Political conventions of the 1920s helped sell radios

PRESS and GUIDE

Published: Monday, July 18, 2016

By Brian Rogers
Guest columnist

The author's RCA Radiola Model 18 was built in 1928. Note the speaker on the shelf below the set. With earlier sets, the shelf had held batteries. Photo courtesy of Brian Rogers

The author’s RCA Radiola Model 18 was built in 1928. Note the speaker on the shelf below the set. With earlier sets, the shelf had held batteries. Photo courtesy of Brian Rogers

When I (Brian Rogers) thought about the Democratic and Republican national conventions taking place this summer, my inner radio history buff sprang to life, demanding to know when the electronic medium had first covered a political convention.

Here’s what I learned: The first radio broadcast from a political convention was June 10, 1924, at the Republican Convention in Cleveland. The two-day convention in Ohio saw Calvin Coolidge nominated as the Republican candidate.

New York’s WEAF and WJZ were flagship stations for two separate competitive networks providing radio coverage. One was operated by AT&T (American Telephone and Telegraph) and the other was by RCA (Radio Corporation of America). AT&T had about 18 stations on its lines and RCA somewhat fewer. RCA wouldn’t become RCA Victor until 1929 when it acquired the Victor Talking Machine Co.

The AT&T announcer was Graham McNamee, one of early radio’s busiest personalities and well known yet to radio historians. Like many in that day, he didn’t confine himself to reporting just politics or just sports.

McNamee’s path on a national scale was similar to that trod by Ty Tyson in Detroit at about the same time. Tyson came to WWJ to announce University of Michigan football, but also reported such events as society garden parties and the dedication of the Ambassador Bridge.

RCA sold lots of radios in 1924 with advertising copy such as “Cheer with the galleries when the delegates march in! No ‘influence’ needed this year for a gallery seat at the big political conventions! Get it all with a Radiola Super-Heterodyne. When the delegates march in — their banners screaming; when the bands play and the galleries cheer — be there with a ‘Super-Het.’”

Between 1924 and 1928, great strides were made in radio technology and RCA introduced its new Model 18 Radiola just in time for the 1928 conventions.

The set was unique for its day, because heavy cumbersome batteries no longer were necessary. The radio plugged into a wall socket.

“Simplified operation from your electric light current,” read an RCA magazine advertisement. “Just ‘plug’ it in, connect it with ground and aerial, and a twist of the electrically lighted dial instantly picks out your favorite station.”

Earlier radios required batteries similar to those used in cars and were known to leak and burn holes in carpeting. They also needed frequent recharging and were famous for having no current left when an important baseball game hit the airwaves or the philharmonic was about to play. Read More