POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica

"Good evening Mr. and Mrs. America from border to border and coast to coast and all the ships at sea.”

by David Trumbull -- July 29, 2011

For those too young to remember, the quotation above was the “catch phrase” of Walter Winchell, one of the most popular radio entertainers of the 1930s through 1950s.

I’ve got radio on the brain. First, the other night I was re-reading a chapter from Only Yesterday, Boston native Frederick Lewis Allen’s informal history of the 1920s. According to Allen, “The first broadcasting station had been opened in East Pittsburgh, on November 2, 1920—a date which school children may some day have to learn.” School is out on whether Allen was correct in crediting KDKA as the first—there are several contenders for that honor—but he correctly predicted the future; I clearly remember that in school “KDKA in Pittsburgh in 1920” was one of the “facts” of American history we had to memorize.

I also was thinking about radio on a recent automobiling excursion to Provincetown. If you know the Lower Cape, you have probably visited, or at least seen the signs for, Marconi Beach, in Wellfleet. Yes, indeed, it is named for Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi. In 1903, the first transatlantic wireless communication originating in the United States was successfully transmitted from nearby Marconi Station, a message from U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt to King Edward VII of the United Kingdom.

The story of Maroni’s invention of radio has been well documented by other Post-Gazette writers. What struck me was how quickly, according to Mr. Allen’s book, radio took off. “In 1922,” he informs us, “the sales of radio sets, parts, and accessories amounted to $60,000,000.” By 1929 the annual expenditure of Americas on radios had grown 1,400 percent to $843 million!

In his column last week John Christoforo wrote of the—now sadly past—golden age of radio and the programs of old—the names of which live on fifty years after they left the airwaves. Today Boston radio offers sports, news, and many musical styles. Most importantly, Boston has local talk radio, which, along with the Post-Gazette, is one of the few local outlets for news and views not sanctioned by an increasingly authoritarian and intolerant liberal establishment—mille grazie, signor Marconi!