When researching family history, I often look through old newspapers for articles involving family members. Many old papers published even the smallest events that happened in a community. Searching through one of these newspapers from 1923, I came across a brief mention of a radio at my grandparent’s ranch in Valley Center, California.
A Note About Newspaper Clippings
I periodically (pun intended) use a subscription service, Newspapers.com, to search through digitized copies of old newspapers. The site allows ‘clippings’ to be saved, which can be viewed without a subscription. The clippings in this article are hosted at the site.
For those interested in digging a bit further, clicking on a clipping in this article will open the clipping at the Newspapers.com. One can then view the entire news page and often find mentions of other family events.
First Mentions of a Radio at the Ranch
I found the item below in in the the Times-Advocate from Escondido, California a town nearby my grandparent’s ranch in Valley Center. It may seem like a rather trivial item, but acquiring a radio at that time was quite a big deal, especially in a rural area like Valley Center.
Curious, I did some more digging and located several other mentions of the a radio at the ranch. I limited my searches to the 1920s since that was the period when public radio became popular and affordable.
The next clipping was published one year later in June 1924 and mentions my grandfather having installed a new radio set at his home.
Although his clipping was published after the other one, I assume that it was the same radio that was mentioned in the earlier clipping.
Radio in the 1920s
The 1920s was an exciting yet chaotic period for radio. The first public radio program was broadcast in 1920 in America. By 1923, there were over 600 public broadcasting stations. Few households had a receiver in the early 20s, but between 1923 and 1930 around 60% of homes had a radio. By the end of the decade, an estimated 100 million radios were in use across the country.
The advent of radio served to unite communities across the country. The 1920s was a period where many aspects of modern radio developed: national weather, sports and news casts, as well as radio comedies, mysteries, serials, and of course, mass advertising. Major networks such as ABC and NBC came into being to provide programming. Regulations governing broadcasting were also developed during this period.
Programming in those days was often haphazard, and music was often broadcast as fallback entertainment. It seems that music was something that friends and family really enjoyed at Walnut Slope Ranch.
I didn’t find anything else published about the radio until 1928. Note that they were still calling it ‘the new radio’.
Mr. and Mrs. James Woods mentioned here were the next-door neighbors to the Bates Family. Walnut Slope Ranch is located on Woods Valley Road, named after the couple.
This last clipping, from 1929, shows that the radio continued to draw friends together at the ranch.
Over a dozen visitors came to listen to old time music on the radio. It looks like a nice another fun get-together at Walnut Slope Ranch.
Some Final Thoughts
Finding the clippings in this article provides a glimpse of life at the ranch in the 1920s and what first experiences with radio must have been like.
The ownership of a radio implied to me that electricity was available at the home. However, friend and antique radio enthusiast Ed Cook has assured me that at that time, radios were only powered by batteries, which were charged by automobile or a windmill. Indeed, the sources I have been able to find confirm that electricity only came to the area in the 1930s.
I don’t know brand of radio or what it looked like. I also haven’t found where it was purchased, although there were several businesses selling radios in nearby Escondido.
The Development of Commercial Radio in San Diego to 1950 provides a brief history of radio station KFSD during the 1920s on pages 70-75. The article goes on to recount struggles of the station through the Great Depression and World War II.
Radio and Music in the 1920s United States – by Amie Tennent