How does one map the history of radio broadcasting in NYC? And at what point does it become just noise? These were questions I embarked on when drawing on a topic for my mapping project. I had intended to focus on a radio/audio project for a few reasons:

  • Many of the “mappings” drawn on the readings and map critiques were heavy in text and the visual
  • I have a particular interest in sound and radio studies and the radio industry in NYC
  • I was inspired by our tour with Andrew Blumm and subsequent readings about the interconnectedness of tubes, electronics, and communication. I thought, why not take on the air!

Of course, this was an unwieldy task, I struggled (and struggle) with honing in and focusing. The more I dove into the literature, I discovered two things that drove me to where I am:

  1. There are very few recordings of the early days of radio, due to limitations and degradation of recording technologies.
  2. There is a large catalog of Old Time Radio shows online many of which were part of the big time broadcasting networks (what we now know to be NBC, ABC, CBS).

While it is unfortunate that many of these recordings are hard, if impossible to find (any illumination on this matter would be a lot of help), it drove me further into my attempts to excavate the histories of these long forgotten shows and stations that once had names and places.

With the help from our critiques, our professor, and our Pecha Kucha exercise, my project will attempt to provide a visual map history of radio stations, radio transmission centers, and the buildings they transmitted from.  Audio samples from these stations shows will be included in the map to illustrate the range at which some of these shows were received.

I will be presenting some case studies of both large conglomerated stations and their histories through time that reflect both the chaotic and noisy form of pre-consolidated and pre-regulated radio, as well as attempt to map the stations whose histories are “silent” – in mapping the short-wave and AM stations of NYC (including the outer boroughs). I hope my map will illuminate the early days and race to airwaves which have interesting connections to the history of electronics, telecommunications, and wartime affairs (Steve, Hethre, do I hear a collab. coming on?).

Here are some of the audio samples, with descriptions of how they will be mapped, as intended to be received in the Pecha Kucha exercise:

New York City War of the Worlds Clip

War of the Worlds, broadcast on October 30, 1938, was a Halloween stunt, according to dramatugist and announcer Orson Welles. His regular CBS broadcast of news and music from Mercury Theater was interrupted by a “special bulletin” including reports from parts of New Jersey of a possible alien attack from Mars. Wells’ use of sound effects, acting, and visualizing the landscape transported the audience to a point of histeria and confusion. This one story marks a significant moment in radio history for many reasons that have already been documented. By mapping moments where Welles transports us back on the map (as evidenced by the audio sample), we can begin to envision the interesting effects the wide-reaching broadcast has on the “invaded” audience. By this time CBS had begun broadcasting at 50kw, one of the longest ranges of radio broadcasting of its time. Rather than revisit analysis on Wells text and symbols of the War of the Worlds drama, I’d like to juxtapose how the conglomeration and wide-reach of the new broadcast technology of radio equally alienated the audience while the medium of radio itself, attempted to localize place by bringing local broadcasts in the form of short-wave radio.

Sample from “The Answer Man”The Answer Man broadcast through station WOR in New York from 1937 – 1956. Before there was Wikipedia, many people wrote to The Answer Man for research related requests they could not find the answer to. The show both demonstrates the place location of the audience (… “A man writes in from Brooklyn, NY asking…”) that can be mapped, as well as the importance of the location of the Answer Man, Albert Mitchell’s office was located across the street from the New York Public Library.

New York Public Library on Opening Day

Continuing on this case study approach, I’d like to sample clips from shows that ask the audience to somehow imagine a place on the map, through the descriptive scripts of the audio.

Here are a sampling of a few more imagined spaces (both real and fictional):

21st Precinct21st Precinct was never a NYPD precinct. It ran on WCBS from 1953 – 1956. Perhaps a precursor to the now famous TV series Law & Order, the show was fictional but based on true crimes that occurred in NYC.

Grand Central Station Intro – A CBS half-hour anthology series detailing the lives of people coming and going from Grand Central Station.

Broadway is my Beat -A CBS crime drama, running from 1949 – 1954.  “From Times Square to Columbus Circle!” the announcer yells.

I will map these imagined spaces, and place them in relation to their actual spaces of transmission (through MHz records and mapping arrays of the field of listening), spaces of production (where the studio was located), and their place on the dial. I will argue that each of these place holders has meaning in relation to the other, by simply being an important part of the other.

Alexander Russo writes in his book Points on the Dial: “…scholarship on media and space has examined how media contributes to the production of space and spatial relationships. The cultural critic Jody Borland argues that considerations of textual and spatial production are deeply intertwined: ‘We are not simply listeners to sound…but occupants of spaces for listening or watching who, by being there, help to produce definite meanings and effects.’ Borland is suggesting that the Cultural form of radio is linked to its spatial context of reception. These spaces serve not only as sites for investigating radio in its specificity but also as sites that are made meaningful through their relationship to other sites (such as those where programming is produced)”

By mapping the airwaves, I hope to bring context to the spatial relationships between the many sites of meaning both imagined and real.