Sunday, November 4, 2007

Tuesday Nov 4

Election Day

The usual election noise
around my neighborhood more
than in any other part of the city
Stopped half day a union holiday.

Visited Rifke in E.N.Y. with
Clara & Sadie present. I went
there in quest of customers
of Claras friends.

9 P.M. Home & radio
listening to radio returns.


Matt's Notes

Papa mentioned yesterday his intention to supplement his income by selling womens' gowns on the side (he worked in a garment factory during the day) and today we see his first attempt: A trip to Brooklyn with his cousin Sadie and one of the many women in his life named "Clara." (Papa's sister was named Clara, but so was his cousin Sadie's sister. Papa knew cousins Sadie, Clara their other sister Eva rather intimately, since he stayed in their home and shared a bed with them when he first came to America in 1913.) Papa has stopped by Rifke's house in East New York a couple of times on his way to events sponsored by the Kessler Zion Club, but I don't know if she was a cousin as well or just a close friend.

It seems like Rifke's house became the scene of a little direct sales party, with Papa showing catalogues and fabric swatches or, perhaps, pulling entire gowns out of a sample case and passing them around the room. I'll try to learn more about what someone like him really would have carried on a sales call, but meanwhile it's worth noting that he was able to take his Brooklyn trip because he had half the day off for Election Day, an admirable show of cultural enlightenment we might not expect from a country that had, in the words of President Coolidge's election eve get-out-the-vote speech, only "lately...added to our voting population the womanhood of the nation." (Unfortunately, we don't expect it from 21st century America, either.)

Perhaps a more historically interesting detail from this entry is Papa's account of how he "listened to radio returns in the evening." This seems like an offhand statement, but with the exception of a few early radio enthusiasts who had picked up some experimental coverage of the 1920 Harding-Cox returns from Pittsburgh's pioneering station KDKA, no American could have written such a thing about a national election before 1924. A New York Times article from November 2, 1924 called the 1920 KDKA broadcast as the birth date of modern broadcasting went on to discuss the explosive growth of the industry:

Into these four years has been crowded the most extraordinary progress which has ever followed any of the great scientific discoveries. After the invention of the steam engine, steam-boat, telephone and airplane a generation or more has been required to bring about a similar development.

Today, when radio broadcasting is so much a part of our national life, the crude methods of four years ago and its limited application seem to belong to another century. The pioneers in broadcasting faced a small audience. It was only possible for a few hundred to listen in, and these were grouped for the most part within a narrow radius. Today 530 broadcasting stations are scattered across the United States, and daily teach and entertain an audience estimated at upward of 10,000,000 people.

As sophisticated as modern radio might have seemed to the Times, it still devoted thousands of awestruck words throughout the year, and especially in the days leading up to the elections, to the logistics of nationally broadcast campaign speeches and Election Day coverage. AT&T, by then an innovative and important player in the radio business, led the way by linking its stations and facilitating simultaneous broadcasts via phone lines, an arrangement the Times referred to, in quotes to denote the freshness of the term, as a "hook-up."

I mention all this not to laugh at the quaint technology of the early 20th century, but to better understand the world Papa lived in, and to examine another facet of his personal evolution, in this case the process through which radio makes its way into his life: he is quietly delighted when he hears an early Presidential speech; cheers the broadcasts of his favorite musicians; suffers through the dramatic, epic implosion of the Democratic party at its National Convention; feels lonely when he listens too long by himself.

The 1924 Election Day broadcast lasted until 1:00 AM on New York's WEAF, and I'm sure he listened to every minute, found it a remarkable addition to the traditional, street-level campaign clamor he'd become accustomed to (or at least become accustomed to hating) in recent weeks. Still, I wonder how much longer such broadcasts would strike him as remarkable, how long it would be until, one day without even realizing it, he turned off the radio because he just didn't feel like hearing the President's voice.


New York Times references for this post:

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