How do you manage to serve God and Mammon at the same time?’ That was the question asked, in all seriousness, by Sir John Reith, the ‘autocrat’ of British broadcasting, in speaking to an American radio executive who had come to discuss an agreement for the exchange of programmes between the two countries. Translated into pedestrian English, Sir John’s question meant: in order to please the advertiser, did n’t the American broadcaster have to sell his soul? This conversation took place in the early years of broadcasting; in the intervening years radio has prospered mightily, both in Europe and in America, though in very different ways.
For various reasons, serving Mammon was not an attractive proposition to the European broadcaster at the start. The tariff walls which have grown up around the individual countries since the war provide one answer, for most of these countries depended on export for their prosperity, and export became a matter of political barter instead of international trade. Internally the old prosperity, in which the consumption of luxuries could be stimulated by persuasion, was gone. Commercial expansion through radio advertising proved an empty dream; competition in the prewar sense had very largely disappeared in countries where the feeding of the population had become a state concern. The only commercial object of broadcasting — in the industrial countries — was the sale of radio sets. The only private enterprise interested in broadcasting was the radio manufacturing industry, represented by a handful of concerns.
Another difficulty was the physical limitation of ether space. What could be accomplished in the United States by a single federal authority — namely, the apportionment of available wave lengths by the Federal Radio Commission — could be done in Europe only by international agreement. For while our fortyeight states, with their limited States’ rights, had little to say in the matter of American regulation, the forty-odd states of Europe, thanks to their sovereignty, had everything to say there. Control of the ether waves became a national concern. ‘Military necessity,’ arising from the propinquity of potentially hostile nations, added further cause for regulation. Private commercial broadcasting was therefore virtually ruled out. Public service broadcasting, so called (more or less euphemistically, according to the country involved), took its place. Not Mammon, but other gods had to be served, including the god of war.
How does European radio serve its gods?
Let us begin our survey with Great Britain, the first European country to organize its broadcasting on a national scale. The government gave a provisional franchise to a single company (organized by the radio manufacturers), and after four years it converted this company (the B. B. C.) into a non-profit public corporation under a royal charter. The principle of ‘public service broadcasting,’ having been successfully tried during the first four years, was thus made permanent.
Now the main lines of that British ‘public service’ coincide with the ‘public interest, convenience, and necessity’ requirements laid down by the Federal Communications Commission in the United States. But the accent is differently placed. Our broadcasters think primarily of the public interest and convenience (largely in terms of entertainment); the British of public ‘necessity’ (in terms of social service). British broadcasting devotes more time to direct education, distinguishing clearly between children and adults; to official and useful information such as weather reports, storm warnings, advice to farmers, market prices, lectures, charitable appeals, parliamentary reports, and news. All of these items, because of the importance attached to them, are broadcast at regular, specified, and constantly publicized times, adjusted as far as possible to the listening habits of people, both nationally and regionally. Programmes supplying entertainment, diversion, or amusement are grouped around these public service ‘pillars,’ timed, again as far as possible, in accordance with listeners’ habits. Having no commercial sponsors, the B.B.C. is master of its time, and tries to dispose of it in such a way as not only to please the majority but to serve special groups and even individuals with the least possible inconvenience to the majority.
Thus the news comes regularly at five different times between 6 P. M. and midnight, twice on one set of stations and three times on the other, both being audible throughout the country. Before the news there are the weather reports, urgent police messages (appertaining to accidents and the like), and the so-cal ed ‘S O S.’ This, a typically British institution, consists of calls sent out to lost or straying persons asking them to go to a place (clearly specified) where a near relative is ‘dangerously ill.’ The proportion of successful calls is astonishingly high. No person in Britain need die lonely if his son or daughter, brother or sister, is within the reach of radio. This, then, is an example of service which, though slightly irksome to an impatient listener, brings untold benefit to individuals.
Similarly, it may be irksome to the majority to listen to daily directions and storm warnings to fishing fleets; but the ensuing benefit to a small yet important group is thought to justify the sacrifice of time. There are a number of such instances. Few people are interested in the daily ‘fat stock prices,’ which must be given when the English farmer is home from the fields, yet no one begrudges the resultant benefit to a single social group.
This question of timing requires a tremendous amount of forethought in a broadcasting service which designedly caters to individual groups as well as the mass. There are age groups and sex groups, occupational and regional groups, class and income groups, all of whose daily habits must as far as possible be taken into account. In the morning the B.B.C. caters to women (with household interests) and to the unemployed, as well as to the schools. At midday it supplies light as well as classical music for all. In the afternoon there are again the women, the leisured classes, and children and adolescents in search of education, including those who study foreign languages; at teatime there must be light music, and a little later millions of children look for their story hour, or talk on current events. Then there are adult education courses and talks to organized ‘discussion groups.’ Remember, all this is done with two sets of stations, the ‘National’ — a powerful longwave transmitter, reënforced by a handful of synchronized local stations — and the ‘Regional,’ which operate partly as a chain and partly as individual local stations, as chain stations do in America.
The evening, aside from the news, is given over to the full-length symphony concert, to radio drama, musical comedy, or vaudeville show, on the one hand, and to the ‘star’ lecture, to literature, to talks on current affairs and world affairs, on the other, so distributed over the alternate wave lengths that two things of similar interest will not overlap — an attempt which is not always successful. The various regions also contribute their share of characteristic local material, which sometimes adds a third, fourth, or even fifth alternative programme, though so large a choice is rare. There is not in England the same amount of selectability as in America (unless one draws on foreign stations), but there is rather more variety than less, since the alternative programmes are planned so as not to duplicate each other, both with a sense of balance and with variety.
Dance music, except for an occasional dash at teatime, is relegated to the hour after 11 P. M., on the assumption that only urban populations are interested in it, the farmer having by then gone to bed.
Artistically the B.B.C. has the bestbalanced broadcasting schedule in the world. It devotes a greater share of its time to serious music of all kinds than does American broadcasting, a perhaps equal amount to semiclassical and light music, and much less to dance music and jazz generally. It gives two hours a week to full-length vaudeville shows and an occasional half hour to smaller comedy programmes. It takes radio drama seriously and has run for years a weekly series of Shakespeare plays condensed to one hour each. In the lecture field, aside from a great deal of out-and-out education, it has, in comparison with us, a similar preoccupation with current events, but a far greater amount of talks on general questions of interest, scientific, literary, and ethical, both past and present. It goes in for the re-creation of history and historical characters on a considerable scale.
The B. B. C. gives less time to partisan argument on public questions, but more factual analysis of a disinterested character. It avoids controversial subjects rather more than we do, gives a fair comment on the news, but confines criticism of the government to authoritative speakers, whose arguments can be conveniently answered. But it has, especially in former years, been rather more effective in laying bare the evils of unemployment, poverty, and the like. Its freedom of speech, like ours, is restricted in matters which concern public morals, religion, and so forth. It bars attacks on the crown and the royal house — a sacrosanct subject in a monarchy — much as we would probably bar a direct attack on the Constitution of the United States. In practice, generally speaking, Great Britain has rather less freedom of speech on the air than the United States, though in principle there is little difference between the two.
The same cannot, of course, be said of most other European countries, — especially the totalitarian states, — whose censorship arises not out of the system of broadcasting but out of the political background of present-day Europe.
In Germany there is no freedom of speech except as the government dictates. Everything is influenced by that single fact — news, talks, education, and the balance of the programme schedule in general. That schedule originally allowed for a great deal of variety, as German radio was organized regionally, in accordance with the country’s federal character, and the best minds, the most characteristic artistic emanations of the component states, contributed to provide an interesting ensemble. Germany’s great treasure house of music was tapped for the benefit of all; the state-subsidized theatres and orchestras of the minor capitals were freely drawn upon to form the basis of local programmes, just as in Great Britain the Scottish and Welsh and Irish as well as the English regions all had something distinctive to add to the B.B.C.’s offerings.
With the advent of the Nazi régime, German broadcasting was completely reorganized on totalitarian lines under one central head, subservient to the will of Dr. Josef Goebbels, minister for ‘propaganda and enlightenment.’ Henceforth the business of German radio was to further the objects of the Nazi State, and the only raison d’être of culture— music, literature, education, information — was to propagate National Socialist philosophy and advance the claims of Germany and Germanism throughout the world. Music, the ‘language of humanity,’ was revalued on the basis of its origin and tendency: German music was henceforth to be a sublimation of the German spirit, and to be ‘German’ evidently required the purging of all racially undesirable elements as well as any modern tendency which might be open to the charge of ‘art-bolshevism.’
But no country in the world could boast so highly developed and so decentralized a cultivation of music and drama, and not even the ruthless hand of the political reformer has been able to destroy these values. Aside from propaganda, the basis of German entertainment is still the playing of first-class symphony orchestras all over Germany, of chamber music by first-rate ensembles, of opera from a dozen different opera houses and from the festivals of Bayreuth and Munich, as well as the singing of lieder and the playing of the great classics (except Mendelssohn) by competent solo instrumentalists.
Propaganda takes precedence, however, whether it is in the form of news, speeches, lectures, or what is known all over the Continent as ‘reportage’ — the direct eyewitness commentary of public events. German announcers have made this into a fine art; pitching their voices in a high lyrical key, they dramatize every party demonstration, and ‘celebrate’ every appearance of the Leader with evangelical zeal. On such occasions all German stations form a single chain, and listening, where it is not compulsory (as in factories and schools), is practically unavoidable, since loud-speakers are on at full blast, not only in the neighbors’ homes but in the main streets and thoroughfares. With highly developed engineering technique, complete ubiquity is assured, and through recording and retransmission the evening programme is suffused with the great doings of the day. On such days, of course, it is as impossible to listen to a foreign station as it would be ‘ disloyal ’ to attempt it.
The regimentation of the public by radio has gone further in Germany than anywhere else, not perhaps because the will is lacking elsewhere, but because the Germans are so terribly efficient at this sort of thing. From the calisthenics in the morning to the singing of the ‘Horst Wessel ’ song at night, the German’s life is becoming more and more ordered by the radio’s command. On days of festivals and political demonstrations, crowds are regulated by radio, herded and shepherded by radio; even the innocentlooking newspaper kiosk is equipped with loud-speakers for ‘emergencies.’ In Garmisch, at the Winter Olympics of 1936, a great people’s recreation hall was built in eighty-eight days by highly disciplined labor, working day and night. I watched the spectacle of these minions of a modernized Nibelheim working in gangs, moving in mechanized tread through the darkness and snow pierced by searchlights, and taking their commands from loud-speakers fastened to gigantic masts — a nightmare vision of the future mass enslavement of mankind.
Education forms an important part of German radio, but education, too, is organized to develop a standardized mentality on Nazi lines. Since nearly 40,000 schools receive daily half-hour lessons over the air, it is safe to say that virtually the entire youth of Germany is being inoculated with the totalitarian creed.
Next to Great Britain and Scandinavia, Germany has the greatest number of radio listeners in proportion to population. The Nazis have accomplished this, despite the lower per capita income, by intensive organization and by the manufacture of a cheap standard set (Volksempfänger) costing twenty dollars. This, in addition to its cheapness, has the advantage of low power, which practically limits its selectivity to Germany and keeps out the undesirable foreigner. Listening to Russia is, in any case, illegal, but there is nothing like making it impossible. On the other hand, Germany does rebroadcast a considerable number of foreign programmes by reciprocal arrangement with friendly states — programmes almost wholly musical and innocuous. Its foreign department is, in fact, one of the most active in Europe.
If Italian radio has less popular influence, it is because, owing to a low standard of life and the high price of receivers, there are proportionately fewer radios in Italy than in any other European country (density in 1936, 12.2 per 1000). This is partly offset by the communal radio set, which is gradually becoming an institution in all Italian villages, and partly by the sets installed in Italian schools. Propaganda has a large part in Italian radio, too, but is not so all-pervading, although the government has first call on all radio time, exercises a close censorship and control over both matter and persons, and generally holds the whip hand over a theoretically private radio corporation which is even permitted to accept a limited amount of advertising to increase its revenue. Broadcasts of sports events, especially football, attract the greatest number of listeners, as is testified by the crowds standing at the open doorways of cafés and before stores equipped with radios.
Culturally the basis of Italian radio is, first, opera and, second, classical music. The E. I. A. R., the Italian radio monopoly, has a legal right to all the performances of the Italian opera houses, theatres, and concert organizations, in return for stated fees in addition to what amounts to a subsidy of the musical and theatrical profession. This is engineered through the Fascist corporations — the quasi-guild system of the Fascist State. Besides rebroadcasting a great number of these performances, the E. I. A. R. transmits studio performances of opera which are perhaps the finest of their kind and one of the major treats for music lovers all over Europe. There is a great deal of other good music, well performed and always in its entirety, while the quantity of light music and jazz is negligible. Drama and stage comedy have an important part in the repertoire, operetta and variety a lesser. Lectures, recordings, and news make up the balance.
Russian radio, except for international propaganda (and everything that comes out of Russia is either intended or reputed to be propaganda), is practically a closed book to the outside world. Like many of the Soviet’s grandiose developments — power, transportation, industrial production, five-year plans, and what not — radio would seem to be much more grandiose on paper than in reality. Potentially it is the greatest radio system in the world; actually it is the most gigantic cultural problem ever tackled by a government. Soviet Russia has 170,000,000 people scattered over 8,250,000 square miles. They are divided into two hundred nationalities speaking sixtyfive languages and dialects, and are widely scattered, living mostly in villages, on steppes, in arctic plains, torrid wastes, or remote mountains, along one-track railroads or with no railroads at all. Many millions of people, thousands of communities, are unconnected — except for primitive overhead telegraph wires — by reliable communication facilities; there is nothing that would form the basis of a radio network such as the only other transcontinental broadcasting system, America, enjoys.
The first function of Russian radio, therefore, is communication; the second, education — in its most elementary sense. Russian radio administration attempts to cater to thousands of localities, each separately and according to its needs, by means of innumerable local stations operated by local radio committees taking orders from a central committee; and it covers the country as a whole — not through hookups but through superpowerful stations reaching across enormous distances, supplemented by short-wave stations whose system extends to the ends of the continent and beyond.
The job of the radio committees is not merely to supply programmes, but to see that they can be heard — in other words to supply radio sets, which again must be manufactured and distributed by the state. Most of Russian listening is perforce communal listening; to supply sets to such a population, with very low buying power, through state industry is the work of a century. To some extent the lack of radio sets is overcome by the local ‘radio exchange’ — each exchange or central set supplying a number of local loud-speakers connected by wire.
According to official figures, Russian programmes are devoted predominantly to classical and folk music (60 per cent of the time), the rest being divided between education (school broadcasts and lectures to adults) and news and politics, which, in the case of authoritarian states, are almost interchangeable terms. The quality of these broadcasts is very variable, depending on facilities, and from personal observation some of these facilities are — even in Moscow — very primitive indeed.
Within their geographical limits and their comparatively small resources, the smaller European democracies — Switzerland, Belgium, Holland, and the Scandinavian countries — have in many ways the ideal broadcasting service. In Denmark and Norway, broadcasting is nonpolitical by choice, although it is administered as a state department; in Sweden, where it is private, politics plays a negligible part, and the same is true of Belgium and Switzerland, which, by the way, have the problem of bilingual and trilingual broadcasting to contend with. Denmark, thanks to a well-balanced and efficient programme policy, enjoys the largest proportionate audience in Europe and perhaps in the world. Its income from listeners’ licenses, each costing ten crowns or approximately $2.50 a year, is sufficient to support a highly trained and first-class symphony orchestra, as well as excellent smaller ensembles. Closeness to England and Germany and Sweden, moreover, provides a wide choice of foreign programmes for the adventurous listener.
It ought to be mentioned, for the sake of completeness, that the American system is not wholly absent from the European scheme of things. In France, for instance, both private concerns and the government have set up broadcasting stations, and the private stations subsist on advertising. The government, in fact, lagged behind in its development as long as it tried to finance its broadcasting out of general funds. When at last a parliament could be persuaded to vote a license law (fifty francs per radio set per year), government broadcasting leaped forward, and it has now outstripped private broadcasting in extent as well as in cultural value. The two systems, however, exist peacefully side by side, the government chain (P.T.T.) specializing in the higher cultural values, the private stations — supported by advertising — in frankly popular entertainment and news.
Classical music, some of it relayed from the subsidized Opéra and Opéra Comique, as well as the Parisian and provincial orchestras, alternates with studio recitals which abound in lyrical sentimentality and a great deal of humor. Full-length operetta and comedy form a considerable part of the fare, and there is a fair dose of lecture recitals, poetry readings, and the like, as well as recordings of all kinds of music during the daytime hours. News and news interpretation are perhaps the most important item of the schedule, and foreign rebroadcasts have a considerable share. (France takes a weekly news talk from New York, for instance.) Regional programmes add the flavor of the soil, but there is very little dance music and practically no education, so called.
An important feature of French radio is its democratic organization of listeners’ control. There is a National Radio Council to which all the license-holding listeners send elected representatives. This is the supreme programme authority; so the man who pays the piper is, to some extent, able to call the tune.
In the little state of Luxemburg the sole broadcasting station is operated as a concession by a private company. But the station is so powerful (150 kilowatts) in relation to the size of the country that most of its coverage is beyond the borders. Hence most of its advertising is done in English (since the French and Germans are less gullible) and is linked to entertainment programmes of very low appeal, whose only recognized merit is that they enliven the intentionally serious — some say dull — British Sunday on the air. Both Germany and Italy permit a very limited amount of advertising, under severe restrictions, and Eire (formerly the Irish Free State) allows advertising of Irish products only, which, being chiefly nature’s own, do not lend themselves to ballyhoo.
The Irish listener, moreover, has such easy access to British programmes that only his intense patriotism induces him to listen to the Irish programmes from Athlone. The Irish are a talented race, but their gifted sons have an inclination to wander abroad, and the Irish broadcasting service is hard put to it when it comes to competing with the attractions of London and the rest.
It is generally believed that the American commercial system and the government license system are the only two possibilities. There is, however, another and very interesting alternative, which is actually in force in Holland, where it has demonstrated a remarkable success over a long period of years. Holland, which has a reputation for high-class and very efficient broadcasting, finances its radio services on a completely voluntary basis. There is no government or other monopoly, and competition between the four broadcasting organizations, though friendly, is keen.
Each of the four is, in effect, a society of listeners whose members pay membership fees according to their ability and generosity. The choice of the society to which they belong is made on wholly idealistic or ‘ideological’ grounds, for one is Catholic, another Protestant, another Socialist, another, the largest, just ‘general’ — in other words, nonpartisan and nonsectarian; and this also implies an ethical standard — namely, freedom from prejudice. The four societies share the two available transmitters (Holland is a small and flat country); they are owned by a holding company in which the government has a share but no peacetime control. There is no advertising, and no ‘tax’; the poor and the stingy listen free of charge. It would be difficult to deny that Holland, on the basis of its radio alone, is the most generous and tolerant country in the world.
Summing up, the system of organization in Europe ranges from strict government control through the semi-socialized monopoly system of England to the private enterprise of Luxemburg, with many intermediate degrees, notably the voluntary system of Holland. All systems, except Luxemburg’s, provide a ‘public service’ of one kind or another.
To understand the difference between this variegated setup and the American system, and the reasons for it, one must remember that, whereas radio in the United States grew from widely scattered seed, each of the national radio systems of Europe was grown from a carefully nurtured plant. American radio organization developed, as it were, from the outside in, while European radio grew from the inside out. American radio developed freely, empirically, to be consolidated later on; European radio for the most part was consolidated before it had a chance to grow. It missed the advantages of diversified experimentation; and it burdened a set of officials with the task of creating a service which would satisfy the whole nation as well as its component parts. The majority of these officials were engineers, musicians, men of the theatre, littérateurs — intellectuals, in short, who devised a programme according to their own concept of the nation’s cultural life. Their programmes were derived from established mediums of entertainment rather than being created as a new form growing out of the nature of the instrument, as in America.
On the other hand, European radio, with the prestige of the governments behind it, had the great cultural institutions and the subsidized artistic resources of the country at its command. Governments, reluctant to yield their inherent rights in the new public domain, the ether, for anything so dangerously ubiquitous as broadcasting and anything so frivolous as entertainment, finally doled out franchises to monopolies under officials who could be trusted to guard the national interest and its — usually subsidized — artistic resources. Where these resources were not sufficient for radio’s requirements, as in Great Britain, the radio created them with the income from license fees, without dictation or interference from commercial interests. Thus the B. B. C. Symphony Orchestra quickly took its place as one of the halfdozen great orchestras of the world, and even little Denmark was able to establish a really first-class orchestra for the first time in its history. It is not too much to say that virtually every broadcasting country in Europe, thanks to radio, has now a standard of orchestral performance which once was limited to Germany, Austria, and the United States, and that European listeners as a whole have, for an average price of $2.50 a year, a dozen or more of the world’s finest orchestras literally at their fingers’ ends.
The difference between American and European radio programmes is not so much in quality as in kind. The aim of American broadcasting is to serve the majority, and to serve it so brilliantly that the minority will fall into line. Commercially its ideal would be a complete unanimity — a standardization of taste, as an approach to the greatest possible market for standardized goods. European broadcasting, in democratic states such as Great Britain, also aims to please the whole population, but as an aggregation of groups rather than a single undifferentiated mass. It accepts the differences in taste and does not try to satisfy all of them at one time. Where American radio aspires to the perfection of a certain technique, Britain tries to enrich its programme by differentiation of content and a variety of purposes adjusted to divergent needs. The interesting question is not which of the two offerings is better, according to any one standard or any individual’s taste, but how far they succeed in achieving their particular end.
How can we find out? There are two kinds of test — quantitative and qualitative. On purely numerical evidence America is generally assumed to be in the lead. This is true if we take Europe as a whole. But for a variety of reasons, chiefly economic, the comparison is not fair. If we confine ourselves to Great Britain and the northern democracies, the picture is somewhat different. For the sake of convenience let us take Great Britain alone. In the United States there are, according to the manufacturers’ census, about 25,000,000 radio sets in use. This corresponds roughly to 25 per cent of the population. In Great Britain there are over 8,500,000 homes using a radio license. This again corresponds to about 25 per cent of the population.
Quantitatively, then, the popularity of radio is equal in the two countries, although allowance might be made for the higher cost of radio sets in England (about 50 per cent). Also, the American figure applies to radio sets, active or inactive alike. The British figure applies to radio homes, which may contain two or more sets, collectively covered by a single license, renewable each year. The increase in the number of licenses is at the rate of about 4000 a month, although the saturation point is obviously not very far off.
The qualitative test is far more difficult. Fan letters are an unreliable indicator: most of them refer to single programmes or types of programmes; few of them are written by members of the intelligent minority. Surveys made for advertising agencies or by interested parties are misleading, since they aim to prove preference for a given station (among a very similar lot) or for a given programme. An analytical survey showing listener habits in general, based on social and psychological factors, is only now being undertaken for the first time, under the auspices of the Rockefeller Foundation, at Princeton University.
Pending this inquiry we must be satisfied with indications arising out of casual experience. How much listening is casual, fortuitous, and passive? How much is selective, intentional, and active?
One indication is the circulation of programme periodicals such as the RadioGuide in America and the official programme weeklies of the European radio companies. In England the Radio Times has a paid circulation of 3,500,000. Since its only advantage over the daily newspaper radio page is that it gives additional programme details (movements of symphonies, names of assisting artists, analytical notes, and so forth) the inference is that the buyer is probably a selective and certainly an interested listener. In other words, nearly half of all radio owners in England show an interest in these programme details to the extent of paying for them in addition to their license fees.
To supplement these indications the B. B. C. has sent investigators into the field to study listening habits and stimulate listening to the better type of programme. It is the only European organization (outside the dictator countries) which has made an intelligent effort to organize listening groups. There are 800 discussion groups in England which meet regularly to debate the subjects of broadcast talks. Its school broadcasting, too, is not shot out into empty air, propelled by a pious hope. In 1937 it served 43 per cent of all elementary and secondary schools in the country. It knows exactly what schools and grades are listening, programmes being graded accordingly, and the teachers purchase the printed material which supplements the lessons. This material, in the form of syllabuses on twenty-six separate courses, has an enormous paid circulation (1,684,468 in 1937). All this is supervised by a School Broadcasting Council not controlled by the B.B.C.
Cultivation of listener habits and regularity of programming are, in fact, two secrets of the B.B.C.’s success. What applies in America to the most popular commercial programmes is True in England of numerous serious musical programmes and informative talks — namely, that people wait for them, make a date with their radio for them, and with their friends to join the fun. A series of talks in which Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, E. M. Forster, and others participate commands a tremendous audience; courses of talks on astronomy by Sir James Jeans or on zoölogy by Julian Huxley have achieved popularity with a public which may be more contemplative but certainly is not better educated than ours.
These things are proof, at any rate, that the radio in England has succeeded in being a public service supplying a number of wants. From casual talk picked up among all sorts of people I have come to feel that the English public, even if it does not listen as much as the Unseen Audience of America, listens more systematically, more discriminatingly, and more intently. Five years ago the United States was universally reputed to be the most radio-conscious country in the world; I doubt if it holds that position in such solitary splendor to-day.
But Europe, besides becoming radioconscious, is becoming America-conscious by virtue of the radio. Several countries nowadays rebroadcast American programmes from time to time; three of them — Great Britain, France, and Germany — do so regularly. England, with its regularity and its serious attention to informative talks, is turning this to good account.
A single example will illustrate this heartening fact. For some three years now the B. B. C. has taken a weekly talk by an American news commentator from New York. That commentator, Raymond Gram Swing, has become a popular idol with all British people who are interested in American affairs, not because of any histrionic or emotional appeal, but by virtue of his concise reasoning and fair comment on the American scene. Some time ago I was in the barber’s chair in London; the barber, a young chap of average intelligence, hearing my American accent, started talking about America. ‘How do you know all this?’ I asked. ‘Well,’ he answered, ‘I listen to your countryman, Mr. Swing. Every Friday night. Never miss it.’ Just as a lark a friend of mine, to whom I told this incident, took an American radio executive on a shopping jaunt through London. They questioned the various people — taxi driver, sales clerk, bank teller, and so forth — on the subject of Swing. The first six people knew not only his name but what he said and when. All liked the broadcast and all were interested in America as a result. When the B. B. C. interrupted the talks for a period, thousands of letters poured in to ask the reason why. The British radio audience to-day demands to hear America.
And so, despite Sir John’s perplexity about God and Mammon, the exchange of programmes negotiated in the early days of broadcasting is bearing fruit. A better understanding, not only between European and American radio, but between the great Western democracies, is being fostered steadily, week by week, by the unseen strands of thought which travel back and forth on the ether waves.