Tuned In: RadioFest at The Wolfsonian

This past weekend, The Wolfsonian–FIU partnered with public radio station WLRN Public Media in hosting a festival celebrating the impact of radio in transforming the world. The festivities included a WLRN VoxPop recording booth set up in our historic Bridge Tender House; a speaker-making workshop with Moonlighter Markerspace; a selection of radio-related videos courtesy of the Lynn and Louis Wolfson II Florida Moving Image Archives; an internet radio panel discussion moderated by The New Tropic; a guided tour of vintage radios by collector Harvey Mattel; and live radio plays organized by WLRN.

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Of the hundreds in attendance, more than eighty museum visitors also came up to the library to peruse a display of advertisements, rare books and manuals, posters, sound recordings, and other ephemera laid out on our main reading room tables.

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A large-screen television in the library provided a viewing of Back of the Mike, a 1938 film short providing a “behind the scenes” view of the production of sound effects for a radio program.

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The library materials on display included rare brochures and a couple of posters promoting radios from a host of countries.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Other items on view for our guests included popular magazines, cartoons, brochures, and children’s books attesting to the centrality of radio in the first half of the twentieth century.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Anonymous donor

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Dolores Trenner

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Politicians and demagogues alike recognized the vital role that radio played in moving the masses and swaying public opinion in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. After winning the presidency in 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt directly addressed the nation with “fireside chats”; his wife, Eleanor also hosted a popular radio show; and Father Charles Coughlin (the “Radio Priest”) captivated millions of listeners with his fiery weekly speeches.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

During the Great Depression, the President’s Federal Music Project funded free orchestra and chamber music concerts and provided free sound recordings of the same for distribution to the nation’s radio stations.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Europeans also harnessed radio’s power to reach and persuade millions of listeners, whether in support of republican Spain or the Fascist dictatorship in Italy.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Benito Mussolini and the Fascists organized “educational” radio programs in support of the regime and its imperial ambitions. Patriotic Italians were strongly encouraged to listen to the broadcasts bellowing out from loudspeakers in city squares and rural town centers, where the walls would be plastered with posters providing visuals in support of each theme.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Adolf Hitler and the Nazis were particularly adept at monopolizing domestic radio waves in Germany. Under the auspices of Joseph Goebbels and his Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, the Nazis produced two types of cheap radios, known as “People’s Receivers,” that were incapable of receiving foreign shortwave broadcasts.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

During the Second World War, Axis dictators and militarists used radio broadcasts to tighten their control over their own nationals and subjugated neighbors.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The Allies devised creative means to reach and amplify the resistance movements in the occupied territories, with broadcasts of Churchill’s speeches via Radio London and translations of President Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” declaration stamped onto lightweight cardboard and vinyl sound-recording discs dropped from airplanes behind enemy lines.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

Finally, we had a few items on display related to the Red Scare of the postwar period, when Americans were conditioned to fear Communist infiltration of the media.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Promised Gift

~ by "The Chief" on March 17, 2017.

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