American Radio Industry: World War II

Figure 1.--An American reader writes, "This photo brought back nostalgic thoughts to me--a very middle class American family gathered around the radio during the late-1930s or early-40s. They are listening to the family radio. Perhaps they are listening to the news, perhaps the war new. The boys might have a brother in the service. There was of course much more to which they could listen, such as a baseball game, a comedian like Jack Benny, a thriller like the Shadow, musicuans like Gken Miller, or even one of President Roosevelt's fireside chats. The clothes are interesting also and what suggest the early=40s rather than the late-30s. Note the boy of about 12 years standing up with a striped polo shirt and slacks held up with both a belt and suspenders. Older boys and teenagers of that period thought that suspenders were 'cool'. A younger brother is wearing a two-tone knitted golf shirt with short sleeves. Daddy is wearing a regular dress shirt without a tie, and seems to be followed in this style by another younger brother. So-called console radios that stood on the floor and constituted a major piece of furniture in American living rooms became a focus of family gatherings in the evening." The companies which made radios like this would play an important role in World War II. One more instance of the impact of American industry.

The electronics industry which developed around radio was one of many industrries to play an important role in World War II. The United States quickly developed the largest electronics industry in the world. And just a many low-income Americans had cars because of mass production, most low-income Americans by the 1930s had radios. A vast new industry grew up to supply not only these radios, but the broadcasting equipment as well. And as a result, major corporations developed around the radio and telephone industry. Now broadcasts of Jack Benny, Red Skelton, the Green Hornet, the Shadow, Glen Miller, and others may seem rather trivial, but they led to a vast new indudtry. And that new industry was one which had immense military significance. The German concept of Blitzkrieg which brought the early German victories was premised on mobile warfare where commanders directed their fast moving mobilized units by radio. Notavly French tanks did not have radios and French generals were sending out orders by messengers who often found positions were already taken by the Germans before they delivered theur messages. The United Srates made the greatest use of radio in the War. Virtually any American second leiutenant in an infantry unit could call in a devestating artillery barage. No other army in the War had that capability. But this is only the beginning of the radio story. A key element in Battle of Britain was radar. And here again the vast American radio industry assisted with British technology built radar sets in vast numbers and increasing capability. These radar played key roles in the Pacific War and crutical Battle of the Atlantic. American radar was not quite capable of preventiun Pearl Harbor, but as early as the Sollomons campaign began to play a key role in the Pacific. And it was vital in the Atlantic to track down a locate U-boats. The radio industry also played an important role in the signals intelligemnce vital to Allied code breaking, Magic and Ultra. And the American electronics industry built a communication device, unlike the German Enigma machine, that could not be cracked. These efforts led to another new, related industry--computers.


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Created: 9:56 PM 3/24/2011
Last updated: 9:56 PM 3/24/2011