The Magical Airwaves

I have been reading Gerald Stone’s 1932 on and off now for about six months. My grandfather lent it to me. This was his era.  The opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the depression and the clash of state, nation and empire.  It’s interesting for the time in history it is covering, but Stone has this annoying habit of filling in blanks for you. “This is probably what the old boy said as he struggled up the street…what they said wasn’t recorded but no doubt the exchange went along these lines…etc etc”

I have just started the chapter on the birth of of the ABC.  A few lines struck me last night at what an exciting time it was in media.  It was the newspapers that were dominant (if not only) media at the time.  Jack Lang, whose trials and tribulations the book is largely framed against, need to get his views heard – and fast. The newspaper barons were extremely anti-Lang and the Labor party.  Lang’s only option at the time was to conduct large rallies in public parks or Town Halls. Then some people got to thinking about these crazy airwaves and how a message could be spread to a broad audience, bypassing the print press.

“Lang’s early successful experimentation with the airwaves was to make him an instant convert, convinced that electronic communication was the way of the future in winning hearts and minds.”  

Lang could see that radio was a way to bring together government workers closer across NSW connecting them for “on-air” meetings, as well as providing timely information to farmers like stock and grain prices.  I look back on this and think how amazing this must have been – the possibility to connect, in real time, must have been astounding.

Most of all it was a way he felt he could get across his side of the story. Lang saw that it could bring “neutral” information to areas far away from the capital – the only news they got was the relatively biased papers. I won’t go into the whole Lang saga – but what was happening in NSW at the time is incredibly relevant to our economic situation today.  He saw it a way to speak to a wide group of people, with no geographical limitations, and no bias or interference.

The crazy airwaves back in the 1930s – without the influence of “big media” – seemed free and optimistic and full of hope.  Lang’s Radio adviser predicted correctly that Big Media would eventually get their hands on radio as well.  But the great thing for Australia was the birth of the ABC – which later entered into television, and also the interesting digital stuff they are up to today. 

 Radio then reminds me of the big hairy fur ball of the Internet today. Politicians who use it well, like Lang and others did with radio nearly 100 years ago,  will guarantee to get their message out; their side of the story (as truthful and inspiring, or as twisted and nutty as that may be).  Obama is a clear leader in understanding this. In Australia we have a few pollies with their toes in the water – maybe the current NSW state government could look to Lang for a bit of inspiration to help them right now? God, they need it!

So obviously, ignore what the tinternet can do for you at your own peril.  But I also wonder in another 100 years what we will be talking about as the new way to connect and to tell our story?  Radio seemed so “the future is NOW” back then, just as the interwebby does now. I can’t imagine what it will be like –  scary and exciting at the same time.

[Later: another thing that struck me was the “radio” experts that were wading in on the “right and wrong” ways to do radio at the time.  Where has the Wireless Weekly gone? Ahhh, looks like it ended in 1937! Soc Med experts be warned!]

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Magical Airwaves

  1. Brendan

    Have read this too and agree about your comments on him filling in gaps….terribly frustrating.

    He had some guts though, big Jack. Standing up to the imperial bankers and their demands they get paid in full first. This must have really riled the generation that died like flies on the western front to protect the mother country, to then get shafted by them when times got economically tough…

  2. kelpenhagen

    Hey Brendan

    Yes – his Keysean approach to economics was quite radical then (and could have gotten us out of the depression sooner), and is just what governments all over the world are doing now to prevent what went down back then.

    I will keep struggling through the book though – feel Stone is trying too hard with his narrative; feels like amateur hour some times. But I am a big foggy about my 1930s pre-war history, so will keep..pushing..on…and…upwards

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