A common theme, among radio experimenters and broadcast station managers, was that one of their missions was to "bring better quality music", including opera, to the "common folk". However, "the common folk" mostly weren't interested. The popular music of the early 1920s was known as jazz, and it did not have a reputation for sophistication. Credo Fitch Harris, manager of WHAS in Louisville, Kentucky, recorded his thoughts about early-twenties jazz in his 1937 book, Microphone Memoirs:
In those days there were ten or twelve dance orchestras which freely offered us their services. It was a type of music I personally could have done without, but quite eighty per cent of our mail called enthusiastically for more of it. Jazz then must not be confused with the swinging, rhythmic simulations of today. No selections would have been considered beautifully finished without the introduction of a crowing rooster, a squealing pig, a cow bell--and some of the time all three at once. Upon the larger collection of barnyard denizens seemed to depend the greater success of a particular rendition. Then there were other interpretations when I thought the drummer was carrying the tune, and the ribald saxophones trying to head him off. Jazz was jazz in them days, brother, and if its origin is ever traced you will find that it was initiated by somebody stepping on a cat.
So jazz could be controversial. But when Sergeant Thomas Brass, a member of the Georgia School of Technology's Signal Unit of the Reserve Officers Training Corps, enlisted the Georgia Tech Band put on a radio concert in late March, 1920, it was dance and jazz music that they sent out over the airwaves:
Telephone Engineer, June, 1920, page 12:
Dancing to music played by a band nearly two miles away was the novel experience of members of the Club De Vingt of Atlanta, Ga. The music played by the Georgia Tech band was transmitted to the roof of the Capital City Club by wireless telephone. Radio men who witnessed the demonstration said the first wireless dance was a huge success and that the few slight difficulties encountered could easily be overcome. A loud sound amplifier was used at the receiving end. Left, above, the band playing to the transmitter two miles away. Right, above, dancing to the wireless music. The receiving set is shown at left. Left, below, June Caprice of film fame, one of the dancers, telephones the bandmaster for an encore. Right, below, some of the merry makers listening to a jazz tune via wireless telephone. Photos by International.
The photograph of the band members, awkwardly clustered around the single microphone, reflects some of the technical problems faced during this pioneering era in placing the musicians. Credo Fitch Harris again provides some insights on this topic, from Microphone Memoirs:
Musical balances were difficult to obtain--I mean, of course, for microphone reproduction. The more perfectly we could get each instrument to register with an identical intensity upon that small but conscienceless mechanical ear, the better the broadcast. In other words, players should be so seated that their ensemble of notes produced a smooth curtain of sound at the point of pick-up. A flute, for instance, is more penetrating than a cello, and an oboe less so than a clarinet; a trumpet out-blasts a French horn. All instruments vary in these respects.
As the broadcasting studio orchestras and microphone were necessarily quite near to each other--and not infrequently the musicians sat in a circle around it--preliminary drilling was important. The men learned that if I pointed to a certain player, holding up one finger, it meant for him to turn a third away from the microphone (which, in sound reproduction, was equivalent to moving him so many feet farther back); holding up two fingers meant to turn two-thirds away (thus moving him still farther back). Three fingers meant to turn all the way around. Outside the studio door hung a special set of earphones just for me and, after announcing the first orchestra selection I would exit quickly, put them on and listen, then slip back in and do the necessary pointing.
As I look back upon them, some of those setups must have been screamingly funny. An outsider stepping in might have supposed that most of the orchestra members were not on speaking terms--all being seated at different angles and blowing in various and sundry directions.
There used to be one trumpeter--when he dies I am sure that Gabriel, through sheer envy, will never let him inside the pearly gates--who had lungs of leather and a horn of flint. His earsplitting blasts immersed the entire premises. Any amount of turning him was futile. So I finally had to move his chair to a corner of the room and let him blow into the padded wall. They were a temperamental lot. That chap I put in the corner was more crushed by it than I could have guessed. Before the concert ended, I chanced to move around where I could see his face. I was simply staggered to find tears rolling copiously down his cheeks. But, although crushed and mortified, he had kept on playing--blowing out the agonized lament of a broken heart. I could almost see its pieces splattering from that terrible horn. Later we gave him a new instrument, and after that he sat right up in front, doing a fairly good job. At least he was happy again.