Thursday, September 13, 2007

Radio in Argentina, 1920-1940

ARGENTINA. Book Review By Kenneth D. MacHarg: ``From Parsifal to Per󮻠Early Radio in Argentina, 1920-1940`` offers insightful, entertaining overview of the early days of radio in ArgentinaI?m not sure what first drew me to this book?a life-long love of radio and mass media or my nearly 18 years of living and working in Latin America . Whatever it was, reading it was an insightful and entertaining experience. Dr. Robert Claxton?s discourse on the early development of radio in Argentina (1920-1944) is both well-researched as you would expect from an academic and easily readable as it explores the technological and programmatic development of radio services along with the broadcast medium?s on-going relationships with government, education and the business community.There were several impulses that moved radio to an early development in Argentina, including the electrification of the country and a government that was disposed to encourage local broadcasting. Electricity reached many locations in the country in the 1880s and, by 1920, over 40 percent of South America?s telephones could be found in Argentina . Those, along with a strong scientific community and the developments of World War I led to an early interest in radio technology among the military?a development which lapsed over into the educational and commercial areas as well. An eager amateur radio community as well as the development of early spark transmitters in use by 1902 led to further developments. And, then as now, Argentina was a country with a high literacy rate and a resulting interest in other forms of communication. With his unique title, From Parsifal to Per󮬠Dr. Claxton hints at the roles that radio played in Argentinean cultural and political developments. Parsifal, an opera by Richard Wagner, was the first broadcast by a group of four amateurs who, using a five-watt transmitter and a wire strung between the Coliseo Theater and a nearby house, transmitted the three-hour performance to perhaps fifty crystal sets on August 27, 1920. Some proud Argentineans insist that the transmission was the first broadcast in the world in that it came before similar ?first? broadcasts by WWJ or KDKA in the United States. However, as Dr. Claxton says, ?Much depends on how one defines the word broadcast.? Dr. Claxton goes on to explore the necessity of marketing receivers, most of them designed and developed in Argentina, to capture the programs of the early radio pioneers and the development of such equipment from ugly boxes with wires and tubes to attractive pieces of furniture that were acceptable in living rooms throughout the country. One very interesting aspect of radio broadcasting in Argentina was that, primarily, it was home-grown. Initially radio stations developed as extensions of newspapers, educational institutions, governmental bodies and agricultural cooperatives. It took several decades for foreign radio station owners to enter the market and by then local styles and personalities had already been established. This stands in sharp contrast to other countries, such as Ecuador , where many early broadcasting initiatives came from foreign individuals and organizations. Quite a number of stations began as cultural or educational ventures that provided a cross-section of programming that could easily be compared to public radio offerings in the United States and elsewhere today. Later, as radio became more expensive to produce and entrepreneurs saw the potential to make money, a tension grew between the ideals of broadcasting in the public interest and radio as a generator of wealth or designed more for more common programming tastes. The book explores fascinating facets of radio programming, including the development of rural and small-town radio stations, the relationship of radio to the development of a national identity and the question of whether radio helped or hindered the development of democracy in Argentina. As a Latin American historian for many years at the University of West Georgia, Dr. Claxton is well-equipped to set the development of broadcasting in Argentina in its proper historical and cultural setting. And, as an aficionado of radio, he explores areas of the development of this media, such as shortwave broadcasting within Argentina and the reception of foreign broadcasts and their influence on Argentinean politics and culture.Along with extensive endnotes and a bibliography to document his research, Dr. Claxton includes a number of appendices listing, among other things, names of Buenos Aires radio dealers and brands, surveys of Argentine radio regulations and adherence to international broadcasting agreements as well as listings of Latin American pioneer radio broadcasters, commercial radio stations in Buenos Aires and in provincial cities, Argentine shortwave broadcasters, and cultural and economic information that affected the development of radio.As the author points out, a definitive history of radio broadcasting in Latin America has not been published in either English or Spanish. His book concerning radio broadcasting in Argentina is a solid and well-done contribution to developing material in this neglected field. ``From Parsifal to Per󮬠Early Radio in Argentina, 1920-1940``, by Robert Howard Claxton, University Press of Florida, Gainesville, 2007. May be ordered on-line at Kenneth D. MacHarg is the author of From Rio to the Rio Grande, Challenges and Opportunities in Latin America. He served as the director of the English Language Service at international radio station HCJB, The Voice of the Andes, in Quito, Ecuador. Most recently he was professor of Communication and Mass Media at the Evangelical University of the Americas . Now retired, he lives in Carrollton, Georgia (Ken MacHarg, 102 Comly Rich Dr., Carrollton, GA 30117, 678-796-1601, kdmacharg @ Sept 11, DX LISTENING DIGEST)