Turning the dial to 1928's Independence Day radio programming
Independence Day is often celebrated with picnics, parades, fireworks, and music. While I can't help with the first three, music is something I can share. Within the museum's Electricity Collections are NBC radio guides dating from 1928 to 1930. NBC distributed these guides to their networks of stations, informing them when certain programs would be broadcast during a particular week. At that time, NBC operated two separate systems they referred to as the Red and the Blue networks. By 1943 NBC divested the Blue Network, and that became the American Broadcasting Company (ABC), while the Red Network is the basis of the NBC we know today. For fun, let's look at Independence Day shows from both NBC networks 87 years ago in 1928.
At 8:15 a.m. on July 4, WRC listeners in Washington, D.C., heard the Parnassus Trio celebrate two composers' birthdays: American Stephan Foster with "The Old Folks at Home" and Norwegian Ole Olsen with "Serenade." No further July 4th programming was heard that morning, just ordinary programs such as discussions and interviews. At 9 p.m., the Ipana Troubadours played "musical fireworks" including "Yankee Doodle" and "American Patrol" along with a few waltzes and foxtrots. Radio programming varied in length; the Parnassus Trio's show lasted 15 minutes and the Ipana Troubadours' musical interlude ran for 30 minutes.
Up the road on Baltimore's WBAL, people tuned into the Philco Hour at 9 p.m. The first half consisted of a comic opera, "The Viceroy," but the second half was "especially arranged for Independence Day." Along with "Yankee Doodle" and George M. Cohan's "The Grand Old Flag," listeners heard songs from popular musicals. These now lesser-known songs included "Give us a Fleet" (Little Nemo), "Soldiers in the Park" (The Runaway Girl), "Mother (Her Soldier Boy)", and "When Uncle Sam is Ruler of the Sea" (The Century Girl).
In New York City, WJZ offered "Sylvania Foresters Sing War Songs" at 8:30 p.m. Listeners heard a plethora of patriotic tunes, including the ubiquitous "Yankee Doodle." Other popular tunes such as the "Star-Spangled Banner" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic" represented the War of 1812 and Civil War, respectively. For the Spanish-American War, the orchestra played "A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight," a song "sung when the soldiers went off to Cuba in 1898." The "World War" was represented by a quartet performance of "Madelon."
After the invention of RCA's prototype Radiola 1 broadcast receiver in December 1921, radio was rapidly adopted. Between 1922 and mid-1928, over 8 million radios were sold in the United States. In the case of NBC, the network broadcast these programs from New York City to network affiliates by special cables, referred to as trunk lines. Those cables, owned by AT&T, fed the shows simultaneously to the network stations so they could reach a large audience. That helped the new media of radio to create a national audience in a way not possible before, with many people hearing these patriotic tunes at the same time. Audiences were also exposed to different flavors of America and began to be influenced by these cultures they might not have heard otherwise.
Patriotic music and celebrations reverberate throughout the years. While I don't know how many people ventured out on Independence Day in 1928, at least they had the option to sit back and enjoy popular patriotic songs on a local radio station.
Connie Holland is a Project Assistant in Medicine and Science. Her background in Broadcast Engineering and love of radio and music sparked this blog, and she wonders if she was born in the wrong era.