Free Speech. Talk Radio and the BBC.
Broadcasting Book published in 1933 talks about talk radio
College Auditoriums are filled with books. Most are non-fiction. Most are hard-cover. Inexpensive. Collectable. Treasured. And, best yet, erudite (I hid some crime books from view until check out time just to escape the dunning glances of hundreds of better educated shoppers).
You don’t know what you are going to find. This year, at the Trinity Sale, I picked up a signed copy of the letters of Stephen Leacock, a First Edition 1930s Nero Wolf crime novel and the booklet, 100 Years Ottawa and the Valley, published by Renfrew historian Harry J. Walker and the Ottawa Journal. I bought a copy from Harry in 1967 for a $1 but lost it in a house fire. This copy, complete with a coffee cup stain on the cover was just four dollars.
Not all of my buy were studied purchases. I bought a $2 book on the history of Broadcasting written only 11-years after the BBC went on the air! It was a toonie I was glad I spent – it is fascinating to see how Talk Radio began and how the world’s view of radio has changed so much since 1933.
The first edition book, Broadcasting, was written by Hilda Matheson for the Home University Library of Modern Knowledge in London, England. Matheson (1888 to 1940) was the BBC’s first director of talks and helped shape talk radio. She is credited with founding radio journalism and the notion of quality radio and was responsible for bringing many key thinkers of the day to the microphone, including George Bernard Shaw and Vita Sackville-West (who, according to the BBC, later became her lover.)
Opposition to talk radio came from all quarters, including historian and novelist H.G. Wells who clashed on air with Matheson about censorship, free speech and the usefulness of radio. Although he would later embrace the medium, he saw the technology as providing the government with a raucous intolerable loudspeaker.
When the book was published, the BBC had already launched a fledging television service. TV sets were scarce, programming slight and broadcast quality sketchy at best, so radio was still king. In 1933 a live-radio interview in the evening would be listened to by over 12-million people in England alone.
Hilda Matheson called it Educational Radio … we know it today as Talk Radio. The concept that people talk about issues and ideas that are shaping the issues of the day got its start through the direction of Matheson.
It is fascinating to see how the “mother” of broadcast gab equated talk radio with free speech. Although Talk Radio has matured and evolved these days, 78 -years later her opinions still have merit!
“The future for adult education (talk radio) in broadcasting seems promising, given two conditions,” wrote Matheson in her book Broadcasting.
“Educational series (talk radio shows) need to use a new way of presentation as much as any other form of broadcast; one dull, dead, formal talk undoes the good of dozens of living talks; there is in fact no excuse for a bad talk, and every justification for a good one.
“In so far as educational talks can conform to the inescapable requirement of all programmes - that they shall be interesting - without lowering in any way their intrinsic quality and standard, their influence will reach its high-water mark. The other condition is the spirit in which broadcasting authorities face the problems of free speech. “
“New ideas will always appear revolutionary, and those who are responsible for them cranks or worse,” she continued. “An impression of left-wing bias is always liable to be created by any agency, which voices unfamiliar views; it does not follow that the ideas themselves are of the left.”
“In practice, they usually hail from every point of the compass. How is the inevitable fear they provoke to be reconciled with the spirit of open-minded enquiry, which is inseparable from all education, from any search after truth?
“The experience of England and America shows that by choosing responsible speakers (on-air hosts) accustomed to fair-minded discussion and free from reproach as narrow propagandists, an open forum can be maintained with success and without offence. Whatever may be the case with political broadcasting, education can afford to make no compromise with free thought. “