The Compaq 6510b is has gone back home again to the Hewlett-Packard repair facility, so they’ll be no posts for the nonce. Meanwhile, here’s an account of how I attained my profound knowledge of things gastronomic. I’m appending some relevant images that the Chicago Reader couldn’t find room for on the Internet. Read More »
Dallas Morning News, October 14, 1922. I’ve been invited to appear on This American Life again (yay!), this time to talk about the great Gland Larceny Panic that gripped Chicago and squeezed in 1922. While refreshing my acquaintance with the story, it struck me that I could have done a better job organizing and analyzing the available material, plus I never cross-posted any ‘nad theft stuff from the BNFTP annex at the Chicago Reader‘s site. Anyway, I’m going to give it another go. Read More »
Baltimore Afro-American, December 14, 1929. William K. “Hello World” Henderson
was this crazy old bastard who built a high-powered radio station down Shreveport way, primarily as a vehicle of self-expression. He’d get on the air at night and drink and ramble on about why the Republicans sucked and how Herbert Hoover was a “yellow shit” and a “cross between a jackass and a bulldog bitch,” then he’d play some hillbilly or blues records. Then he’d be back on the air to rail about how the chain stores were sucking the life’s blood out of the South, then he’d play some more records and . . . well, you get the idea. He’s the grand daddy of all shock jocks. And also of all disk jockeys–you weren’t supposed to rely on records as programming back then.
And he was easily one of the most popular, if not the most popular broadcaster in the nation. His loyal rural fan base extended all the way up to New England. KWKH’s signal pretty much covered the map because Henderson didn’t bother with bureaucratic niceties like assigned wavelengths and signal strength. He’d boost his wattage according to his mood, and do it right on the air too. He’d yell at his engineer, “Give us more power, doggone you, give me all the power you’ve got!”
Another of his favorite pastimes was baiting the Federal Radio Commission (precursor to the FCC), who, you’ll surmise, were not big KWKH fans. Once he telephoned the regional radio supervisor at his home in New Orleans and started cussing him out on the air. Several years ago I heard Howard Stern perpetrate a virtually identical prank on the chairman of the FCC.
I guess I don’t have to add that he was something of a racist too. Well, I would have to add that if this were an academic forum. I’d have to go on and on about it, and then maybe offer some feeble theoretical construct establishing that broadcasting itself is inherently racist, as are indeed the very principles of radio wave propagation. If I could just do these simple things, I’d be a big professor of media right now, instead of a homeless blogger living under a bridge.
Aaaaanyway, Henderson and KWKH are the subject of a fascinating chapter in my compulsively readable book American Babel: Rogue Radio Broadcasters of the Jazz Age (“Subtly hilarious!” raved the Journal of American History; “Vivid and exciting!” cheered the American Historical Review; “A bit of a slog,” complained my mom). And hey, I just noticed that Amazon has discounted it just in time for Chri–er, the Festive Gift-Buying Season! Do your bit for the economic recovery, folks.
When broadcast listening broke big in 1922, it was a boon for newspaper cartoonists. Initially radio was more of a popular science hobby for middle-class males than a full-blown mass medium. You can read all about it in this obscure but fascinating book.
Detroit News, May 16, 1931. Most nations capable of establishing national broadcasting systems in the Twenties and Thirties followed the British model of development, creating listener-supported, noncommercial systems owned and operated by the state. The U.S., where broadcasting was born, opted for privately-owned stations financed through commercial advertising. (I wrote a spellbinding book about how and why this happened.) There are very few recordings of broadcasts from this period, so satirical commentaries like this editorial cartoon are actually among the best available sources for information on what early broadcast advertising was like. At first I thought the guy in the second frame was intended as a caricature of Alexander Woollcott, but Woollcott didn’t start his broadcasting career as CBS’s “Town Crier” until 1933. Still looks a lot like him though.
Detroit News, 1931. This is satirical comment on crooners like Rudy Vallee and Bing Crosby, whose intimate new vocal style was made possible by the invention of the microphone. Like all things related to jazz, crooning was widely seen as a terrible source of cultural pollution.
I sort of love how labored this kind of humor is. By the time we get to the punchline, the dead-horse set-up has not just been whipped but pureed into equine guacamole. And the repetitive image of the straight man shielding his eyes against the brilliance of the singer’s diamond tie pin is so dumb it’s genius.