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Lost and Found on One Radio Day in 1939

One Radio DayA nineteen hour tape of an entire day’s radio broadcast of WJSV in Washington DC is available via Hoopla. The day is September 21, 1939, a day in which Franklin Roosevelt gave a speech to congress asking it to amend the Neutrality Act so he could aid the allies as World War II had begun.

Arthur Godfrey did the first 2 hours with a blend of commercials, all done by him, lots and lots and lots of them delivered with panache and some gentle mockery, mixed with music (“the music is recorded” he announced as part of the every station identification) and also with news of an increasingly ominous war in Europe.

But the thing that caught my attention most were the lost and found notices. Godfrey announces that, for example, someone has found a plain Bulova wristwatch, yellow gold and if it’s yours, call at 223 3rd NW, and come and get it. Someone else has lost a heart-shaped gold baby’s locket with the initials AS on the back. If you’ve found it call Columbia 1-943J. People seemed to have thought nothing of giving out their names, phone numbers, and addresses freely. I was struck by the innocent openness of this. Godfrey and the radio station assume, I suppose without thinking about it, that there was nothing dangerous or invasive or wrong here. Sure, just come on over, the entire Washington DC area is treated as if it were safe and friendly;  certainly only the rightful owner would show up at your door.

Which made me ponder how our simple personal facts have become weapons against us, each one now a point of serious vulnerability. Who we are, what our names are, where we are – exactly where we live, addresses and whereabouts, what our phone numbers are – it’s now dangerous for these things to be public. Almost no one would feel comfortable having this information casually aired by a popular radio show host. Our relationship to the radio and a radio host, to the listening public, to the public in general is therefore impoverished. In our world, out on public media, voyeurs and criminals, commercial algorithms, marketing predators, private investigators and police and intelligence agencies are all lurking. It’s a jungle out there.

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