History of Popular Radio Magazine
From Newsstand 1925
Popular Radio
From its inception in May of 1922 to its sudden end in May of 1928, Popular Radio was a periodical that was singularly dedicated to the phenomenon of amateur radio. With its step-by-step instructions and sharp-witted editorials, the magazine captured the fervor and technical prowess of the radio enthusiasts, while also giving them their own forum, a place where innovations and discoveries could be discussed and praised. Led by its long-time editor, Kendall Banning, Popular Radio would expand into many areas such as the publication of 'how-to' books and similar guides; despite its success, the magazine would come to an abrupt conclusion, ending a mere six years after its first issue. While the circumstances surrounding its dissolution are vague at best, it can only be assumed that Popular Radio, with its focus on amateurs, could not maintain itself in an era that was decidedly opposed to the amateur – thus, the Radio Act of 1927 could be seen as a direct precursor to the magazine's end.


In the early Twenties, radio-based periodicals had a specific mission: to both familiarize readers with the technical aspects of radio and to discuss radio's growing cultural significance. Popular Radio adheres to these aforementioned guidelines; directed towards amateurs and specialists, it often resembles a guide-book or manual, and is averse to any sensationalized depictions of the radio. When this periodical was published, amateur radio had not yet been dismantled; thus, this magazine offers a window into a particular period, one during which radio was still a democratic enterprise, operated and maintained by private citizens. To be sure, this technological populism was beginning to wane, and would be effectively crippled by the Radio Act of 1927 – but, regardless, Popular Radio allows a glimpse at a medium before it became regulated, perhaps illuminating many issues that affect media today.

Popular Radio was a periodical that ran from May of 1922 to May of 1928, perhaps the most significant years for radio-broadcasting, as 1922 is generally recognized as the start of the “Broadcasting Boom.” The first issue notes that, while 100,000 issues were originally intended to be published, they published 125,000 – this sudden increase is indicative of the growing interest in radio, an interest that would multiply exponentially in the following years (1). The magazine itself was published by Popular Radio, Inc., a corporation formed to support both the magazine and the various manuals and guides the magazine promoted. While the early issues were fifteen cents, later ones were twenty-five cents – it is unclear if whether due to financial instability, economic issues, or greater circulation.

The editor of Popular Radio, Kendall Banning, is an interesting figure: as stated in the first issue, he was the managing editor of System magazine, as well as Cosmopolitan. He served in the Army for two years and, at the time of Popular Radio's first issue, was a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Signal Reserve Corps and a member of the Executive Council of the Amateur Radio Reserve. As evidenced by an early issue of Radio Broadcast, “The Signal Corps is that part of the United States Army whose duty it is to handle communications”(2). Needless to say, Banning was intimately connected to the multiple uses of the radio. He was also a published poet, and published a book, Mother Goose Rhymes, which is “dedicated to the censors – who have taught us how to read naughty meanings into harmless words” (3). The entire work consists of common nursery-rhymes with key-words blotted out; the book illustrates Banning's sense of humor as well as his slightly subversive character – both of which are also mirrored in Popular Radio. In the last two issues of the periodical, an attempt is made to begin discussing the new medium of television – unfortunately, the magazine was cut short, coming to an end in May of 1928.

In terms of content, the magazine contains articles that directly address the technical aspects of radio, with titles such as “A Five-Tube Radio Receiver” ( from Popular Radio ). An important function of these articles is not to just discuss the technological elements, but also to instruct the readers – they act as manuals, offering schemata and step-by-step directions. For the amateur enthusiast, these instructions would have been invaluable. In Popular Radio, the article detailing how to construct the AC receiver lists all of the necessary parts, as well as the total cost; it then associates certain letters with certain parts and specifies where to attach the parts, using various diagrams. Popular Radio also contains a “What Readers Ask” section, in which many questions are asked – some of them fairly basic, such as “What Is a Kilocycle?,” while others are more complex, as when a reader asks for help with his radio connections. This bond between reader and magazine is a significant part of these periodicals; rather than constructing its audience, Popular Radio reflects the interests and concerns of their audience. Popular Radio also contains a section, “In the World's Laboratories,” that acts as an overview of new innovations and discoveries in the scientific world – perhaps correctly assuming that radio-enthusiasts would be equally excited about related fields. Other than these more specialized articles, however, Popular Radio also contains editorials that illuminate the personalities behind the magazine: in “The Broadcast Listener,” Raymond Francis Yates discusses what is wrong with broadcasting in Chicago, as well as criticizing many contemporary announcers for contributing to “the banality of the Chicago air-shows”; these comments point to a growing tension in the world of radio, one that existed between the amateurs ( who were invested in the material aspects of the radio ) and the unspecialized listener ( who was invested in the broadcasts and the programs ). A good bit of humor is also evident in Yates' section, such as when he hints at the existence of a Society for the Suppression of Radio Sopranos – a direct reference, and perhaps subtle criticism of, the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice.

In terms of advertisements, Popular Radio does not stray from radio-based products, whether they be vacuum-tubes, smaller parts, or radio-related furniture. What is significant about the advertisements is not the products being sold, necessarily, but the fact that there is no attempt to sell more popular or commercial products; like the specialized schemata found throughout the magazines, the advertisements are gesturing towards a specific audience, one that is entirely concerned with the operation and maintenance of the radio.

Worth noting is that Popular Radio is particularly snide towards the more popular aspects of radio – the magazine itself is representative of the radio-elite, those amateurs who separated themselves by being wholly dedicated to the material elements of the medium.
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