Listen, Learn, and Log

I am hardly the go-getter type. My goals are even more modest than my needs, which is to say that a full and fulfilling present day matters more to me than any future success for the prediction and preparation of which I lack the foresight. Among my few ambitions is it to amass volumes enough to have one of the most comprehensive private libraries devoted to turning the volume up—to American and, to a lesser degree, British radio and to the dramatics of the air in particular: published scripts, contemporary criticism, and latter-day assessments of the so-called “golden age” of radio.

Until now, matters were complicated by the fact that I never had my own shelves on which to store such records of radio’s past. Well, I’ve got the bookshelves set up in my room at last. Nearly five months after moving into our new old house, I once again enjoy ready access to the appreciable if generally unappreciated literature of the air.

Back in November 1923, a critic of Radio Broadcast magazine observed that since libraries and radio have similar aims, it was

surprising that they have not cooperated nearly as fully as they might. Much of the radio broadcasting is instructive and entertaining; and so is it with the books on the library shelves. Radio is ever improving the musical and literary tastes of thousands of listeners-in, who, having their interest aroused, may find increased pleasure from music or literature—and the libraries can supply the latter.

Some twenty years later, what there was of radio literature hardly reflected the programs enjoyed by millions on radio. Calling it a “sad observation,” Sherman H. Dryer remarked in Radio in Wartime (1942) that

in the twenty-five years of its life few serious or critical books have been written about radio. The literature of radio is divided into two main parts: anthologies of “best” broadcasts, or vocational texts—How to Write for Radio, Radio Direction, How to Become an Announcer.

To these two kinds of books, Dryer—among a few others like Robert Landry, Francis Chase, and Charles Siepmann—added a small number of critical studies on radio broadcasting; and, two decades later, there emerged a market for nostalgia and history.

As Max J. Herzberg put it in Radio and English Teaching (1941), radio “need not be a substitute for the library; it can result in more and not less frequent use of books.”

I find that, tuning in, I not only turn to books on radio, but go in search of related material, original sources and histories. In other words, radio does not merely compel me to set up a shelf for books devoted to the subject; it continues to educate me about Western culture, the histories in which it dealt and out of which it arose. Looking at the faces of long forgotten performers and reading about their once famous acts tells me a lot about the boundaries and hazards of any pursuit of happiness defined by popularity and the statistical apparatus relied upon for its measurement.

The by now unpopular culture of radio dramatics has proven an academic and professional cul-de-sac for me; but my interest in and commitment to its study has remained nearly undiminished. As I said, I am not very ambitious—which is precisely why I feel free to continue the pursuit of what doesn’t seem to get me anywhere . . .

This, by the way, is my 701st entry into the broadcastellan journal.

3 Replies to “Listen, Learn, and Log”

  1. How did I miss this one? Must have been the weekend I was sick as a dawg and not checking mail and blogs every half hour. Facebook isn't all bad after all, that's where I found it. I might have one or two things to contribute to your library if you don't already have them.

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  2. Thank you both. I feel that way about keeping this journal, Doug: I do it just to do it. It’s a great luxury.I sneaked this in belatedly, which is why you might have missed it, Clifton. I could send you a list of all the books in my library. It's about time I took inventory again.

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