Tell Me About Radio
in the 1930s:by
Jordan Davis and A.J. Jones

As the United States slowly progressed through the hardships of the Great Depression during the 1930s, there was still time and knowledge to create new inventions. “The 1930s has been called the golden age of radio” because as the radio developed in that decade, it became more popular and useful to Americans (Lindop 103). For example, radios were not just an exciting new invention, they were the main form of entertainment and news. The entertainment in radio were various sitcom shows. Most of these shows were comedies because that was “the most popular genre during the decade; it often got its laughs with the plot of a poor person disrupting the social occasion of the rich” (“The 1930s” Para. 3). Because of the Great Depression, financial themes were common.

Background information:

Radio served many purposes in the 1930s. In fact, by 1939, 80% of the population owned radio sets. “Almost any average American family in the evening would be gathered around their radio” listening to talk and comedy shows (Gerdes 173). It was radio shows and sitcoms that made thousands of people laugh, and their popularity encouraged companies to advertise their products in between the shows. Many classic shows were created in the 30s like Betty Boop in which they “created comic misadventures of Betty Boop” (Terrace 26). Another famous show which is now being produced into books and has a museum is Ripley’s Believe it or Not which “first broadcasted in 1930 with dramatizations of unusual happenings” (Terrace 24). Other comedy shows that were very popular starred comedians like Jack Benny and George Burns. Shows like these lifted people’s spirits despite what might be going on with the war and Great Depression. With these show’s popularity increasing companies began wanting to advertise their products in between the shows, so “by the thirties, sponsors of radio programs won the right to broadcast commercial messages” (“Media in the 1930s” Paragraph 9). As a result, the radio shows were “broken into fifteen-minute installments, with commercials for soap and other products in between” (Lindop 103). Radio became known for its soap commercials because “It was the advertisements for soap, in between radio shows, that gave the serials their name soap operas” (Lindop 103). Consequently, as Americans listened to their favorite sitcom or radio show they were also introduced to new services, products, and inventions.

Heath and Social Education:

Radio of the 1930s is known for unifying the rich and the poor of all races, ironically though, it contained stereotypical themes. Radio was a common social topic because “in 1930 there were radios in 29 million households” (“The 1930s” Paragraph1). As a result, “the radio brought together the rich and the poor, of every race, nationality or creed in one audience” (“Media in the 1930s” Paragraph 7). However, shows like “Biondie always mocked the middle-class mores: Little Orphan Annie always supported the economic status quo, hi I Abner always exaggerated the most ridiculous features of American culture” (“The 1930s” Para. 3). Although, these shows could be taken offensively it was something that everyone of society could laugh about, similar to blond jokes. Because of radio’s great popularity, it was a connection that both the rich and the poor of all races shared.

IB Learner Trait Connections:
  • Radio allowed citizens to be aware of what news was going on in America and around the world because it “was the main source of news” (“Media in the 1930s” Para. 11)
  • Police men were able to broadcast messages to other policemen with receiving devices in order to send alerts. By doing this the broadcast has allowed the police forces to have knowledge of what is happening.
  • Radio in the 1930s was a new invention and many didn't know a lot about it. However, people began using it and “In 1935 there were 6,546 radios in the United States” (“The 1930s” Paragraph 1).
  • With the invention of radio, people across America started listening to new and different styles of music from what they were used to.
  • As radio became popular, a person’s variety of what they listened to changed. People had the choice of several styles of things to listen to including music stations, comedy shows, or talk shows.
  • Radio communicated both news and provided entertainment for families across the country. It became such a vital resource that “the average family spent four and a half hours everyday” (Lindop 103).
  • Radio sitcoms had hosts to introduce the comedy shows and news shows had hosts to communicate the news.

click here for Early 1930s Radio Broadcasting video

("Early 1930s Radio Broadcasting." Paragraph 1).

Development of Radio:
On November 6, 1935, Edwin Armstrong gave first demonstration of FM Broadcasting

When radio was first invented, it was broadcasted over low frequencies called AM. If radio was going to expand, then further improvement was needed. In 1932, Major Edwin Armstrong began improving pre-existing methods of transmitting radio over AM frequencies, but “Armstrong soon began to realize the inherent limitations of AM radio” (“Communication” paragraph 9). The main reason that AM broadcasting needed improvement was because it would interfere with electrical sources. To solve interference issues, “Armstrong's frequency modulation transmitter carried radio signals at a much higher frequency eliminating problems of interference” (“Communication” paragraph 9).

philco consold.jpg
This is the Philco Console
Radio consoles developed over the years because more controls and buttons
were added in order to make the machines more efficient. Today, when a new
Ipad or Apple product is released it has more or improved features, which
encourages more people to buy the product. In 1933, popularity of radios
increased when the Philco Console was produced because “it was one of the
first radio sets to have amazing push buttons to tune the station” (Gerdes 171).

("Crosley® 1930s Cathedral Radio with CD Player." Paragraph 1)

In World War II, different forms of radio communication other than voice communication were used. Things such as “radio-controlled guidance of falling bombs enabled an operator in a bomber to direct a bomb to the target,” allowing for better control (“Communications” paragraph 15). Radio controlled bombs were a huge advance from the traditional bombs used in World War I. With this, bombers could now have more control over where they dropped their bombs and it allowed them to direct the bomb closer to the enemy and use fewer bombs. Radio-controlled bombs were a major invention of the 1930s that changed how wars were fought.


World Events:
"On a lazy Sunday morning at the Pearl Harbor naval base the day was just beginning. It was approaching 8:00 in the morning. Meanwhile, in New York City it was
Pearl Harbor Bombed!
Pearl Harbor Bombed!
already afternoon. The east coast was listening to a football game between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers which had an approximate 2:00 PM EST kickoff. At approximately, 2:26 WOR (possibly Mutual) broke into the game with this surprise bulletin about an attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor" (Widner paragraph 1).

  • When news was broadcasted that pearl harbor had been bombed, it prepared people for further bombs that may come and encouraged them to find safety. If these people were unaware of possible future bombs then they would be in serious danger. So, radio was a lifesaver.
Myself (Jordan):
I love music and everyday at 7:00 a.m. my radio clock alarm goes off and plays the music on a radio station. Therefore...
  • Radio helps me get up at the right time.
  • Radio introduces me to new music artists.
  • Radio keeps me entertained with comedy and music for hours.
The Great Gatsby:
As well as the 30s, radio dominated the 1920s also. The Great Gatsby was set in the 1920s, therefore the story occured during the rise in radio.

Other related websites:
Entertainment in the 1930s
Film-Radio-Dance-TV in the 1930s

Works Cited
“The 1930s: Media: Overview-Free The 1930s: Media: Overview Information Find The 1930s: Media: Overview Research.” Free Online Encyclopedia. High Bean tm Research, Inc., n.d.

“Communication Inventions in the 1930s |" eHow | How to Videos, Articles & More - Discover the expert in you. | N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2013. <>.

"Communications Types - World War II." Army Security Agency and INSCOM. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2013. <>.

"Crosley® 1930s Cathedral Radio with CD Player." ~ Radios, Turntables, & CD Players. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 May 2013.

"Early 1930s Radio Broadcasting." YouTube. YouTube, 06 July 2010. Web. 19 May 2013.

Gerdes, Louise, ed. The 1930s San Diego, California: Greenhaven Press, 2000. Print.

Lindop, Edmund, and Margaret J. Goldstein. America in the 1930s. Minneapolis: Twenty-First Century Books, 2010. Print.

“Media in the 1930s.” ThinkQuest. Oracle Foundation, n.d.

Terrace, Vincent. Radio’s golden years: the encyclopedia of radio programs, 1930-1960. San Diego: A.S. Barnes, 1981. Print.

Widner, James F. "Radio Days - Pearl Harbor." Radio Days - Pearl Harbor. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 May 2013.