Monday, April 18, 2016

"Guide Me Home" Goes on the Road

I had a great time yesterday visiting with the lovely ladies from St. John's Lutheran Church on Howell Avenue in Oak Creek. They invited me to tell the story of writing "Guide Me Home". 

I had a chance to tell them what life was like in Wisconsin during the Roaring Twenties. 

It was great answering their questions and sharing stories with them. I'd like to thank Margo Schmidt for inviting me to come and talk with them. I had a great time. 

I'd be happy to chat with your group about the 1920s and my Lutheran historical fiction book "Guide Me Home." Feel free to contact me about setting up a date. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

As the Dial Turns

The story of the beginning of radio continues... 

Last time we learned about the earliest radios used in 1920, but how long could people make radios out of oatmeal boxes? After all, who could eat that much oatmeal?

Radio development in the 20s changed rapidly after a young man named Edwin Armstrong put his mind to improving the original radio. He invented a way to use vacuum tubes in a radio receiver to replace the crystal sets. The use of the vacuum tubes allowed the sound to come in clearer over longer distances. He finally was successful in 1924 with the manufacture of the Radiola Super-Heterodyne. After all, with a name like that, it must have been wonderful.

The Super-Heterodyne was an amazing radio - all the components rolled into one. It included the new vacuum tubes for more power, the speakers that had better sound, and was electric, plugging into any outlet in a room. (Of course, we have to remember that homes only had one electrical outlet in each room.) The wooden case was custom-built which most likely contributed to the high cost for this radio - $495.00 in 1926. In today's dollars it would be about $5,000. Would you spend that much to listen to a radio station?

A couple years later the invention of the automatic loudspeaker solved the problem of the radio playing very quietly and then blasting loudly when the station was changed.

Another addition to the radio brought the sounds of the world into the homes of millions more people. Battery powered radios allowed this modern convenience to be utilized in any home. Electricity was no longer needed to power a radio, so farm families could listen in to the news or their favorite programs even if they didn't have electric lights.

The people separated by long distances could now join with the rest of the country in listening to the latest election returns or weather reports. Some radio batteries were interchangeable with car batteries so the family auto could power-up the radio battery as it drove down the road. As one listener remembers those days, "I'll never forget those winter nights more than 70 years ago, when radio waves came bounding over the dark hills at the speed of light to pierce a wall of solitude and bring the wonderful world to a young boy in rural Missouri."

So, with the new improvements perfecting the radio receivers, what was happening on the broadcasting end of things in the late 20s? By 1925 radio stations were overlapping on the airwaves. Different stations vied for the same radio frequencies causing two or more programs coming in at the same time on a radio. Because of the resulting chaos, the broadcasters asked the government to intervene and bring some sense to the airwaves.

Believe it or not, Uncle Sam actually helped the situation. In 1926 the Federal Radio Commission was set up, and the Radio Act was passed in 1927 by Congress. This allowed the Commission to regulate the many radio broadcasters and assign each station to a specific radio frequency. It brought order out of former chaos.

Next week we'll find out what programs caused the radio craze across the country. What was everyone listening to?

My information was taken from From Flappers to Flivvers published by Reiman Publications in 1995. Also from Radio in the 1920s.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

On the Same Wave Length

In "Guide Me Home" Emma and Neil enjoy singing a song that they heard on the radio. This post describes the beginning of the radio. 

What came first, the chicken or the egg? Or to put it in terms of our topic--what came first, the broadcasting of radio signals or the radio receivers picking up the signals? I've never thought about that question until I started doing research this week.

We are so used to pushing a button and hearing music, or news, on our radios it's hard to imagine what life was like in the silence before they were invented. How did this means of communication come about? We delve into this topic today.

Prior to 1920 radio enthusiasts experimented with radio waves on a one to one basis. There were no radio broadcasting stations at that time. A person sitting with a home built radio picked up someone talking from miles away, but the broadcaster had no idea if anyone had the means to listen to his voice. Then in November, 1920 the first radio station  KDKA officially broadcast the first program from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Not too many people were listening because only amateur radio operators had any receivers to pick up the broadcast. Thus, in answer to our question, radio broadcasters came first.

When people heard the news that voices and music could be heard coming over the air waves, the radio craze began. Everyone wanted in on the new device. By 1922 there were 600 radio stations across the country. They broadcast only live events. In 1921, Chicago's first radio station, KYW broadcast operas six nights a week. When no operas were playing at the theater, they found other venues that had classical  or popular music. Sports events, news, lectures, poetry readings, or political commentary were other topics broadcast across the air waves.

 We have to keep in mind that there was no government regulations in the early days, meaning several stations could be using the same radio wave frequencies or time slots. Thus on many occasions there were two voices or two songs coming through the radio, causing chaos. At first the only time of the day when radio stations broadcast was during the evening hours since people worked during the day. Radio broadcasters worked on a volunteer basis so needed day jobs. There were no advertisements on radio programs bringing in money to pay for the wages of the deejays, or producers.

What about the second half of the question. The radio receivers. If stations were broadcasting music, how were listeners receiving it? Would you believe that people made radio receivers out of oatmeal boxes?

They were called crystal radio sets. The Detroit newspaper even printed a series of articles giving directions on how to build homemade radios by winding wire around and around an oatmeal box and hooking up an antenna wire to catch the signal - in one account the antenna was hooked to the clothesline via a clothespin. Many boys' magazines encouraged young boys to build a radio set and experiment with it. Can't imagine how good the sound was using one of these.

Now, for the other problem with these homemade sets. They used headphones, meaning one person at a time could listen to the music or lecture. The headphones were passed around so everyone could listen to a piece of the action, not too practical.

Some families found ways around this. The headphones were placed in a large kettle allowing the sound to amplify in the kettle so more people could hear it. Can you imagine sitting around a large kettle trying to understand the words of a political speech? I bet it wasn't crystal clear. Or, as the picture shows us, more headphones were hooked up to the radio set.

Good thing it didn't stay this way for too long. Inventors improved these devices within a couple years, but we'll hear about that next time.

My information was taken from From Flappers to Flivvers published by Reiman Publications in 1995. Also from Radio in the 1920s.