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People who never read a daily newspaper or watch a TV newscast listen to the radio in the shower, on the way to work, in the office, and while they’re jogging. Modern technology now enables anyone with a few pieces of relatively inexpensive equipment to broadcast live to millions of people equipped with radios often no larger than a credit card. To understand what has happened to our mass media, we must turn back almost a hundred years, before the Internet, before television, and before radio. Modern mass media began as nothing more than the simple dots and dashes of wireless telegraphy in the early years of the century. In 1912, Congress gave control of wireless telegraphy to the secretary of commerce: the Navy claimed thousands of amateur ham radio operators were interfering with their naval exercises. The secretary issued more than 8,000 permits for sending wireless telegraphic signals in the four years before World War I, and during the war, shut down all non-military use of radiotelegraphy. After the war the government acting at the behest of the Navy and budding corporate interests established a national control of the British-based Marconi system in global wireless technology. “It was in this milieu of postwar chauvinism, extensive amateur transmissions, and government-nurtured corporate mergers that the American mass media were born,” writes Jeff Land, pointing out, “Daily radio broadcasting was possible only because the vast grassroots network of operators had over time built hundreds of thousands of personal receivers.” Like the Internet in the nineties, radio exploded overnight in the early twenties: while there were just fifty licensed stations in the United States at the end of 1921, within a year there were more than 500. “Almost immediately,” Land writes, “the social destiny of radio became the subject of much glorious anticipation. Broadcasting, following electricity, the telegraph, and the telephone in the previous century, was heralded as a technological miracle capable of immense beneficial social transformations. Traveling on etheric channels, invisible electronic waves radiating from the heavens provided a seemingly unlimited A Lewis Kimball Hill Temple University Press bounty of entertainment and education.” RCA President General J.G. Harbord declared radio a boon to democracy, freeing citizens from the “contagion of the crowd.” The solitary listener, Harbord said, listening to politicians in the privacy of his or her own living room, need not be a slave to mob enthusiasm but now was free to make political judgments based “solely on the logic of the issue.” Preachers would convey the divine message to those who refused to attend church. Instantaneous international communication would end war. High-minded stuff indeed. Within a few short years, however, it became clear that the most effective messages carried over the etheric channels were those designed to separate listeners from their money. Radio advertising rose from $4 million in 1926 to over $15 million in 1929, and almost $112 million in 1935. The 1927 White-Dill Act, which established the Federal Radio Commission \(forerunner of the Federal Comevery existing license, divided up the radio spectrum into ninety channels, and handed over the choicest channels to commercial stations, crowding everyone else to the margins, where they remain to this day. “Everyone else” ranged from schools to churches to labor unions. Oregon State Agricultural College’s KOAC, for example, broadcast a popular diet of weather reports, football, lectures, agricultural information, household hints, and student orchestra performances. The flood of advertising money after the 1927 Radio Act swept away most of the non-commercial stations, who could not afford the hardware and on-air talent necessary to retain their licenses. The transformation of a powerful new medium into yet another tool for private profit has occurred so often by now that it’s hardly even remarked on anymore. But the thirties and forties were different days, with warfare abroad and class struggle at home. The pacifist movement that began at the turn of the century took root in America, not just among those affected by the economic turbulence of the Great Depression, but at the highest levels of government: a 1933 Senate investigation revealed that arms merchants had fanned the political flames that consumed millions of people worldwide, and Woodrow Wilson himself asked “Is there not a man, woman or child in America … who does not know [World War I] was an industrial and commercial war?” By 1937, 95 percent of Americans polled on whether America should take part again if another war like World War I developed said, “No.” Of course, we did enter the next war, and thousands of pacifists, sticking to their principles of nonviolence, were sent to Conscientious Objector camps. There, they met like-minded war resisters and, as they dug ditches and built trails, had plenty of time to try to figure out where the movement to end war and violence had gone wrong. When Lewis Hill was six, his older brother gave him a crystal radio kit, and like many boys in the twenties, Hill became fascinated with radio. Hill studied philosophy at Stanford and “thought that if one could engage in dialogue with others, one could solve any human problem.” Hill spent time in Washington as the Director of the A.C.L.U.’s National Committee on Conscientious Objectors, but eventually left D.C. convinced that “the pacifist movement had to find ways to communicate with people on their own terms, not just in the context of what he increasingly saw as an isolated, self-referential community, bent on dramatic but ineffectual forms of resistance,” reports Lasar in Pacifica Radio. Hill’s two passions fused on April 15, 30 THE TEXAS OBSERVER AUGUST 6. 1999