Associated Press on the air

“Behind the Mic,” a radio series whose message was to demystify the medium itself, devoted its June 29, 1941, episode to the Associated Press, the newspaper co-op that had gradually come around to the idea of radio news.

The program includes mini-dramas of scenes from AP history, including the 1848 meeting of usually rival New York editors that formed the association to get some leverage over another “new media,” the telegraph companies.

The 19th century hazards of journalism portrayed on the program range from misreading semaphore signals to getting the assignment to cover General Custer at the Little Big Horn — and dying at his side.

We hear another AP man advising Pancho Villa to delay an attack until after the baseball World Series if he wanted to get on the front page of American newspapers. He did.

The anecdotes, dramatized from a history of the Associated Press, are delivered in rapid-fire, but provide no discussion of how the newspaper based service came around to the idea of providing news to radio stations.

Kent Cooper, general manager of the AP is interviewed on issues like the size of the association (1,400 American newspapers, 7,500 correspondents), arrangements for war coverage, and the latest news technology, one that it goes without saying would not be much use on radio — the AP wirephoto.

The program closes with an NBC announcer reading the latest AP war news, to the accompaniment of clattering teletypes, and the newscast ends with an important phrase: “For further details, see your local newspaper,” a clear sign that by World War II the newspapers, their wire services, and the New Medium of radio had found ways to co-exist.

The Internet Archive has 32 episodes of the Behind the Mic series, including one on radio news from wartime London and one devoted to Impersonations of Famous People, which I hope to listen to soon.

About Bob Stepno

mild-mannered reporter who fell deeper into computers and the Web during three trips through graduate school in the 1980s and 1990s, then began teaching journalism, media studies and Web production, most recently as a faculty member at Radford University.
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