Gallery 3:
Radio Comes of Age

Our second upstairs gallery highlights important radio developments in the late 1920s. Radio receivers became items of well-designed furniture, often in handsome wooden cabinets. And for the first time they could be plugged in, avoiding the need for cumbersome batteries. They were far easier to tune, too. Loudspeakers (and often phonographs) were built into console radios which soon dominated many of the nation’s living rooms. Helped by these improvements, radio’s audience rapidly grew from 24 to 60 percent of American homes in this brief period—and despite the Depression starting in late 1929.

The first permanent national network, NBC, was formed late in 1926 and soon operated two networks (the Red and Blue); CBS followed a year later. Together they soon provided regularity to radio’s scheduling and program types—comedy, drama, variety, music and sports events. Advertisers become increasingly interested in the new medium’s selling potential, and their purchases of air time formed a growing portion of radio’s financial support. Advertisers wanted to know who was listening, and NBC sponsored the first national listener survey in 1928. Regular (though crude) market audience ratings first appeared in 1930.

In 1927, Congress passed the Radio Act to form the Federal Radio Commission (FRC) to license and regulate broadcast stations. It was tasked with clearing up the interference on the air, and within a year or two had largely succeeded. In 1934, Congress replaced the FRC with the larger Federal Communications Commission (FCC).