IT’S ECCLESIASTES ALL OVER AGAIN
I recall the conversation during the recording of a podcast, concerning the theme of, “what it means to be rural” came up. Indeed, in many of the video conferences that the UCRMN has organized mentions that being “rural” is a culture that differs from “urban” culture. Well, you will have to excuse my obsession with my radio history hobby, but I have found some historical arguments that might possibly aid in understanding our present context.
Lately, I have been examining past issues of “Rural Radio” magazine from 1938 to 1939. It was a short-term publication, but it is incredibly interesting. Here is a link that will take you to a website that contains all the available issues in PDF format.
At the bottom of the page of the website, you will notice an interesting comment, namely, the leadership left to move to Washington. Note the movement of talented human resources to a more centralized urban setting.
“Rural Radio didn’t last long, not because demand was weak, but because Kirby, the magazine’s mastermind, got an offer that moved him along from Nashville. Ed and Marjorie left Rural Radio in the hands of its printer, where it didn’t stand much of a long-term chance, and moved to Washington in the fall of 1938.”
Later I found that the magazine was then amalgamated with “Radio Varieties”, which lasted until 1941.
I examined the comments the June 1938 issue of the original “Rural Radio” magazine to test the reaction to a rural oriented publication. Here is one of the comments.
WE ‘ LL NOT GO HOLLYWOODMildred Carlan , RFD 1 , Elberton , Georgia”
“I enjoy the magazine very much for it contains more of the pictures of my favourite
entertainers and not so much Hollywood stuff. Keep it that way.
Over The Cracker Barrel May 1938 pg 23
Ronald (Dutch) Reagan, Warner Brothers star, former sports announcer at WHO, sent Myrtle Williams, WHO departmental secretary, a beautiful bouquet of roses April5th.I t was her birthday.
Note that by this time Ronald Reagan had moved on to Hollywood, but he did not forget his past and the value of personal connecions. Here is some more information on Reagan at WHO.
In the September 1938 issue on pg. 12, you will discover the magazine’s own attempt to describe the different characteristics between rural and urban culture.
Several magazines of the radio industry have entered an argument about what folks on the farm like in the way of radio entertainment. Some say it takes a different brand of radio fare to please the farm family and those in the smaller towns from the kind that proves entertaining to city folks.
We have been literally flooded with questions from these trade publications asking our opinion on the subject. Frankly, we are inclined to the opinion that a good radio program will come just as close to pleasing one in rural areas as one in the city. We feel that radio, bringing all the entertainment available, the very latest news, timely discussions and dramatizations about anything in the world one could wish for has just about done away with any differences that might one day have existed between urban and rural tastes. BUT WE MAY BE WRONG.
We wouldn’t try to answer the question ourselves. WE ARE ASKING YOU TO ANSWER IT. WHAT IS YOUR OPINION?
Does it take a different brand of radio fare for the farm and city dweller? Or do they like about the same thing? If there is a difference, just what is it?
In the October issue of RURAL RADIO magazine, we are going to print the best opinion we receive answering “yes” and the best that answers “no” to our first question. And to the reader who writes us the best opinion on each side, we will send a full year’s subscription of the magazine to three friends whom they specify. You’d better get busy on that right away, for your letter must be in the mail by September 11th.
Here are the winning answers that seem to straddle the fence.
IN ANSWER to our question in the September issue of RURAL RADIO,
“Does the same kind of fare please the farm family and those in the smaller towns as pleases the city folks,” letters came pouring into the Editorial Office. Even now, there is still just as much difference in opinion. Out of the mass of answers, the following two were selected as best opinions of “Yes and No.”
This is my opinion in regard to radio entertainment. City people may prefer the classic in music, but when it comes to news, general interest and heart appeal town folks and country folks are one. Radio sounds the human touch in its programs, and brings us all as human beings together. “Some day the brotherhood of man for which we all do long, will come to this old world of ours, through radio and song.”
NORA F. MCCORMICK,
San Antonio, Texas.
Here is the other winner.
Gentlemen:MISS TRESSA BIERMA,
Farmers and city dwellers do like about the same thing, but there is a difference in their tastes probably due to environment. Since we are all human, certain features are enjoyed by all. Some of these are the last-minute news, sports reviews, and the weather broadcasts. Music along the lines of cowboy and mountain songs is a great favourite, as are also hymns, and a good rousing band is always welcome. Furthermore, what woman does not like to try out some new recipes now and then? But the farmers’ time to enjoy the radio is limited. So when they do listen to it, they want entertainment and material that can be quickly absorbed, and music that will bolster their spirits, such as western songs and yodels, and good old home folk tunes that live so near to their hearts. The most necessary topics to the farmer are the timely farm discussions, crop reports and the live stock markets, not forgetting the all-important weather forecasts. And the women find little time to listen to dramatized stories, but the city folk get a great deal of enjoyment from this source. Farmers want to hear the features and the folks that are most nearly like themselves. City folks have a different attitude toward entertainment, because they have the opportunity to see and hear the features in the auditorium itself. They become used to higher class entertainment, and thus appreciate concerts, operas, orchestra, etc. These features are enjoyed by the city dweller, but have no place in the heart of a farmer. The farmer lives simply, and works close to nature. He needs recreation, and the radio is the best means within easy reach. So tune in to the guitars and banjos, with all the happy voices that go with them, and really enjoy yourself!
I tend to agree with the second submission as it pertains to the decade of the 1930s. However, when “Rural Radio” amalgamated with “Radio Varieties”, the resulting magazine carried more “Hollywood” and the “swing music” of the big bands of the 1940s. Yes, the “country and western” style of music is still there, but it is becoming overshadowed. If you examine the article in the October 1940 edition of “Radio Varieties”, you will note that a studio was built in the small community in Renfro Valley Kentucky to broadcast old-style music. Most notable is the following statement”
“I found the kids lost something when they went into town,” he recalls. In fact, he found you could take the country out of the boy when you took the boy out of the country. The boy started to lose his simplicity. Lair didn’t want that to happen, so he started mulling over ideas. He finally decided on the obvious. Since something was lost when you brought the hills to radio, he would bring radio to the hills.”
Once I read this article, it brought me back to my personal experience of serving in Newfoundland in the 1990s. There was still some distinct culture in my pastoral charge’s outport communities. Indeed, a button accordion player played the hymns for me at two of my six churches and at the local nursing home. However, when I returned to the island a decade later, after learning to play the button accordion myself, I vacationed in the community of Fogo on Fogo island. The bed and breakfast home was hosted by a famous button accordion player, who had taught five students at his local school to play the instrument and the old-time music. Yet, by the time I arrived there in the early 2000s all the students except one had moved away. He was even annoyed by the fact that the Newfoundland school system in the city of St. Johns actually sent a button accordion player to the school in Fogo to teach the local students their own history! They completely overlooked that the island had its own resource in my host and teacher.
Local rural culture was now being transformed into a tourist attraction or pioneer village, because, the mass media and Internet was too tempting when compared to the Saturday dance at the local Fisherman’s’ Hall, where a single button accordion player would play all night at no cost. The Renfro Valley article appears to be the same scenario, but back in the 1940s. Moreover, the old “country and western” entertainers appear to be more comical than practical in their depiction in the magazine, as people migrated from rural areas to the cities for employment. The most convincing note in “Radio Varieties” is an article that actually pictured Clark Gable on his “20 acre farm”, supposedly working in his city attire!
Fittingly, the last issue of “Rural Radio” magazine has an article (pg 4) of a tour of “Radio City’ in New York”, the centralized location of the NBC network radio programs, which was owned by RCA, and who lured talent from local stations. Moreover, the magazine sets up its own obituary through technological change by including an article on the first public television broadcast in New York (pg 18). The television and the broadcast were also from RCA.
Therefore, my conclusion must agree with Ecclesiastes, namely, that there is nothing new under the sun, when it comes to the human economic drive to centralization. It must be noted that in the initial “Rural Radio” magazine, there was a degree of centralization. WLS in Chicago, WHO in DesMoines, WFAA in Dallas were in major cities, but they catered to the prairie farmers. There was enough centralization to provide adequate resources for broadcasting, unlike the very early days of Keith Rogers at CFCY here on PEI, where he would grab someone off the street to play the piano or anything else, so that there was something on the air to entice people to buy radios. However, as the radio industry matured, it was not the sale of radio sets that was paramount, nor the educational promises of its benefits to the human condition, but the sale of advertisements to subsidize the cost of elaborate entertainment radio shows predominated. Thus, popular entertainment shows succeeded, while educational and information programs failed to be economical. These radio magazines attest to the fact of a diminishment of educational programming for schools, public forums, and religious content over time.
So, I shall leave you with two questions for you to ponder. “Has our regular worship services become more like “entertainment” in an attempt to “sell it” to remain economically viable? Secondly, are we like the radio manager visiting Radio City in New York at the first television broadcast, only to miss the impact of technological change in our future?
Food for thought.
Martin Dawson at Cornwall, PEI