What Hays Thinks of Government Radio
By Donald Wilhelm
A NATIONAL newspaper without paper! A government radio telephone system that would hook up every home in the land with the leaders of public affairs in Washington!
Shake hands with a big idea sponsored by one who was the livest of all Postmaster-Generals --who was so alert and forward looking that he was drafted from government service into the only industry in the land that holds more spectacular possibilities for universal public recreation and information than radio itself.
Will Hays, our new motion-picture dictator, was one of the first officials in Washington to realize the magnificent future of the radiophone as an agency of the government. Here's what he saw in it:
Public Information Vital
You're a lone woodsman in the wilds, or a farmer's wife, or a miner in the hills, or a pupil in the public schools, or a worker in the shop, or a cattleman, or--well, anyway, you're a human being and in this twentieth century, no matter where you live, public information is your life blood. Your happiness, your domestic contentinent, your business, your success in life your relations with the world, depend upon it.
Unless you get it, and get it quickly, you're a caveman or a cliff-dweller. So far as the modern world is concerned, you simply don't exist.
Now, suppose you have on your table a neat little radio receiving instrument. And suppose that every night you could hear from that instrument the voice of some leader of public affairs in Washington, telling you the important events of Uncle Sam's day.
It would be infinitely interesting and entertaining, and invaluable, wouldn't it?
"But is it possible?" I asked Will Hays, while he was still Postmaster-General, and he replied: "is it possible? Why, it's inevitable! If it cost a hundred times more than it will cost, it would still be inevitable--no cost would be too high for such service. But the cost is not at all prohibitive.
"Since last April, the Post Office Department has been using its chain of transcontinental wireless stations, which it set up to administer the air mail, for broadcasting weather and market information. The Department of Agriculture furnishes us the information."
Supplementing Mr. Hays' remarks, Lieut. James Edgerton, the head of Post Office radio, points out that, at last reckoning, the cost of maintaining and operating Post Office radio is, including interest on investment, salaries, depreciation, repairs, everything, only $87,190 a year. Not a little of this relatively small outlay comes back in the form of economies; thus, reckoning on the basis of capacity use, a radio message of 30 words to San Francisco costs the government $.375, whereas a ground telegraph message, at government rates, costs $1.16.
"The total cost of each new broadcasting station would be $18,875; the annual cost thereafter, $11,170 for twenty-four-hour service," Lieutenant Edgerton says. "There are now sixteen stations in our chain, three of which are navy stations. Add four more, or six--we shall know better when we have equipped the stations we have for broadcasting by phone--and then we'll be able to serve the whole country, There is nothing speculative about it."
In fact, it has been estimated that for the ridiculously low cost of about three quarters of a cent a person a year, the government could reach the whole public with daily broadcasts of news, public speeches, and invaluable departmental information.
There is hardly a government bureau head or official in Washington who hasn't something fascinating to tell each of us, every month or so, if we could only be reached by word of mouth--something bearing, moreover, on our health and prosperity. When the radiophone becomes in fact a great government agency of communication, we shall see the dreams of democratic government more nearly fulfilled, for we shall each of us be kept more closely in touch with public affairs than has ever before been thought possible. When the Post Office uses the wireless phone, it will probably have hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of hearers, receiving, by their own hearthstones, free news, free education, free entertainment--and protection, too, when warning of imminent disaster is sent broadcast to all in danger.
Plans for reorganizing the executive departments in Washington look to making the Post Office Department the rendevous of communications, i. e., civil communications. It might even come to be known as the Department of Communications, or of Post Office and Communications.
All the leased telegraph wires of the government and cable lines as well are to be headed up in that department. The concentration of leased wires, Mr. Hays told me, implies an economy of about $250,000 a year, and better service. Into this scheme the publishing of a national radio newspaper neatly fits.
Every branch of the government needs a broadcasting system to keep in touch with the public. No private agency can fill the need. The problem falls, of its own weight and importance, to the Post Office Department.