Hello, Everybody!: The Dawn of American Radio

Hello, Everybody!: The Dawn of American Radio

by Anthony Rudel

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Long before the internet, another young technology was transformed--with help from a colorful collection of eccentrics and visionaries--into a mass medium with the power to connect millions of people.

When amateur enthusiasts began sending fuzzy signals from their garages and rooftops, radio broadcasting was born. Sensing the medium's potential, snake-oil

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Long before the internet, another young technology was transformed--with help from a colorful collection of eccentrics and visionaries--into a mass medium with the power to connect millions of people.

When amateur enthusiasts began sending fuzzy signals from their garages and rooftops, radio broadcasting was born. Sensing the medium's potential, snake-oil salesmen and preachers took to the air, at once setting early standards for radio programming and making bedlam of the airwaves. Into the chaos stepped a young secretary of commerce, Herbert Hoover, whose passion for organization guided the technology's growth. When a charismatic bandleader named Rudy Vallee created the first on-air variety show and America elected its first true radio president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, radio had arrived.

With clarity, humor, and an eye for outsized characters forgotten by polite history, Anthony Rudel tells the story of the boisterous years when radio took its place in the nation's living room and forever changed American politics, journalism, and entertainment.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Novelist and classical music expert Rudel (Imagining Don Giovanni), who has an extensive background in radio broadcasting, offers a lively overview of the birth of radio with an emphasis on the entrepreneurs and evangelists, hucksters and opportunists who saw the medium's potential. He traces the transition from hobbyists to the "radio craze" of 1922 when Americans spent more than $60 million on home receivers that brought the sounds of urban life to rural areas. The first station west of the Rockies, KHJ, prompted the notorious sexual-rejuvenation surgeon John R. Brinkley to open KFKB in 1923 Kansas. By the end of the 1920s, the Federal Radio Commission was established to manage the airwaves, NBC and CBS competed and advertising increased. Along with political campaigns and sports broadcasts, Rudel covers the "love/hate relationship" of newspapers and radio stations. His chapter on "the unholy marriage between radio and religion" details the rise and fall of evangelist Sister Aimée Semple McPherson. Profiles reveal Rudy Vallee's vast appeal and important role in creating the radio variety show. With extensive newspaper research, this is an authoritative and entertaining survey of the early days of dial twisting. (Oct.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Rudel (Classical Music Top 40), past programmer and now consultant for radio networks, effectively presents the lives of the diverse pioneers of radio from the Teens, Twenties, and Thirties. For several decades, the culturally transformative medium of the radio was the only source for the very latest updates on politics and sports (thus arguably the prototype for 24/7 TV and the Internet) and was also the most accessible medium for drama, comedy, music, and advertising. Tracing radio's evolution from the telegraph to wireless's broadcast communication, Rudel asserts that American radio blossomed owing to the relatively light governmental regulation of Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover. Arranged around such figures as Aimee Semple McPherson, Father Charles Coughlin, crooner Rudy Vallee (who inaugurated radio's variety format), and the quack Dr. John Brinkley-not to mention David Sarnoff of RCA, Sam "Roxy" Rothafel (whose radio column is the source of this book's title), and a panoply of players from the golden age of sports-Rudel's book is an enjoyable read, benefiting from the author's extensive use of newspaper columns and a bibliography incorporating both web and print sources. While illustrations of some of the colorful radio pioneers would have further enhanced the text, the book will appeal to pop culture enthusiasts and is recommended for all public libraries.
—Frederick J. Augustyn Jr.

Kirkus Reviews
Industry pro Rudel (Imagining Don Giovanni, 2001, etc.) chronicles radio's early decades, when mavericks reigned and regulation was but a twinkle in Herbert Hoover's eye. Seen at the dawn of the 20th century as little more than a gizmo of scant interest to anyone but hobbyists, radio as a business had to be built from the ground up, often by people who didn't necessarily know what they were doing. Parallels with the pioneering days of personal computing are evident in Rudel's narrative, which ambles in no particular hurry through a cavalcade of early innovators. Amid this huckster-heavy lot could be found the occasional true believer like Westinghouse engineer Frank Conrad, who received a commercial radio license in 1920. (Restricted to military use during World War I, transmitting facilities were returned to private ownership in 1919.) Conrad began playing records over the air in response to listeners' letters, creating the first request show. Radio also boasted impresarios such as Rudy Vallee, who is remembered now for his lackluster film career but during the 1930s was a trailblazing radio orchestra conductor. Among the hucksters were a cornucopia of unsavory types, including holy-rolling scam artist Aimee Semple McPherson and the anti-Semitic Father Coughlin, who both commanded vast audiences. The most vividly rendered scoundrel is John Brinkley, the quack doctor who used his hugely successful Kansas radio station to promote a questionable surgery that supposedly increased potency by implanting goat testicles in men. Later sections on presidential addresses and broadcasts of sporting events become progressively less interesting, since those uses of radio are much the same today. Thevarious anecdotes and character sketches are agreeable enough, but Rudel never adequately conveys radio's momentous impact on society. Dry-as-dust take on a carnival-like industry. Agent: Eric Simonoff/Janklow & Nesbit
"Rudel, with extensive professional radio experience, revels in the enterprising personalities who set up shop on this technological frontier ... Rudel vividly re-creates the anything-goes atmosphere of the ether’s early days."

San Francisco Chronicle
"Hello, Everybody! offers rich rewards. Written in a conversational style, it includes odd facts and eccentric people. Rudel goes back and forth comfortably from radio programming to the social upheavals of the 1920s and 1930s. As a story about the birth of broadcasting, it's appropriately upbeat and optimistic."
The Denver Post
" ... entertaining and informative ... lively ..."
Mansfield News Journal
"Turn down the television set and give Hello, Everybody! a look."
Post and Courier (Charlotte)
"Rudel uses wide-ranging examples—the coverage of the Lindbergh baby's kidnapping and America's fascination with sports—to show how radio and the nation grew and navigated change together. It's thoughtful reading, particularly as radio and the rest of the "old" media navigate today's new media age."

Palm Beach Post
" ... interesting ... this is a book I was hoping someone would write, and Anthony Rudel has done it."

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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Chapter 1

MILFORD, KANSAS. Population 200—not counting animals.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Milford, Kansas, was a one-horse town on the western plains; there were no paved roads, no sewers, no water system, no high schools, and no sidewalks. Situated across the river and one mile down a dirt road from the nearest train depot, Milford happened to be located about ten miles from the geographical center of the United States. Its other claim to fame was that amid the town’s rows of dilapidated structures there was one lone architectural curiosity: a building that had been transported from the 1906 St. Louis World’s Fair after the fair had closed. Located on the Republican River, which flows to Junction City, the county seat of Geary County, Milford was near the godforsaken spot of land from where Horace Greeley had been inspired to report that the buffalo hurried through the region, "as I should urgently advise them to do."

But Milford’s rise to national fame—or infamy—would really begin in October 1917, when late one evening, the town’s new and only doctor welcomed a patient to his neat, simple office. Perhaps the man, a local rancher, was put at ease by the official-looking framed diploma from the Eclectic Medical University of Kansas that hung on the wall; or maybe the fact that the doctor and his wife owned the adjoining apothecary and soda fountain, with its neatly appointed shelves of vials and bottles, filled the rancher with confidence; or maybe the doctor’s affable manner and his distinguished red Vandyke assured the new patient that he’d found someone in whom he could confide. Whatever the reason, the man eventually worked his way around to telling the doctor about his real problem.

"Doctor," he said, "I’m forty-six. I’ve got a flat tire. I’m all in. No pep."

Today an entire pharmaceutical industry has grown around the problem we so loosely call erectile dysfunction, but in the early twentieth century the condition, so vividly described as a "flat tire," was known in polite circles as "lassitude."

The doctor, whose medical experience came primarily from earlier, nomadic years staying one step ahead of the law while working with other quacks, medicine shows, and anatomical museums, was unable to offer much encouragement. Depressed, the rancher talked enviously about his well-endowed goats and their prodigious sexual athleticism.

"Yep," the doctor chuckled. "You wouldn’t have any trouble if you had a pair of those buck glands in you."

Intrigued by the idea, and perhaps willing to do anything to ante up the randy factor, the rancher eagerly pressed his case.

The rancher stared intently into the doctor’s eyes and enthused, "Well, why don’t you put ’em in me?"

And with the breezy air of a man who had nothing to lose, Dr. John Romulus Brinkley, emboldened by the purchased medical degree tacked to his office wall, assented. In one of the more unlikely transplants of the era, by one of the more unlikely medical professionals, Dr. Brinkley, using one of the rancher’s own goats as the donor, implanted tissues from the poor animal.

Within two months the rancher was boasting all over town about his resurrected prowess, and other local men who found themselves in the same predicament made their way to Dr. Brinkley’s. Among the earliest patients was one William Stittsworth, whose wife gave birth one year later to a healthy son whom they named Billy in honor of the generous donor goat.

Although the procedure was filmed and real medical specialists were later invited to observe the magical rejuvenation surgery that Brinkley called his "Compound Operation," the exact surgical methods and procedures were never completely memorialized. However, Brinkley, who proudly proclaimed he was the first man to take a goat’s testicle and implant it in a man, described his operation this way:

The glands of a three weeks’ old male goat are laid upon the non-functioning glands of a man, within twenty minutes of the time they are removed from the goat. In some cases I open the human gland and lay the tissue of the goat within the human gland. The scrotum of the man is opened by incision on both sides . . . I find that after being properly connected these goat glands do actually feed, grow into, and become absorbed by the human glands, and the man is renewed in his physical and mental vigor.

In actuality, Brinkley probably did not operate on the patient’s testes, but somewhere higher up in the anatomy. The rejuvenation his patients discovered was likely due to psychological factors; just the idea that they had newfound vigor probably allowed them to relax and again become sexually active.

It was sensational. Dr. Brinkley was the talk of Milford, and soon enough, word of the surgery spread and men of all ages from the small towns and villages of the surrounding Kansas countryside were streaming into town, seeking the special surgery by the great man who could reinflate their flat tire: Dr. John Romulus Brinkley. The cost per operation was between $500 and $750, and that included the necessary goat tissue, which was purchased from local ranchers.


Copyright © 2008 by Anthony Rudel

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

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