radios became smaller and cheaper. They became the central piece of furniture in the average family’s living room, with parents and children alike crowding around the set to hear the latest installment of their favorite show. Radios also began appearing in the workplace to keep workers informed and entertained during work breaks.

Radio may have had such mass appeal because it was an excellent way of uniting people, if only virtually. It provided a great source of entertainment with much loved comedians such as Jack Benny and Fred Allen. It marked the advent of the soap opera, a running story that people could return to, with characters they could sympathize with and love.

Radio programs provided a source of inspiration, with heroes like the Lone Ranger and The Shadow getting embroiled in deadly capers. But they also promoted old-fashioned American family values and gave people a model to live by.

News broadcasts influenced the way the public experienced current affairs. But above all the radio provided a way to communicate like never before. Franklin Roosevelt’s ‘fireside chats’ helped the population feel closer to their president than ever.

By the end of the decade radio had exacted quite an influence on the American media. Advertisers capitalized on radio’s popularity and the idea of the ‘sponsor’ was born. Radio also helped establish the national broadcasting networks such as NBC and CBS, still present to this day.

After the 1930s the popularity of radio began to decline at the hands of newer, more visual technologies. But the influence of the ‘golden age of radio’ on the American way of life will never be forgotten.

American popular music from the 1930’s reflects the cultural and social conditions that shaped the American identity during the period. The popular music of the thirties can be used as a lens to better understand the collective memory of the American people during a decade marked by the Depression, emerging technologies and the growing population of cities as many Americans relocated from rural areas.

The music is reflective of how Americans imagined themselves during this period. These songs were originally released as phonograph records, and as such were the products of an industrial process that shaped this imagination of national identity.

Over the course of the thirties American taste in music changed dramatically. In the mainstream it moved from the bland and unchallenging “sweet” sound of the Jazz Age dance bands to the more rhythmically involved and aggressive horn arrangements of the bandleaders of the Swing Era. Some songs feature regionally popular artists performing vernacular material. These performances were recorded during the initial wave of interest in “race records,” “hillbilly,” and “ethnic” music by major recording companies that led to the search for “new” performers throughout the southern and western states.

Songs from the middle to the end of the decade represents the emerging modern forms of American popular music. One can hear the fine-tuning of rhythm and blues in works by Ella Fitzgerald and others. The swing era is realized with recordings from Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and Glenn Miller. Stars on the silver screen and in the sound booth, like Judy Garland and Bing Crosby let us know of an alliance between the Hollywood machinery, the record industry and radio that grew in strength and influence as the decade wore on. The trademark sound of Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade” would provide a generation with musical memories of American life immediately before and during the Second World War.

Nice summary Bob.

My dad was big time into radio nostalgia. Born in 1920 he was just coming of age during the golden era. When I was a kid he played me many recordings of the old radio shows. Some of the comedy can still stand up today.

He also became a collector of antique radios and phonographs. I had a cathedral top next to my bed as a teenager. Dad had dreams of opening a museum, but was never able to realize that and ended up selling off his collection. Before it was all gone I asked for his Atwater Kent Model 20 which to this day lives in a glass case.

Someday I’d love to restore it to operating condition. It probably doesn’t need much other than fresh tubes and maybe a cap or two.

I just got a 1942 Zenith console radio I hope to restore, had one before I got into jukeboxes. Found a several guys on the internet that restore them, just the chassis, or the whole thing.

Take the tubes to the Rexall, they have a tester there…

Really, someone still has a tube tester? I couldn’t find one when I was trying to repair a 1969 Admiral colour television. Eventually I had to let go of that fine piece of furniture. :frowning:

Good luck finding a RexAll, I remember their sign had a Rx in it, but my mental picture is fuzzy!