When the National Committee on Boys’ and Girls’ Club Work (now National 4-H Council) was started in late 1921, it basically consisted of a staff of one person – Guy Noble – working at a ‘desk on loan’ in the Chicago headquarters offices of the American Farm Bureau, with the assistance of a part-time secretary (also on loan). In addition to the overwhelming burden of raising funds in unchartered waters and planning and managing the major national 4-H event, National 4-H Congress, Guy Noble also knew that it was critical to promote the concept of 4-H to broaden audiences if it was to grow.
As early as 1922, before it was even a year old, the National Committee on Boys’ and Girls’ Club Work became a radio pioneer. Arrangements were made that year with the Westinghouse Radio Service of Chicago for news of Boys’ and Girls’ Club Work to be presented each Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 6 pm. In 1922 there were only 30 radio stations in the country and a quarter million receiver sets scattered across the nation.
The decades of the 1920s and 1930s became a growth period for both radio and for 4-H together. At one point all the major radio networks were carrying 4-H radio programs. And, there was the National 4-H Music Hour on NBC which featured the United States Marine Corps Band and highlighted music appreciation for young people. The National 4-H News magazine carried a regular column of upcoming radio programs in their monthly publication.
David Sarnoff, president of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), and one of the corporate giants in the communications industry, partnered with 4-H. He became a board member of the National Committee on Boys’ and Girls’ Club Work and RCA would become a national sponsor, funding a new activity for 4-H Club leaders and members. It was the National Program on Social Progress which helped to train and encourage 4-H members and adults in their communities to make the community more pleasant and improve the quality of living. This included: being more “neighborly,” and more resourceful, as well as stressing more education and creative community social activities. The program placed heavy emphasis on using the radio for communications.
By the 1930s, many rural stations were hiring farm broadcasters; first to announce the grain and livestock markets each day, but then to support rural community activities and events. Four-H fit nicely into this pattern as well; with farm broadcasters becoming strong friends of 4-H. At the same time Extension at every level – federal, state and county – were embracing the use of radio. A decade later, by the end of the 40s, over half of the radio stations in the country were regularly carrying Extension programs, including much coverage of 4-H. The radio was playing in the house, the barn, the car; no longer a novelty, it was a part of our everyday lives.
A new segment – 4-H and Radio – has just been posted in the National 4-H History section of the 4-H History Preservation website. We hope you enjoy it. Take a look at it at: http://4-HHistorypreservation.com/history/Radio/. If you have comments about 4-H and radio please contact: Info@4-HHistoryPreservation.com.