Saturday, June 23, 2007

Tuesday June 24


I am now listening to the
proceedings of the opening of
the democratic convention

I love to listen in to Robert
Graham McNamee
Official announcer of W.E.A.F.
He certainly has a beautiful
way of presenting a picture of
everything in the most vivid
language, Before the Convention
opens at 12 now a fine band plays


Whether I approve of the Democratic
platform or not their proceeding brings
forward my tears, a mighty party
of a mighty liberal country in convention
to chose a nominee for the Presidency.


Matt's Notes

More than any other entry Papa has written about radio programming, this one puts us right in the middle of a hugely important moment in American popular culture. Though some early radio experimenters had taken stabs at live Presidential election coverage (most significantly in 1920, when the Detroit News shared updates from its news desk about the Harding-Cox election through its "radiophone" station, 8MK) live political convention coverage -- in fact, any detailed, live look at the American political process -- was entirely novel in 1924.

When Papa heard the opening remarks of the convention on WEAF, he was on the receiving end of American Telephone and Telegraph's most ambitious national radio broadcasting effort to date. AT&T had previously managed large-scale broadcasts by linking its many radio stations by telephone wire (and renting its wires to other stations that wanted to receive and rebroadcast their programming) but the Republican and Democratic conventions "provided sensational stimulus at precisely the time the broadcasters were technically ready for the challenge."1

According to the New York Times, "twenty radio stations extending from Boston to Kansas City and from Buffalo to Atlanta" broadcast the Democratic convention. Eighteen of these were AT&T's, while their corporate rivals, RCA and General Electric, connected a couple of other stations through Western Union telegraph lines to carry broadcasts from WJZ, New York's other station on hand for the convention. Public address systems played radio broadcasts for crowds in various New York parks and squares, and radio set retailers set up their own loudspeakers to draw crowds to their stores. It was, as an advertisement proclaimed in the Democratic Convention Official Program, "indeed a radio summer!"

Papa's enthusiasm for Graham McNamee also shows him catching the beginning of a cultural wave. McNamee had made a name for himself as a sports broadcaster over the previous year, becoming one of the first practitioners of what would later be known as color commentary. His career continued to grow with the popularity of radio, and before his untimely death in 1942 at 53 he had secured himself a reputation as one of the great voices of radio. He would cover many political conventions during his career, though the 1924 Democratic Conventions may have been his most challenging; as we'll soon see, the Convention would go on to be the longest and perhaps most contentious in history, and McNamee's performance bordered on the heroic.

When Papa says "whether I approve of the Democratic platform," he's most likely referring to the divisive debate about whether the platform should include language explicitly condemning the Ku Klux Klan (America's relationship to the League of Nations, prohibition law and immigration law were also important issues of the day, but none were as publicly contentious). The Democratic front runner William McAdoo (it looks like Papa started to write "McAdoo" instead of "McNamee" in the second paragraph of this entry) received support from the Klan and declined to condemn them, while New York Governor Al Smith, the other leading contender, rigorously supported anti-Klan platform language. (The Klan's influential role in national politics was prominent enough to earn the Grand Wizard, Dr. Hiram Wesley Evans, a Time Magazine cover photo on July 23, 1924.)

As in many other matters, though, Papa's idealism and romanticism helped him overcome his apprehension. This entry may be filled with interesting historical and political tidbits, but nothing about it is more compelling to me than to read how Papa shed tears of admiration for his adopted country's political process. Would he still do the same today?


Update 7/1/07

I just came across an article in the New York Times archive entitled
"Radio Taxi for Delagates; Cab Keeps Tabs on Balloting During Trips to the Waldorf." It describes the curious and unexpected phenomenon of a car equipped with a radio:

Delegates rushing back and forth between the Garden and the Waldorf-Astoria need no longer fear when stepping into Frank Bagan's taxicab of being out of touch with the balloting.

Bagan...turned up at the Waldorf yesterday afternoon...with a radio outfit installed in his taxicab.

He and whatever passenger he is carrying are each equipped with ear phones, and the aerial standing about two feed above the roof of the cab is the only grotesque feature to distinguish the cab from hundreds of others."
Bagan did not charge extra for the "radio service." Looks like the trend caught on, too. Here's a photo of a radio-equipped campaign car from 1924, via the Library of Congress:



1 - From Erik Barnouw's A Tower in Babel: A History of Broadcasting in the United States to 1933.

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