When I was first thrust into teaching media classes covering subjects that I did not study in college or in graduate school, I had to quickly learn about industries, such as newspapers, magazines, and advertising. I suspect that every teacher has gone through this experience at one time or another. After all, nothing makes you a better student than to become a teacher. Although the finer points of these “new” media industries were fascinating, none rivaled radio as an exciting subject. It really seemed like magic and was reminiscent of what the Internet seemed to me when I first used it.
The Bowery Boys, who produce one of my favorite podcasts, released an episode on the origins of radio in New York City. They cover all of the major milestones in the development of radio, albeit from the perspective of New York City history. They cover Nicola Tesla’s early experiments in the late nineteenth century, the establishment of American Marconi, Lee deForest’s audion, the Titanic disaster, David Sarnoff, RCA, Edwin Armstrong, the early radio stations in New York, and the beginnings of the radio networks with flagship stations here in New York.
Focusing only on radio history in New York doesn’t leave out too much from the standard accounts on the development of radio. For better or worse, the history of radio is very New York City-centered. Only the major accomplishments of Heinrich Hertz, who first transmitted a radio signal in Germany, Reginald Fessenden, who first transmitted the human voice in Canada, and Frank Conrad, who started the first bonafide radio station in Pittsburgh, receive mention in the mainstream histories of radio. Curiously, New York also looms large in the history of newspapers (as the birthplace of the American penny press and yellow journalism), American advertising (Madison Avenue), and motion pictures (as the base of Thomas Edison and his Trust).
Download or subscribe to the podcast from their website.
One more thing: if the Bowery Boys, Greg and Tom, ever find this post, I’m pretty sure it’s pronounced “Goo-yell-moh.”