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Hello Everybody! The Dawn of American Radio - The new book by author Anthony Rudel
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Anthony Rudel with PCTV's Ben Cheever discussing the book.
PCTV | December 23, 2009
Anthony Rudel with ABC’s Bill Diehl talking about the book.
ABC News Radio | February 2, 2009
Books About the Golden Age of Radio - The golden age of radio glows again in these exceptional books, says Anthony Rudel
The Wall Street Journal | November 1, 2008
Before TV and the Internet—When Radio Was the First Electronic Medium
U.S. News & World Report | October 9, 2008
WREG TV Memphis — Interview with Author Anthony Rudel
WREG TV Live @ 9 | October 1, 2008 (Anthony Rudel appears in the final 15 mintues of the program)
Reviews: Hello Everybody! The Dawn of American Radio

Anthony Rudel's new "Hello, Everybody! The Dawn of American Radio" (Harcourt. $26) is a wonderful trip through the colorful characters, electronic geniuses and diehard believers who turned radio from a quirky hobby into the country's first mass medium early in the 20th century.

David Hinckley, New York Daily News - April 22, 2009


Rudel spent years as a radio broadcaster including a stint as the youngest-ever on-air personality at WQXR, the radio station of The New York Times. He is convinced the common thread that runs through American culture is radio. To prove his case, he documents how Sarah Palin's folksy charm can be traced back to the strange story of pioneering evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, the explosion of the Internet of the 1990s is much like the explosion of radio during the 1920s, and the "Major Bowes' Original Amateur Hour" is nothing more than the "American Idol" of the 1930s. This excellent history is rich in insight, meticulously researched and brims with clarity and wit.

The Tucson Citizen - February 25, 2009


With the very opening line—“Milford, Kansas. Population 200—not counting animals.”—you know you’re in for quite a story. Indeed, radio personality Anthony Rudel recounts a pivotal time in American culture and media, one that seems so quaint and almost ironic, given the instantaneous nature of communications today. It’s like the old man sitting on the porch steps talking about, “Remember the day when we all sat around the Victrola and listened to the Babe call out his shots …”

Nostalgic, certainly, but as goes the cyclical nature of human life and societies, so Rudel’s in-depth history of the period in American history between 1922-1941 is timely. Extremely timely, in fact. While today we have bailouts, yesteryear there was the Depression, and the parallels—economic recession, journalistic integrity and fear-mongering, governmental uncertainty, big business disguised as religious fundamentalism, a world of advertisements dictating who we are and what we need to buy—conjure images we only need to peek outside our window to witness. Before we get there, we have another starting point: goat balls.

Well, goat tissue to be exact, but Rudel begins (and nearly ends) his journey with John Romulus Brinkley, a self-appointed doctor (read: quack) who treated thousands upon thousands of men with a “deflated tire” by inserting goat tissue into their genitals. The man turned his career as an ex-Vaudville salesman into a multi-million dollar business.

He was one of radio’s early pioneers, using his charismatic and emotional voice to sell Midwestern women elixirs they didn’t know they needed to cure problems they didn’t know they had, and turned the sleepy town of Milford into a pharmaceutical wonderland … for a time. Like all good things that aren’t real (and even those that are), they must end. And so it did for Brinkley, on 26 May 1942, dying while reading his Bible. His former fortune a mere sliver of what it was, with his attempts at sidestepping American regulation by building a radio tower in Mexico eventually failing him.

This is not a story about Brinkley, though his rags-to-riches tale about a career and bank account made in radio is not unique. Rudel recalls some pretty amazing tales, like the atheist-turned-evangelical Aimee Semple McPherson, who turned a million dollar church into a national business before supposedly running away with another woman’s husband while claiming to be kidnapped in the desert. Yes, radio had a big part to play in her life, just as it did for the Scopes monkey trial, in which Tennesseans upheld (and probably still uphold) that any teaching that denies creationism is punishable by law.

These and many more fascinating stories all occurred during a time when America went from a newspaper-informed society to one of instant access—at the speed of radio waves, which of course pales in comparison to the Internet. Now, for the comparisons.

There are a few constants that run through the course of radio history, the more prevalent being “a battle in what would become the war over who actually owned the radio spectrum: individuals or the government.” Like today’s Cyberworld, very few regulations existed in the early days, when the governing body—mostly led by progressive ideas and legislation by Hoover—had to push the idea of listening to invisible waves to its nation. Once it caught, however, radio spread like wildfire, and then the government had to work in reverse.

The 1920s was a time of numerous contradictions, none greater than the constant partying of that roaring decade being tempered by Prohibition. Of course, when the Depression hit, things flipped, without irony an exact precursor to the Internet boom of the ‘90s deflated by the nation’s current recession.

The outspokenness of certain public figures against their administration also mimics the current era.  During the 1932 election campaign season, the first to spend absurd amounts of money on radio advertising (which, up until a few years prior, was being debated as to whether the industry should make money for advertising or be “free” for the people), Will Rogers attacked Herbert Hoover at a rally by stating that the Republicans “give us three bad years and one good one, but the good one is the voting year. Elections are always just a year too late for the Democrats.” That year they weren’t, however; due to his large radio presence, Roosevelt was victorious during those economically challenged times.

And what do we have today? A president-elect who harnessed the power of email and online fundraising to win in a landslide victory. Remember, John McCain admitted to just learning how to use email during the campaign, while my inbox was flooded by messages, links, and pleas from Obamanites. In fact, Rudel realized this point and blogged eloquently about it, summing up by writing, “Barack Obama and his campaign have once again redefined how media and politics can mesh seamlessly. Whether it was fundraising over the internet, or texting important information to cell phones, the Obama campaign brilliantly connected with voters.”

To understand the culture, you have to live in the culture, and so when politicians—when anyone—stays abreast of the evolving media, they emerge ahead. We too have our Will Rogers, many in fact, who for years have spoken out against the Bush administration, and used the power of the Internet to spread their gospel: Keith Olbermann, Jon Stewart, Steven Colbert, Greg Palast, and others are on top of their game.

During the Depression, radio was the balm of the culture; today, it is the Internet. While unemployment broke 20 pecent and shantytowns were generated by ailing families, Radio City Music Hall was constructed in midtown Manhattan, a symbol of the “upcoming” boon in the economy. Today, we have similar promises: I live in Jersey City, New Jersey, a stone’s throw from Manhattan, where developers are erecting 50,000 condominium and apartment units by the year 2020, each one emblazoned with a promise of “luxury” outside the scaffolding. So far, they’re selling out, though we’ll have to see how long that trend continues.

Most interestingly are the battles over advertising and air space of the radio era—whether or not it was a profitable medium (as one professional said early on, “Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?”), who could say what, who would be allowed to file for station letters (early on, anyone; as time passed, the process was mired in legislation), and, continuing along those lines, how much legislation should be placed on the airwaves. Today Internet radio is facing similar challenges, with help from major record labels believing a “pay-per-play” clause should be instituted, which would virtually wipe out the ability of anyone with a connection to broadcast—exactly what happened as the 1930s rolled around.

Rudel’s work is passionate and articulate, and makes a fantastic read for people interested in radio history and beyond. If you are concerned at all how our medias have developed over the course of the last century, and want to wager a guess as to where we’re headed, Hello Everybody! is a textbook example of what to expect.

As the sentiment goes, those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it. By shedding light on a specific time and place, Rudel gives us a guide to help watch for those roadblocks we thought we long since barreled over—yet they still exist.

Pop Matters — October, 2008
“Anthony Rudel’s Hello, Everybody! is the story of the early days of radio, when it slowly turned an entire culture around just as surely as the personal computer, albeit it at a slower pace. This is a book I was hoping someone would write, and Anthony Rudel has done it.”
The Palm Beach Post—December 7th, 2008
“If you blame the media-savvy Internet generation and the culture of the 24-hour news cycle for giving rise to silly reality shows, hypocritical televangelists and cut-throat political campaign ads, you might want to hold your fire. You also might want to read “Hello, Everybody!,” Anthony Rudel’s new book on the early days of American radio. Rudel traces the roots of much of what fixates the public and media today back to 1920-32, the dawn of radio. It’s thoughtful reading, particularly as radio and the rest of the “old” media navigate today’s new media age.”
The Charleston Post and Courier—December 7th, 2008
The author considers radio "the real American mosaic, crafted from that magical. invisible ether." It's refreshing to hear from a writer who not only appreciates radio as it was but finds value in what it does today.

His subject here, however, is the panoply of personalities who defined the medium in early days. It's an enjoyable and literate overview of radio puberty; his emphasis is content, which is unsurprising given that Rudel's background is in programming.

If you are up on your radio legends, you'll find much that is familiar: John Brinkley, Rudy Vallee, Graham McNamee, Father Coughlin, Aimee Semple McPherson. But Rudel is a good writer and careful researcher who likes unusual charcters and does a nice job introducing them. His book is a welcome addition to the genre and a suitable gift, particularly for someone who isn't already deeply versed in radio lore.
-Radio World Magazine, November 19, 2008
“His book offers rich rewards. Written in a conversational style, it includes odd facts and eccentric people. Rudel goes back and forth comfortably from radio programming to the social upheavals of the 1920s and 1930s. As a story about the birth of broadcasting, it’s appropriately upbeat and optimistic.”
-The San Francisco Chronicle, October 15, 2008

Sex sells, they say. Selling sex also sells, or so would seem to be one lesson of Hello, Everybody!, Anthony Rudel's entertaining and informative history of "The Dawn of American Radio."Three or four persons stand out among the scores who were prominent in the growth of radio from a hobby and fad in the second decade of the 20th Century to a big business by the mid-1930s.

Herbert Hoover, with his gift for organization as President Warren G. Harding's secretary of commerce, was instrumental in regularizing radio. Hoover saw radio as a public service and warned against "advertising chatter." So much for that warning.

Pittsburgh, Pa., was the site of several first or pioneering efforts through Westinghouse's station KDKA, including:

What Rudel calls the "debut of broadcasting" with the broadcast of the 1920 election results to a listenership estimated between 500 and 1,000.

In sports, the 1921 lightweight boxing match between Johnny Ray and Johnny Dundee and the 1921 college football game between the University of Pittsburgh and the University of West Virginia.

The beginning of the "unholy marriage between radio and religion" when KDKA installed microphones in Calvary Episcopal Church in 1921 to air Sunday morning services.

The author arranges his book partly by subject, and religion is one of the biggest sections. Evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson and reactionary "radio priest" Father Coughlin have starring roles. He shows that for the most part radio personalities then skewed the way they do today on television and cable -- hard-right and often bigoted.

Radio's popularity, like film's, was built on vaudeville; "anyone who could make an interesting sound" was pulled in to feed the maw. Rudel efficiently covers the usual suspects, such as "Amos 'n' Andy," the A&P Gypsies, opera and dance bands.

A not so usual suspect is Samuel Lionel ("Roxy") Rothafel, whom Rudel considers one of the leading radio innovators and whose radio sign-on phrase he took as his book's title. As a showman and impresario Rothafel was involved with, among other venues, his own Roxy Theater and Radio City Music Hall.

But the man "who really changed radio," he says, was Rudy Vallee, "the first pop-singing idol." After Vallee's initial exposure to radio audiences in 1928, he was rapidly all over the air -- and every other form of entertainment. Rudel credits him with bringing about the variety show; Vallee's show debuted almost simultaneously with the stock market crash, faring much better during the next decade than did Wall Street.

Roger K. Miller, a former newspaperman, is a novelist and freelance writer.
- Courier Journal, October 4, 2008
     "Novelist and classical music expert Rudel (Imagining Don Giovanni), who has an extensive background in radio broadcasting, offers a lively overview of the birth of radio with an emphasis on the entrepreneurs and evangelists, hucksters and opportunists who saw the medium's potential. He traces the transition from hobbyists to the “radio craze” of 1922 when Americans spent more than $60 million on home receivers that brought the sounds of urban life to rural areas. The first station west of the Rockies, KHJ, prompted the notorious sexual-rejuvenation surgeon John R. Brinkley to open KFKB in 1923 Kansas. By the end of the 1920s, the Federal Radio Commission was established to manage the airwaves, NBC and CBS competed and advertising increased. Along with political campaigns and sports broadcasts, Rudel covers the “love/hate relationship” of newspapers and radio stations. His chapter on “the unholy marriage between radio and religion” details the rise and fall of evangelist Sister Aimée Semple McPherson. Profiles reveal Rudy Vallee's vast appeal and important role in creating the radio variety show. With extensive newspaper research, this is an authoritative and entertaining survey of the early days of dial twisting."
- Publishers Weekly, June 14, 2008
     "Broadcasting's formative decade-the 1920s-is given new airtime in Rudel's narrative of commercial radio's beginnings. The big unknown of the business was what made for a popular and profitable programming format, and Rudel, with extensive professional radio experience, revels in the enterprising personalities who set up shop on this technological frontier. Interestingly, the man who more than any other organized the radio industry, commerce secretary and then president Herbert Hoover, inveighed against advertising as a radio revenue raiser, and although that did become the business model, a wacky collection of entrepreneurs discovered alternative ways of making money. One Rudel showcases was quack doctor John Brinkley, the bizarre subject of Pope Brock's Charlatan! (2008); others who Rudel collects also boast biographies, such as evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson (Sister Aimee, 1993, by David Mark Epstein). Whether the broadcaster learned how to sell medical and spiritual salvation, or hit upon sports, spot news, and entertainment as the secrets to programming success, Rudel vividly re-creates the anything-goes atmosphere of the ether's early days."
- Booklist, August 2008

     "Rudel (Classical Music Top 40 ), past programmer and now consultant for radio networks, effectively presents the lives of the diverse pioneers of radio from the Teens, Twenties, and Thirties. For several decades, the culturally transformative medium of the radio was the only source for the very latest updates on politics and sports (thus arguably the prototype for 24/7 TV and the Internet) and was also the most accessible medium for drama, comedy, music, and advertising. Tracing radio's evolution from the telegraph to wireless's broadcast communication, Rudel asserts that American radio blossomed owing to the relatively light governmental regulation of Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover. Arranged around such figures as Aimee Semple McPherson, Father Charles Coughlin, crooner Rudy Vallee (who inaugurated radio's variety format), and the quack Dr. John Brinkley-not to mention David Sarnoff of RCA, Sam "Roxy" Rothafel (whose radio column is the source of this book's title), and a panoply of players from the golden age of sports-Rudel's book is an enjoyable read, benefiting from the author's extensive use of newspaper columns and a bibliography incorporating both web and print sources. While illustrations of some of the colorful radio pioneers would have further enhanced the text, the book will appeal to pop culture enthusiasts and is recommended for all public libraries."

-Library Journal, August 15, 2008
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Copyright ©2008 Anthony Rudel