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In Honor of National Radio Day 2021

Ok, ok. It’s not technically National Radio Day today, but since it was last week while I was AFK at the fair while it was in town, I figured why not save it for when I get back instead?

So anyhow, National Radio Day is a more recent creation, and according to this website, the jury’s basically out as to how it came to be, or who came up with it.

But radio itself as an entertainment or communications medium had many contributors over the years. Sure, there were the telegrams and Marconigrams of the early half of the 20th century, but those were strictly for messaging purposes. According to the Wikipedia article, the radio’s predecessor was a radiotelegraphic system with no audio capabilities. For that, we’d need to have what John Ambrose Fleming, the inventor of it, called the “oscillation valve,” which later became known as the Fleming valve. Over the years, there were others who made their contributions to finessing what made radio broadcasting a viable venture by the 1920s.

Other countries followed a similar timeline in terms of who was first to make the airwaves, but here in the U.S., that honor went to an electrical engineer for Westinghouse, who started broadcasting out of their garage in 1916, eventually moving to the top of the factory building in Pittsburgh, with the call sign KDKA in 1920, on the AM frequency. FM wouldn’t come along until way later on down the road.

Radio advertisements soon became a booming market, as the radio became more accessible to more people. I saw this on one of the installments of Ken Burns Country Music, where the border blaster station XERA aired advertisements for some cure-all that basically amounts to snake oil. If you haven’t seen this series, do so! I guarantee you, you won’t be disappointed. Anyway, XERA was the only radio station that would air the Carter Family’s music at the time, since country music was viewed by a lot of people as a negative influence. (Gee, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?)

XERA and other radio stations like it were called border blasters due to the high power signal strength they had, since they were targeting broadcast markets outside their respective countries. I remember one anecdote from the Country Music installment that talked about how there was this one kid who had braces, and when they touched the fence nearby, they picked up the radio broadcast.

I’d totally do that if there was a high-powered radio station like that nearby just to freak people out, lol.

Anyway, the radio was not only a means of entertainment, it was also a lifeline during times of hardship. I saw a Facebook post from the Anne Frank House after I came back from the fair around midnight, and it talked about how the radio was something Anne and her sister Margot looked forward to each day. They had to keep the radio down during business hours so as not to out themselves, but Anne was listening to it one night with her family and the others in hiding with them.

One of the broadcasters talked about the importance of keeping a diary or some other form of written record during the war, and Anne took that as her call to action. She had kept a diary starting before the war and before her family went into hiding, naming Kitty as her correspondent in her entries. Kitty was her friend and companion, and her diary wasn’t just a means of quietly amusing herself, it was also a means of dealing with what was going on in her life. So she started working on another version of her diary to serve as what would become an official wartime document.

The radio was how people got their news and information before the advent of ARPANET in 1971, only accessible to segments within the public sector. This was the predecessor of Internet, introduced to us members of the general public the 1990s. Even then, most people (like yours truly) didn’t have regular access to it until way later than that.

For me, personally, radio was my source of entertainment at home outside the cassette tapes, the few channels we were able to pull in with the antenna we had on our TV, and books. As a kid, I’d listen to the country stations, and I remember one radio station having a morning show I’d listen to often before I went to school. One of the original hosts has since retired, and it’s just not the same anymore.

Side note: I actually met them before they retired at the last fair. I’d come out of the shower at the horse barn after swimming, so I was still soaked to the gills, haha.

It also kept me company during some difficult times in my life as a kid, and these were difficult times I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I’d come home from school in middle school, utterly destroyed emotionally, and I’d crank up the radio in my room to the Top 40 country station. Sundays were the day that station would air the NASCAR Country radio show, and I lived for it until they phased it out of their lineup a few years later.

I got to thinking about it a few years back, and found its’ successor, Racing Country, on a station out of another town in their livestream since I can’t seem to pick it up on any radio. They no longer air it, but it’s now zMAX Racing Country, with the same hosts.

Now, I’ll listen to the classic country station in my broadcast market on the FM frequency, even though their lineup’s gotten stale in comparison to when they were first starting out four years ago since they went corporate. Sometimes I’ll listen to the oldies and adult contemporary stations too. Otherwise, during the summer, I’ll switch to the AM station that broadcasts baseball games when they’re in town. There’s a true classic country AM station that plays some really obscure songs from the 1930s and 1940s, but I can’t pick it up on my stereo or my portable radio, regardless of the time of day. Lucky for me, they have a livestream available online, so I’ll listen to that.

Thanks to the Internet and livestreaming, there truly ain’t no country station that I can’t tune in. Over to you, readers. How’d you celebrate National Radio Day? Got any favorite radio shows or stations? Drop ’em like they’re hot below, and let’s talk.

 

 

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