The illustration showing a radio transmitting aerial atop the U.S. Capitol building was purely speculative -- no station was ever installed there.
Popular Radio, November, 1922, pages 178-184:
Will Radio Reform Our Politicians?
What Will Our Congressmen and Senators Say and How Will They Say It When Their Speeches Are Broadcast From the Capital and All the United States Can "Listen In"?
By HARRY A. MOUNT
AN austere member of the United States Senate objected because one of his colleagues used a naval radio station to broadcast a political speech. Government property, he says, should not be used for private political purposes.
This is all very well, argues the opposition, but so long as Congressmen enjoy the franking privilege, why not give them freedom of the government radio stations?
"Under the law," says the New York Herald, "any Senator or Representative may use the mails without limit and without cost to himself for broadcasting speeches that have appeared in the Congressional Record. A Senator has burdened the mails with as many as a million copies of a speech. The letter carriers are annually bowed down with 20,000,000 copies of speeches. What may disturb Congress is not the use of Government radio but whether the party in power will grab the official radio for its own speeches in the important last weeks of a campaign."
One solution of this perplexing problem at once suggests itself: why not build a radio station atop the Capitol, assign it a wavelength and set it to broadcasting the whole proceedings of the Senate and House of Representatives? The venture might even be undertaken as an economy measure; it has its practical features. For instance:
Twenty million speeches, if each carried a two-cent stamp, would cost $400,000 in cash. If they were sent in franked envelopes the cost to Uncle Sam would not be considerably less. To this charge must be added the cost of printing and preparing for mailing. At least we may be sure that if the money now spent on franking were spent on maintaining a radio station at the Capitol, the results would be a thousand times more farreaching and effective.
And that brings up another aspect of the influence of the radio on politics; if the proceedings of the United States Senate were broadcast by wireless, what effect would this method of publicity have on the deliberations of that august body?
If a Senator knew he were talking not just to a little group of partisans, each as intent as himself on playing politics "as she is played". . . .
If he knew he were addressing also more voters than there were at that moment in his whole district. . . .
If he knew that enough men and women to turn the tide of the next election in his own district were listening to his every word. . . .
If he knew that more people in Ohio heard him than he could address personally if he made a lecture tour of that State. . . .
What would be the result?
Some day we may be able to "tune-in" on Congress, but whether or not that comes to pass, we are certainly going to have politics by radio from now on. And the effect, on the whole, may be gauged by what changes in the conduct of the Senate we might expect, if the whole Nation "listened in" on its deliberations. It will be interesting to watch the effect on politics of the radiophone.
Although the first widely popular use of the radiophone was in broadcasting the results of a political election--that was in 1920 when the East Pittsburgh Station KDKA was used for this purpose--only limited political use has been made of radio since.
In October, 1921, in Pittsburgh, when the offices of mayor, coroner, sheriff and other local officials were open, the radiophone played a very important part. Every candidate, regardless of party, was given an equal opportunity to speak from KDKA. Most of them took advantage of the opportunity. The experiment was so successful that in the last senatorial and gubernatorial elections in Pennsylvania this same station broadcast speeches by all of the leading aspirants.
In both cases the time allotted each candidate was equal, and it was understood that the speeches would be an announcement of opportunities and promises to constituents as to service if the candidate speaking were elected. It is fortunate, in this case, that the station is controlled by a disinterested party. Equal opportunities might not have been afforded by a station controlled by a newspaper or a political organization.
A somewhat more limited use of radio was made in New York in the 1921 municipal campaign when Mayor Hylan and some others of the candidates spoke from one of the local broadcasting stations. But the event had not been widely announced and only those wireless enthusiasts, who happened to "pick up" the speech heard it.
The first real test of the value of radio in politics will come, no doubt, in the presidential campaign of 1924. No one can predict with certainty just what will happen, but no doubt the leading candidates will make wide, use of the radiophone. Many of our political leaders already have made short addresses by radio and they are fully alive to its possibilities. The list of notables who have talked from a single great broadcasting station include President Harding, Secretary of Commerce Hoover, Secretary of Labor Davis, Secretary of War Weeks, William Jennings Bryan, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., Governor Sproul of Pennsylvania, Governor Allen of Kansas, and Mayor Key of Atlanta.
At this writing a conservative estimate places the number of wireless receiving stations at 800,000. Last spring equipment was sold just as fast as it could be manufactured. In fact the demand from the larger cities could not be met and little had been done toward introducing radio into the rural districts. Careful investigation has shown that for every receiving station there are four or more head phones so that the whole family may listen in. The present radio audience may therefore number between 2,000,000 and 3,000,000 persons. Further estimates place the possible radio audience of 1924 at not less than 20,000,000.
There has never been a means heretofore, in spite of all the wonders of the telephone and telegraph and the great modern press system, whereby so many persons could be reached so cheaply, so easily, and so directly. Politicians are not going to overlook that fact. They will make the fullest possible use of radio in future elections.
And that brings up the question of what the fullest possible use will be.
It is obvious that if each party or faction sets up its own radio and begins broadcasting its particular brand of propaganda there will be a great deal of confusion from which no great profit may be expected. So long as a man's audience was limited to the number of persons who could get within hearing distance of him the principle of the freedom of speech could be applied in its broadest possible meaning. While he could find someone to listen to him, he could talk as long and as loud and as much as he liked. But when the size of an audience increases until a speaker may have more hearers than there are people in the cities of New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and San Francisco combined, and as only one man at a time can address that audience effectively, it is evident that some sort of an agreement will have to be reached between the various groups.
It would seem an ideal situation if control of the great broadcasting stations should remain in the hands of disinterested parties, and if the government-owned radio should be continued chiefly for the purpose of broadcasting such serviceable information as time and weather reports, market reports, storm warnings, and the like. Likewise, it would seem something of a calamity to this great radio audience, as well as to the politicians themselves, if each party attempts to broadcast its own propaganda, or if any party attempts to monopolize any one of the great broadcasting agencies. This is a problem which no doubt will adjust itself in time, but, no matter what final solution is reached, the effect upon political methods is bound to be far-reaching.
Consider, for instance, the matter of election promises. It has always been a temptation to political speakers to temper their promises according to the audience they are addressing. If they happened to be talking to an audience of union laboring men they were quite likely to extol the dignity of labor and the strength of union, and to promise that if elected union labor would have a sympathetic friend in office. If, on the other hand, the audience happened to be composed of the members of a country club, the address very likely would take quite a different tone. But if the same speaker were to address a vast invisible radio audience of hundreds of thousands or millions of persons from every walk of life (with no chance to claim the reporters had misquoted him), any promises made would probably be carefully considered and faithfully observed after election.
And not only would the substance of his address be changed, but his very manner of speaking probably would have to change to meet the mechanical conditions of radio transmission.
It has been found by repeated experience that high-flown oratory is not effective by radio. Much better transmission qualities are obtained by speaking in a quiet, evenly modulated voice. Extemporaneous talks have proven equally disastrous. Speakers have found it very hard to address extemporaneously air audience which they cannot see and which cannot see them. There are pauses which become very painful and embarrassing. For this reason most radio speakers now read carefully prepared papers, conscious that they must impress their hearers by the thought they present, rather than by any oratorical effects or by the charm of personality. It seems quite plausible, then, that as radio becomes more widely used and more effective in campaigning, we may see the ascendency of quite a new type of politician--a hard thinker who knows his subject thoroughly and speaks with quiet authority, as opposed to the bombastic type of present-day politician,
Presidential candidates will find themselves addressing large numbers, too, of a class of voters whom they have had to neglect in the past. These are the small town and country dwellers who are going to relieve the loneliness of isolated existence by snatching out of the ether, with equal facility with their city brothers and sisters, the very voices and personalities of the great.
Many of those who have given thought to the future usefulness of the wireless believe it will find its chief usefulness in the thousands of homes far from the great centers of population to which the affairs of government, the art and the music of the big cities, the marts of trade, are now rather vague and distant realities. It is true that only a few aerials are at work now over the homes of country dwellers, but no vivid imagination is required to foresee the day, and that soon, when every farm house will have its wireless receiving station. The farmers--especially those who live in distant and out-of-the-way places--are going to be brought into closer communion with state, national and world affairs through the radiophone.
It has long been a criticism of the republican form of government that so many citizens fail to record their judgment by voting, of ofttimes making it possible for a well-organized minority to carry an election. No doubt the wireless phone will help to correct that condition. An intelligent interest in government will be stimulated through lectures by competent authorities. As a matter of fact, one of the broadcasting stations has already inaugurated such a series. Before an important election there will be, no doubt, speakers who will emphasize the importance of voting and who will give instructions as to how to cast a ballot.
Students of politics agree that this government of ours is still in the experimental stage. So far the experiment has been so successful that it appears the whole world is taking us for a model.
There have been popular governments before this; but always they have grown to a point where the will of great bodies of people was hard to record, or being recorded, was misinterpreted, or again deliberately perverted by those in power. Ancient Greece had a form of popular government but it became a dictatorship of the cities because only in the cities was it possible to get enough people together to reach a popular decision. Rome also began her greatness with a popular form of government, but the actual number of people who had a voice in her government was limited to those who could crowd into the Forum. Even most of these heard imperfectly what the orators told them and understood even less; hence it was easy for politicians to sway their decisions by conventional and studied dramatic inflection and gesticulation.
The modern system of communication and the newspapers have remedied to a great extent these weaknesses. We have lately seen some startling demonstrations of the power of public opinion to guide the agencies of government. But our popular government is on a grander scale than has ever before been attempted. The number of voters has only lately been doubled by the enfranchisement of women. We need, more than ever before, the enlightening influence of such an agency of publicity as the radiophone promises to be.
The radio will tend to purify politics because it will bring the public into closer contact with its political leaders, and will tend to eliminate those superficial qualities of the old-time spellbinder for the obvious reason that those qualities will not carry over the radio--whereas his facts and his logic and his promises will.