Early radio in Carroll County [Eagle Archives]

Having grown up in Carroll County, I can tell you that, as late as the 1950s, radio was always a big deal in Carroll County. I remember our first television. It was a nice novelty. We still listened to the radio.

On Nov. 18, 1932, according to the Baltimore Evening Sun, "An unlicensed radio station was shut down in Westminster by the Federal Radio Commission… The station broadcast music on Sunday afternoons. The signal was picked up in Pennsylvania, where residents complained that the music was interrupting the reception of other programs.

"Investigators traced the signal to a farmhouse in Westminster. Homemade equipment was found at the home. Investigators made no arrest but reminded the unidentified youthful equipment owner that unlicensed broadcasts carried a penalty of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine."

A large audience tuned in to the long history of radio in Carroll at a recent box lunch talk hosted by the Historical Society of Carroll County and featuring local historian Dr. Sam Brainerd. The historian also reported on his extensive research in the Carroll History Journal publication in early 2012.

"Advertisements suggest that the business of radio was going strong in 1930 Carroll County, despite the effects of the stock market crash less than six months earlier. However, based on the Consumer Price Index, $180 in 1930 would be the equivalent of more than $2,300 today! Could people in Carroll County really afford such a luxury?"

The answer, of course, is that radio was not a luxury.

According to Brainerd, "The Census Bureau found that, as of April 1, 1930, 35 percent of Carroll County's 8,445 families owned at least one radio set, slightly behind the national average of 40 percent and a bit further behind Maryland's average of 43 percent.

In 1930, Brainerd said that how close a person lived to the railroad tracks affected whether or not they owned a radio. "Residents of Woolerys (39 percent ownership), Westminster (48 percent), New Windsor (49 percent), Union Bridge (40 percent), and Middleburg (43 percent) were considerably more likely to own radios than families in Taneytown (30 percent) or Mount Airy (34 percent).

"It is easy now to forget how important railroad travel was in 1930. Many residents would have taken the train to Westminster or Baltimore to shop for a radio and would have had their purchase shipped back to them by rail. Electrical power tended to follow the tracks, too, and people living nearer the railroad were more likely to have electricity in their homes."

Carroll County, according to Brainerd, "did not have a permanent radio station until WTTR went on the air in July, 1953. But the more modern radios of 1930 would have been able to receive most nearby radio stations even in the daytime. However, during the day men were at their jobs, women were hard at work in their homes and children were in school.

"The audiences for radio stations whose signals could travel only 50 or 100 miles during the day would have been too small for commercial success. It was at night, on the other hand, that radio listening really picked up."

When he is not up late at night surfing the Internet looking for foreign radio stations, Kevin Dayhoff may be reached at kevindayhoff@gmail.com

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