The status of radio work in our public schools

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  • This article was downloaded by: [New York University]On: 07 October 2014, At: 19:43Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number:1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 MortimerStreet, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    The status of radio workin our public schoolsRussell Johnson aa Teaches in the Memphis Technical HighSchool , Memphis, TennPublished online: 01 Apr 2009.

    To cite this article: Russell Johnson (1941) The status of radio workin our public schools, The Southern Speech Journal, 6:3, 60-64, DOI:10.1080/10417944109370762

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10417944109370762

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  • THE STATUS OF RADIO WORK IN OURPUBLIC SCHOOLS

    RUSSELL JOHNSON

    There are, without a doubt, more problems in our educationalsystem that are unsettled than that are settled. In fact, Dr. WilliamHerd Kilpatrick, formerly of Columbia University, and a follower ofthe John Dewey School of Philosophy would say they should not besettled, for when any point is settled it becomes static and progressceases. But as long as there is an unsolved attitude taken toward anysituation, there is the novel to look forward to, and the ever movingpresent with the new in the future is the life blood of progress. If thisphilosophy be true, and I am strongly of the opinion that it is, thereis great progress in the future for the problem of radio in the schools.At the present there has been little accomplished in this field. RecentlyPresident Robert Maynard Hutchins of the University of Chicago inone of a series of four articles said that the subject of journalism inour schools has accomplished little. If President Hutchins be correct inhis deduction that journalism has done little in our educational scheme,I do not feel presumptious in stating that the use of radio in stimulat-ing speech activities in the schools is only in its infancy.

    It is axiomatic that where two or more institutions are concerned,there must be a common understanding between or among them beforethere can be genuine progress. At present there is practically no com-mon ground of understanding between the radio stations of the countryand the schools. Where the blame rests I am not in a position to say.Under our American radio set-up advertising is indispensable to thebroadcasting companies. Furthermore, competition is becoming keeneramong broadcasting companies each day. No reputable station can af-ford to broadcast too many programs that will cause the public to turnfrom this station to another. The public demands something more thanmediocre programs, and the average school broadcast up to the presenttime has been mediocre caliber. Recently one of the leading broad-casting stations was forced to cut off a school program before it washalf complete because of the lack of preparation of part of theparticipants.

    This is the situation that faces the operators of the broadcastingcompanies. They schedule a school broadcast from 3:30 till 4:00 p.m.Soon some company asks for the period from 4:00 till 5:00 and thefirst question asked by the advertiser is, "What is scheduled duringthe half hour preceding the time that I want ?" The program directorof the station answers, "X High School has a program at that time."Almost invariably the inquiring advertiser refuses to be placed follow-ing the school program. Why? Because the ordinary school programis of such rating that only the intimate friends of those broadcastingwill listen. The dial will be turned to some other station and fewwill hear the program of the advertiser following the school program.I am too much of a pragmatist to leave the subject without attemptingto offer a solution. The answer to me is simple and evident; the

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  • The Status of Radio Work in Our Public Schools 61

    schools must, if they expect cooperation from the broadcasting com-panies, make their programs more interesting to the public listener.

    By this time you probably have wondered what radio broadcast-ing company is paying me for this article. Up to this point I havepresented the broadcasting company's side of the discussion. Butbeing a person whose weakness, if it be one, is trying to be fair andopen minded, I believe it best for all concerned that both sides beviewed equally. In the first place, the broadcasting companies realizethat they are sought, and for that reason those operating them arerather indifferent towards amateurs unless there is some possibilityfor the company to commercialize the talent in question. I think Ican make myself clearer by taking a concrete example. Teacher "A"has a group that has done an outstanding piece of work in dramatiza-tion or choral reading and feels that a broadcast will give incentiveto more and better efforts. He makes an engagement with one ofthe broadcasting companies to discuss the problem. The day and hourarrive; the teacher goes to the station to find the desired person outor in some rehearsal, and teacher "A" must come back. This happensmore than once. At last the date for the school broadcast is set. Theday arrives and a few hours before the scheduled time a telephonemessage arrives stating that because of an important national hook-upthe school program must be postponed. In the first place the teacheris too busy a person to make numerous trips to the station for con-ferences. In the next place when children have expected a programat a certain hour and are disappointed, the next attempt is largelyhandicapped.

    Many of the smaller broadcasting companies are at the presenttime attempting a worthy enterprise, that of making the station rathera civic enterprise. This is the most promising movement in the fieldof radio from the standpoint of really giving the classroom teacheran opportunity to stimulate better speech work. The problem that isretarding this movement at the present time is the lack of understand-ing on the part of the administrators of the broadcasting companiesof the real conditions in the schoolrooms. These program directorshave not yet realized that the schools are not filled with professionalradio stars and cannot produce respectable programs on short notice.There must be time for rehearsals. To remedy this situation theremust be some person of broad understanding, representing the broad-casting companies, to work between the schools and the stations. Someof these smaller companies have men who will write the skits for theschools to use on their programs. This I have found to be completelyunsatisfactory, for as a rule these skits are attempts at highy dramaticsituations, dealing with horror, murders, ghosts, and subjects that canbe successfuly handled only by artists. My idea is that for radio tobe worth while for high schools and colleges, it must be creative ratherthan imitative.

    Now the question arises for the teacher of speech, what can we doin our limited sphere to stimulate interest among our students for thebetter type of radio program? Naturally the best means would befor the ambitious students to create dramatizations, skits, debates,

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  • 62 The Southern Speech Bulletin

    forums, panel discussions, choral reading groups, or other such crea-tive material as this, and then be allowed to present them over theair. But as I have shown that a satisfactory practice of this kindseems to be rather remote, the only thing for the part time or wholetime speech teacher to do is do the best he can under prevailingconditions.

    I do not contend that I have done anything unusual in the fieldof radio work with my speech students; in fact, I maintain that Ihave done very little. The radio work that I do in my classes maybe divided into two parts: first, the actual broadcasts that the stu-dents put on over the stations of Memphis; and, second, the rathermake believe broadcasting done in the school.

    First, I shall discuss the actual broadcasting program that I havebeen able to put into practice. In a school where there is an activemusic department, the radio work for the speech department is mademuch more attractive and interesting. In Tech High School the musicand speech departments have always co-ordinated ideally. One of theessentials of effective radio work in any school is at least one studentwho has initiative and energy, and who is vitally interested in thistype of work. Without this type of student the teacher will be tre-mendously handicapped in his program. At present our school spon-sors a weekly broadcast over one of our local stations. There are twostudents in the school who are largely responsible for the success ofthis broadcast; however, it is supervised by the principal and teachersin the departments represented. This program is composed of musicalnumbers by the students in the music and speech departments in theschool. Once each week auditions are held to determine whether theapplicants are worthy of going on the air, and even with these audi-tions it is difficult to keep the music on the broadcast of a type thata high school would sponsor. The speech activities consist of talks,discussions, and debates such as are naturally developed in the classes.Some examples are: the winner and runner-up in an oratorical con-test dealing with southern history, talks dealing with school athletics,journalism, and the like, guest speakers who are generally membersof the faculty; and short dramatizations of different kinds.

    Early in the year I encouraged students to dramatize short stories,narrative poems, and other such literature. Each student works outhis own idea of the best sound effects for his particular dramatization.A few of the best were selected and used for broadcasts. One studentdid a very nice piece of work in his dramatization of "Clothes Makesthe Man," from Booth Tarkington's Seventeen. Because of the factthat this work is still copyrighted, it became necessary to get permis-sion from the author to use this without royalty. A personal letterwas written to Mr. Tarkington making this request; he graciouslygranted the request. All of this requires much time and effort on thepart of the teacher, but, if the program is to be of any educationalvalue at all, these steps must be taken. Another channel, if wiselyused, for encouraging radio work is that of the debate. I have foundthat the weekly radio debate soon deteriorates into poorly preparedspeeches and last minute preparation. This fault may be somewhat

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  • The Status of Radio Work in Our Public Schools 63

    overcome by debating less often. The standard of the debate can fur-ther be raised by inviting other schools to participate in radio debates.

    The second phase of radio work is that of appreciation of thebetter types of programs. This appreciation is tremendously sharpenedby the actual experience of the student's broadcasting. Again theremust be a few pupils who are exceptionally interested in the differentphases of radio. I have been fortunate in always keeping in my depart-ment at least one boy who is well informed and skillful in amateurradio work. These pupils delight in building sets and setting themup for auditorium programs. And it is a fact that the average studentgets almost the same thrill from standing before a microphone in thedressing room off the stage, and broadcasting to his classmates inthe auditorium that he does from standing before the microphone ofa real broadcasting company. Added interest can be given to theseprograms by presenting them before the Parent-Teacher Associationof the school.

    As I see it, the principal purpose of radio in the teaching ofspeech is to develop a listening attitude among the students. Unfor-tunately the broadcaster is unable to hear his own voice, so he mustdepend upon the opinions of others as to the quality of his own voice.The ideal equipment is a recording system; however, at the presentthey are too expensive for the average school to own. Here again theingenious student can be of invaluable service to the class and at thesame time develop his talent. At present I am working on this problem.A boy who is skillful along these lines is building a recording set forthe class. When the equipment is complete, each student will payfor the recording of his own voice. Then, too, with the service of theloud speaker the recording will be played back, thus allowing eachstudent to make a self analysis of his own voice defects.

    The actual broadcasting will be possible for only the few whohave unusual talent, for the broadcasting companies, as I have saidbefore, must maintain a standard. Consequently in a speech depart-ment where there are above two hundred students, the greatest prob-lem is to impress the students with, and interest them in, the bettertype of radio programs. I have found the students as a whole largelyinterested in the finer type of drama. All that is necessary is to calltheir attention to certain programs; point out specific characteristicsof enunciation, pronunciation, intonation, pausing, and phraseology thatshould be noticed, and the average student will take advantage of it.

    I am a strong proponent of naturalness in the art of speaking. Imean by this that I see no reason why a person who has been born andreared in the state of Mississippi, East Tennessee, Arkansas, or theMidwest, and thus speaks the dialect of that section, upon becominga radio announcer, actor, public speaker, or teacher of speech shouldimmediately take steps to acquire a pronounced English manner ofspeaking. Many students are driven from the subject of speech becauseof such superficialities. Here is where the radio serves its greatest pur-pose. I find that the great radio announcers, dramatists, and personali-ties do not resort to such unnatural tendencies. The practical student

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  • 64 The Southern Speech Bulletin

    will also become aware of this fact if he is directed to listen to suchoutstanding radio artists.

    In the teaching of intelligent use of the radio there is anotherfact which I think the teacher must keep in mind. This fact is thatthere is no definite line of demarcation between that which is educa-tional and that which is recreational in the present-day radio broadcast.Much, you may say, which is heard over the radio is mere foolishness.Yet, behind the great majority of this light subject matter there is aneducational value, and to me the greatest art in the radio today is thehappy manner in which the educational and recreational are so artisti-cally combined. If the student can be directed to discriminate finelyenough to distinguish that which is educational and at the same timereceive the recreational enjoyment from the radio much has been doneto broaden his scope of living.

    A NEW DEBATE PROPOSITION FOR THES.A.T. S. TOURNAMENT

    Because of recent provisions for increased national defense ap-propriations the S. A. T. S. tournament committee has deemed itadvisable to change the debate proposition to be used at the tourna-ment in Birmingham, Alabama, April 1 and 2, 1941. The propositionselected last October provides for the payment of national defenseappropriations from current tax revenue. While the proposition wasdebatable at that time, with new appropriations of approximately tenbillion dollars imminent, the committee is unanimous in thinking thatthe affirmative could hardly be expected to establish a case. The newproposition selected is as follows:

    "Resolved, That the United States should enter thewar immediately on the side of Great Britain."

    Publication of the official rules booklet has been held up pendingdecision by the committee of the above matter. It has now gone topress, however, and will be distributed by February 1.

    The S. A. T. S. tournament will include contests in debate,oratory, extemporaneous speaking, and after-dinner speaking. All con-tests will be held on April 1 and 2, prior to the convention which startsApril 3. At the conclusion of the tournament, and running concur-rently with the convention, a Student Congress will be held, using thegeneral topic "Civil Liberties in the South." Full details of the Tourna-ment and the Congress can be obtained by writing Glenn R. Capp,Baylor University, Waco, Texas.

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