The opening night for our upcoming holiday show, Christmas in the Airwaves, is fast approaching! The cast and crew are hard at work bringing not just a heart-warming story to the stage, but also bringing to life the Golden Age of Radio.
At the beginning of the 20th century, many Americans thought of radio as a passing fad. Not surprising, since at that time people had to build their own radios and purchase special earphones to listen to a few broadcasts that faded in and out. Before World War I, there were a little more than 300 licensed radio operators in the U.S.
However, with the invention of the speaker and more varied programming, radio quickly joined newspapers as a mass medium. By the end of World War I, there were over 13,000 radio licenses – over 40 times more than just a few years earlier. By the end of the Great Depression, 60 percent of U.S. homes and 1.5 million cars had radios.
When radio broadcasting became a normal part of American life, it also became dominated by national networks and financed largely by advertising. In 1926, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), previously a government-sanctioned radio monopoly, formed the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). A year later a rival network whose name eventually became the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) was also established.
To avoid the high cost of producing shows, local stations got most of their programming (other than news) from the networks, which enjoyed economies of scale. Network costs for radio shows were spread over the many stations using their programming. On a night like that portrayed in Christmas in the Airwaves, where a local radio station may live or die depending on how the national network responds to a single broadcast show, both the Players and the Studio Team will need all the holiday heart and hope they can get.