An excerpt from
The Great Depression
and the Rise of Modern Mass Culture
“The Story of the Century”
Listeners who tuned into the radio Sunday, October 30, 1938, shortly after 8:00 p.m. heard an announcer interrupt the music of Ramon Raquello’s orchestra for a special news bulletin. Several astronomers, the announcer declared, had observed inexplicable and fiery explosions on the surface of the planet Mars. The announcer quickly returned listeners to the orchestra, but promised to cut away again to take listeners to an interview with a noted astronomer as soon as possible. A few moments later, the announcer introduced a reporter and professor Richard Pierson. “Please tell our radio audience exactly what you see as you observe the planet Mars,” the reporter asked. The voice of Orson Welles answered. And with the actor’s reply, the Mercury Theater on the Air’s broadcast of War of the Worlds sprang out of its windup.
Over the next hour, Welles and his troupe dramatized the near destruction of the world as attacking Martians overran humanity. Welles’s account of an event that never took place—the invasion from Mars—would become one of the most renowned single radio broadcasts ever. Listeners who tuned to CBS that Halloween eve heard Martians land spacecraft in New Jersey and around the country. Those listeners heard the Martians annihilate the populace with heat rays and lay waste to the military with poison gas. They heard warning bells toll and radio communications falter as the invaders overcame New York City. And in the end, listeners heard the mighty Martians vanquished by bacteria for which their alien immune systems had no defenses. By that point, however, a sizable minority of listeners had long since stopped listening. They were too busy panicking.
Over one-million listeners, about one-fifth of the program’s audience, believed the broadcast invasion to be both real and terrifying. The program’s enduring fame, of course, comes from the fear it spawned. Listeners fled, clogged phone lines seeking information, prayed, went into shock, and contemplated suicide rather than die at the Martians’ hands. The crowds that flocked New York City’s streets, said one observer, outdid even the chaotic scene that had accompanied the end of World War I. A New York man wished for a gun so that he and his family could take their own lives; lacking a weapon, he instead packed hurriedly and called friends warning them to flee as well. A Tennessee woman spent the evening praying on her kitchen floor, and the host of a California party reported two of his guests suffered heart attacks when they heard of the invasion. In Trenton, New Jersey, the broadcast crippled city communications as two thousand callers phoned the police department in two hours; fortunately there was no real emergency, the city manager said, because with all municipal lines tied up, there would have been no way to dispatch firefighters and the like. How widespread would such hysteria have been had Mercury Theater on the Air drawn more than a tiny share of the radio audience that Sunday night?
Only a scattering of Americans, however, even heard the drama that would become so well remembered as an example of radio during its heyday. Welles’s program was not a popular one. CBS broadcast Mercury Theater on the Air opposite the most widely listened-to program on radio in 1938, the Edgar BergenûCharlie McCarthy Show. No advertiser saw fit to sponsor the Mercury Theater’s radio offerings. In a nation of roughly 130 million people, only approximately 6 million even heard Welles’s broadcast; far fewer, of course, found it scary. We might be tempted, then, to dismiss the program’s resonance as an ironic twist of memory: we often recall the unusual and rare, not the commonplace and typical.
But there is more to the story of the War of the Worlds broadcast than a tale of space invaders and ensuing panic. Welles’s program might not have been widely heard and it might have provoked an unusually dramatic reaction in only a few, but the broadcast and surrounding events reveal Americans integrating the new medium of radio into their lives in the decade of the Great Depression. In the 1930s a new system of mass communications took hold in the United States and helped to spawn a new mass culture. As radio brought an expanding, impersonal public sphere home to Americans, they encountered a world in which even culture and communication might be centralized and standardized. The modern culture that radio represented threatened to overpower individuals, leaving them with little control either in their own lives or in the wider world. As public intellectuals of the day lamented, that culture might be as menacing as Welles’s Martians.
But mass culture did not quite prove entirely all-powerful. Within very constrained space, Americans found some room to interpret radio’s meanings for themselves. As they did so, Americans used those meanings to help them address the very challenges posed by radio and mass culture more generally. The story of Welles’s unusual broadcast resonated with these more typical experiences and understandings of Americans seeking to come to terms with radio and the rising culture it represented. Many found radio could enable them to gain a sense of autonomy in their own lives by helping them understand an encroaching mass world in familiar, personal terms. To some, radio also offered the prospect of speaking meaningfully in that world, through a newly viable hope of communication with a mass audience. As Americans determined what radio meant to them, they used the mass medium itself to gain a measure of control and perhaps a voice within the disempowering mass world that radio helped to create. And this process, in turn, helped to shape that modern world.
Embedded in the story of the Mercury production, then, lie the shades of the twentieth century’s rising mass culture, which, as public intellectuals in the 1930s rightly noted, threatened to erode individual distinction and choke off individual voices. To such thinkers, Welles’s program must have seemed to affirm their fears. In the reaction to the radio play, journalist Dorothy Thompson saw Americans losing the ability to think on their own and falling prey to an insidious homogeneous thought. The broadcast, she wrote, “proved how easy it is to start a mass delusion.” To Thompson, radio could help engender a new mass mind. To other intellectuals, the mass media narrowed control of public speech. With Welles’s newfound fame, his program attracted a corporate sponsor for the first time; the Mercury Theater on the Air became the Campbell Playhouse. As Welles learned, sponsorship came with a price. Welles wanted to spread high culture, to make political statements, to experiment with his art; Campbell’s wanted to maximize their audience and to sell soup. In the end, the soup sellers, not Welles, had the final say on the program. Radio, Welles might have concluded and many public intellectuals believed, embodied the dangers the fledgling century posed to individuals’ autonomy in their own lives and abilities to make a public impact.
To many critics, including Thompson, it came as a surprise that so many ordinary listeners took the War of the Worlds program literally. It need not have. Listeners in the 1930s came to rely upon radio. True, War of the Worlds was only one particularly disquieting example of the way in which radio caught Americans up in a far-off and confusing world. But at the same time, radio could familiarize that mass world. Listeners formed imagined but meaningful relationships with radio voices. Through radio, listeners remade the frightening public sphere in comfortable and comprehensible private terms. Listeners taken in by Welles’s hoax often suggested indignantly that they had believed in the startling invasion because they had learned—appropriately, many felt—to have faith in radio. Of course they accepted what they heard, they declared: radio helped them stay afloat amidst waves of change they felt breaking around them. “In this troubled world of ours,” wrote F. M. Moody of Venice, California, explaining why he believed Welles’s broadcast, “there are so many things that have happened and are happening that, we the people are believing nothing is impossible and naturally rely on our radio to bring correct, unadulterated, authentic, happenings of the world.”
The private connections listeners felt with public voices on the air and the resources listeners derived from those relationships had specific implications for the practice of democracy in a mass society. Told through a series of newscasts, Welles’s radio play and the fact that listeners obviously incorporated those newscasts into their lives suggested that radio had the capacity to inform listeners and involve them directly in national civic affairs—for many, for the first time. To many listeners, the personal reach of radio gave them a way to count in a political arena that, without broadcasting, felt overwhelming. This capacity, many contemporaries felt, suggested radio might reinvent democracy to make it meaningful in their extended society.
At the same time, though, the War of the Worlds broadcast warned that the process of reimagining democracy for a mass society was, at the very least, complex—dangerously so. With the rise of broadcasting, as the possibility of speaking to the whole of a nation at once became more and more real, the meaning of communication changed. Audiences seeking access to influential voices welcomed this development, but Welles’s program clearly revealed the thin line between demagoguery and democracy in an era of mass communication: broadcasting made it possible for a single powerful speaker to move a large part of the country at once. Despite his protestations of innocence at the time, Welles may have intended to make that very point with his broadcast. In a 1955 interview, Welles explained the famous program in similar terms: “We were fed up with the way in which everything that came over this magic box, the radio, was being swallowed,” he said; radio in the 1930s “was a voice of authority. Too much so. . . . It was time for someone to take some of the starch . . . out of some of that authority: hence my broadcast.” Intended or not, certainly the broadcast contained a warning about the mass media’s real and ominous potential to concentrate power by amplifying particular voices.
For others, however, this new kind of communication—communication that enabled a speaker to reach an enormous collective audience—suggested more benevolent possibilities. Mass communication, some felt, might enable individuals to find voices meaningful in the twentieth century’s vast national public sphere. To a team of social scientists from the influential Princeton Radio Project, the Mercury broadcast indicated radio’s promise as a means of communication for a far-flung but interconnected society. Radio Project researchers responded to the program by conducting an investigation into the panic that followed. The study, claimed lead author and psychologist Hadley Cantril, might reveal how to use radio to communicate with the public at large in order to better manage the problems of a modern society. Making sense of radio and the panic Welles had induced, Cantril suggested, could help experts take advantage of the newfound prospect of speaking to the masses that radio might provide.
Indeed, Welles himself relished the possibility of finding a voice that might be heard by a vast populace. In a mass society, truly relevant communication had to speak to a mass public, Welles and a cadre of new radio writers and directors believed. Consequently, the mass communication radio made possible might be essential. Radio could revive the significance of an individual’s speech and, more particularly for this artistically ambitious group, art. After all, while many Americans looked upon the Halloween-eve program as a cunning trick, to its creators and a sizable body of listeners, the broadcast offered an artistic treat. The Mercury Theater on the Air, raved New York City listeners Beaumont and Nancy Newhall, “made an original contribution to the difficult and unexplored medium of radio. By using radio’s own technique, [Welles] made superficially believable the entirely unbelievable fantasy of H. G. Wells.” The Newhalls had nothing but praise for the drama’s “courageous and unceasing experimentation in America’s most original and promising art-form—radio.” Not just a holiday stunt, the War of the Worlds production was part of an attempt to use radio to create a new artistic voice that would be meaningful in the modern world.
Clearly, as Americans responded to the Mercury broadcast of the fictional disaster, they simultaneously expressed their reactions to far more real cultural disruptions. During the Great Depression, many Americans first found their lives tied into an unfamiliar, vast and abstract world. And during the Great Depression, many Americans began figuring out how they would inhabit that world. Radio, the 1930s and, more broadly, the twentieth century transformed the United States. But at the same time, Americans found in radio itself means to address the very challenges their new mass culture posed.
As Americans integrated broadcasting into their lives for the first time, they practiced a precarious balancing act. In the 1930s—and beyond—critics of mass culture came to see it as dangerously monolithic, as imposing one set of thoughts and values. In the 1930s—and beyond—celebrants of mass culture came to see it as a populist marketplace, a forum in which the tastes of the majority ruled. Neither, in fact, got it fully right. Radio embodied the new centralized and standardized mass culture beginning to take hold in the United States in the Depression decade. The critics were right that radio and mass culture did constrict the choices audiences could make. But Americans did not fully accept the standardized meanings—of radio or their mass culture more generally. Within tight limits, they found some of their own.
By the Great Depression, as the country became increasingly interconnected, Americans found their worlds becoming larger and larger—and their own places within those worlds becoming smaller and smaller. The culture of the twentieth century would be, in important respects, mass-produced by a few and designed for mass consumption by a wide sweep of the nation. And the revolution in communications that radio represented played an essential role in this development. The mass society of the twentieth century first coalesced in the 1930s, and to the many Americans who had previously been apt to see personal and local experiences as most central to them, the sense of belonging to a mass society hit painfully. The new culture threatened to strip Americans of meaningful power both in their own lives and in the broader public arena. How could you retain your self-control when an overwhelming outside world increasingly intruded into and dictated your daily life? How could you make your own marks on such a colossal and distant sphere?
In the face of such problems, Americans often found they could draw upon the leading purveyor of their new culture: radio. As Americans used radio to help them make their mass world personal, its intrusions no longer felt so disempowering, and the possibility of counting in that world no longer seemed so impossible. By making mass relationships resemble private ones, listeners gained a sense of control in their own lives and a sense of standing in the sprawling public arena. To some, broadcasting might also enable an individual to be heard in the seemingly ever-widening world. They had come to believe in the possibility of—and need for—genuine communication with a collective audience. No matter how constrained Americans’ choices were as they made sense of radio, those choices mattered. The meanings Americans found in radio provided them with ways of navigating their new mass world, helping to shape how we would live in that world and, in turn, that world itself.
As Americans incorporated broadcasting into their lives and found a sense of autonomy and perhaps voice in their new mass culture, they engaged in a process that generated powerful changes.
On some level, Americans came to believe that a common public existed and that it was possible to address that mass at large—while connecting with the members of that mass on a personal level. This is essential. It would blur the divide between public and private, and revise the meanings of democracy and communication itself.
In the broadcasting age, listeners came to imagine they could enter the public world in private terms. Radio brought far off voices and events into the home in a seemingly intimate fashion. This eroded lines between the public and private spheres, making it more difficult to distinguish public and private and to determine separate priorities and behaviors for each.
This, of course, had consequences for democracy. If and how citizens could count in the public sphere and the very idea of democracy in the modern age were up for debate in the 1930s. The interconnected and vast society of the twentieth century made older notions of participatory and local democracy seem nonsensical. With the rise of broadcasting, instead the idea of democracy often became embodied in feelings of quasi-private relationships with public figures and in the idea of a politically informed populace, not necessarily in personal involvement in decision making or public action.
All of this only made sense because of new understandings of communication. In the 1930s, many Americans were coming to accept the notion of mass communication. Ideas as to what constituted genuine communication expanded: rather than simply an interchange between individuals, many believed authentic communication could include one-way transmissions to an impersonal, vast audience. That is, for many in the United States the meaning of “to communicate” came to emphasize “to make common” more than “to share” or “to exchange.” Today we may accept these notions so easily that it is hard to imagine a moment when this—any of it—was controversial and, to some, alarming. In fact, though, the arrival of a mass culture and radio early in the twentieth century and in the Depression era in particular helped to transform the meanings of public and private, of democracy, of communication, giving birth to modern versions of these ideas and practices.
The mass culture that took hold in the United States around the 1930s was neither entirely oppressive nor particularly flexible. But it pushed real changes. As Americans negotiated some of their own cultural meanings within constrained limits, they helped define the meaning of radio, mass culture, and the modern United States. In doing so, they struck a fine balance. These balances, the meanings Americans found in radio, had some very real repercussions in the Depression and beyond. And those repercussions involved trade-offs, some positive and some negative elements. We cannot and should not be entirely comfortable with the changes mass culture delivered. The sense of autonomy that Americans gained relied, ultimately, on an element of illusion: the personal bonds so many felt were spun of nothing more than air. And the concept of public participation frayed. Yet even so, those slender threads made real differences to many struggling with the unsettling realities of their emerging mass world. How Americans began to find their way in that world was, in many respects, the story of the Depression. And more than that: the growth of a modern mass culture—and how Americans dealt with the tensions it spawned—would compose a large part of the story of the United States through the twentieth century.
That modern culture differed markedly from what came before. The world of the twentieth century that would seem so familiar, perhaps almost natural, decades later was, in fact, a disconcertingly new creation when it arrived. Starting in the late 1800s, but only fully arriving in the Great Depression, modern mass culture—an increasingly vast, standardized, centralized, and impersonal world—gradually emerged. Through the late nineteenth century and into the twentieth, the fibers linking the nation twined into thicker and thicker cords, expanding the scope of an individual’s world. People and communities formerly oriented locally increasingly found themselves enmeshed in arenas that extended far beyond traditional face-to-face experiences. The dramatic expansion of the railroads in the decades from the Civil War to World War I, for instance, brought far-flung locales more firmly into a national economic web. The boundaries of space softened. By the end of the 1920s, many people who only a few decades earlier would have only rarely traveled beyond walking distance had access to cars or other mechanical transportation. Moreover, urbanization and the rise of large, bureaucratic institutions created new social relationships. As cities swelled—over 500 percent from 1870 to 1920—many Americans came into contact with a wider range of people than ever before. And as nationwide organizations—from reform groups to corporations to professional organizations and unions—took on more prominent roles, many Americans discovered that some of their crucial bonds spanned nineteenth-century geographic limits. Expanding communications facilitated and represented this process. Around the turn of the century, the post office first began home delivery of mail to rural addresses; within thirty years, use of first-class mail increased 70 percent. More dramatically, with the late-nineteenth-century popularization of the telegraph, news reports were distributed quickly across space, tying many into national events.
As part of that course, American society began a process of standardization of sorts. The ongoing development of mass-production techniques meant that, more and more, Americans across the country could own the same goods. The Sears catalogue of the late nineteenth century and the chain stores of the twentieth century might carry the same sewing machines or soap to widely distributed consumers. And as producers, industrial workers and professionals alike more and more often labored under uniform work guidelines set by central authorities, from factory officials to professional associations. It was not just objects that were mass-produced. Across the country, Americans could increasingly encounter similar values, information, and entertainment. Businesses and advertisers early in the twentieth century began seeking ways to inspire mass consumption. That meant finding or creating and then emphasizing what large groups of consumers had in common. Similarly, the growing newspaper wire services and chains made it more likely that readers would receive the same information, with perhaps the same slant, regardless of locale. And as movies developed early in the twentieth century, audiences from the Bay State to the Bay Area had easier and easier access to the same mass-produced entertainment, offering, theoretically, the same messages.
Inherent in this process was a measure of centralization of social, economic, and cultural authority. More and more, influential decisions were made at a distance from ordinary lives. It would be easy to misstate the standardization taking place as one that produced an unmitigated sameness throughout life. The turn-of-the-century decades, in fact, also witnessed rising variety in many areas: tremendous waves of immigration and migration generated new levels of ethnic diversity, for instance. But many aspects of American culture did become more homogeneous and many forms of diversity were constrained as particular centralized powers found new capacities to distribute uniform products, ideas, and practices to the populace as a whole. The trend of the era pushed control of cultural, social, political, and economic life away from outlying individuals or communities and tended to centralize such authority. Americans slowly became more aware that they were part of a national network in which important economic and political decisions or occurrences often took place far away, with comparatively few businesses, associations, or other institutions exercising rising influence. From the consolidation of corporations to the establishment of Progressive regulatory bodies to the organization of sports leagues, centralized power became increasingly visible and able to enact common standards for a widening swath of society. Again, new forms of communication—from newspaper chains to national advertising agencies to movie studios—only reinforced this narrowing authority. As they moved deeper into the twentieth century, Americans increasingly consumed news, advertisements, and entertainment produced by a limited number of distant authors.
All of this meant that slowly, ordinary Americans found the public arena expanding and growing more pervasive in their daily lives. As individuals became more and more intertwined in a lattice of people, institutions, and events beyond their own direct experiences, they found their interactions becoming more abstract and important relationships less personally based; they found meaningful access to the public sphere harder to come by. Growing bureaucratic structures—from a national economy to large-scale organizations—increasingly emphasized systemized interactions over interpersonal relationships. Conversations in the public world became less personal: newspapers increasingly replaced face-to-face contacts as sources of information, for instance; and those papers rarely depended on actual intimate ties between publisher and audience, but conveyed information to an abstract readership. These transitions were in their infancy, even by the 1920s. But they produced the beginnings of the culture that would become so familiar during the rest of the century. And many found being thrust into that vast world alienating. As the world most Americans inhabited grew, they came to find that traditional personal connections were decreasingly effective resources and that traditional ways of speaking in public no longer provided them with meaningful voices.
These trends accelerated dramatically in the Great Depression. For many Americans, the 1930s brought the twentieth century’s mass culture home. The crisis of the Depression was not only a sudden economic jolt, but the climax of disorienting cultural changes long in rising. Nothing, of course, made clear to millions of Americans that they belonged to an interconnected and national economy like the devastating economic crisis. As local institutions—from banks to businesses to relief associations—failed, the Depression made plain the broad scope of even an individual’s economic and social landscape. The decline of those local establishments along with personal hardship paved the way for many, particularly working-class Americans, to participate in centralized national institutions and the rising consumer culture. Chain stores and theaters, with standard products and selling practices, pushed aside many smaller, often ethnically diverse, shops during the Depression, for instance. In turn, the federal government’s response to the adversity did more to centralize political power and to bring that distant authority into ordinary lives than any previous political endeavor. With programs from federal relief and regulation to rural electrification, the New Deal helped to make the central government an active part of many people’s daily lives and consciousnesses. For many in the 1930s, coming face to face with a vast society—a world increasingly of far-off decision-making and impersonal, uniform interactions—proved confusing and devastating. It left them wondering how, or if, they could matter anymore. To author John Steinbeck that was the central crisis of the Depression. In the author’s 1939 novel, The Grapes of Wrath, a tenant farmer pushed off his land by an abstract banking system demands to know how he can protect his family in such a world. “Who can we shoot?” he asks. In reply he hears only, “I don’t know.”
A large part of the reason Americans felt these changes so deeply starting in the 1930s was, simply, radio. More than any preceding cultural vehicle, radio created and disseminated a mass culture. By the start of the Depression, after several decades of development, the national, commercially controlled, network system that would be the foundation of broadcasting in the United States was in place. And broadcasting revolutionized communication. Starting in the 1930s and continuing far beyond, the mass medium of broadcasting linked ordinary Americans to a widely dispersed world, centralized the authority to determine what programs would be conveyed to listeners throughout the country, and, in doing so, standardized the messages those listeners likely heard. Broadcasting delivered a massive public world into listeners’ private realms. Radio, as it developed in the 1930s, came to embody the culture of the twentieth century and first made that world a part of most Americans’ daily lives, experiences, and ways of understanding.
In the early decades of radio, people around the globe marveled at what at the time seemed a truly amazing technology that could make possible communication through the air. It took several decades, though, to sort out the actual structure radio communications would take in the United States—a structure that would give rise to a culture both mass-produced and designed for mass consumption. Between 1897, when Guglielmo Marconi built on the work of other scientists and patented his wireless telegraph in England, and the 1920s, scientific advances came furiously and different interests struggled to shape the use of those advances. World War I jump-started a process of consolidating the control of radio in the hands of the government and a few businesses, but at that moment both those groups still conceived of the medium as a vehicle for point-to-point communication. Radio as a means of reaching a wide audience remained in the future; indeed, only the persistence of individual amateur radio operators revealed the possibilities in deliberately sending signals to a general audience.
This practice of sending signals to a general audience—broadcasting—soon became the most prevalent expression of radio technology, of course. In the 1920s, an increasingly centralized system designed to capture a national audience developed. Corporate hands tightened their grip on radio and began airing programming designed to reach large audiences in order to turn a profit. In 1920, seeking a way to boost sales of its radio sets, the Westinghouse Corporation in Pittsburgh followed the lead of one of its employees, an amateur broadcaster: in November, with the broadcast of the presidential election returns, the station KDKA touched off an explosion of corporate stations with regularly scheduled broadcasting. By the end of 1922, the United States government had licensed 570 radio stations. In the mid-1920s, AT&T hit on a new way to fund broadcasting: the company initiated the practice of selling airtime on its New York station to other businesses. Such radio advertising caught on over the decade, thanks to the endorsement of the federal government. As the chief regulator of radio in the 1920s, secretary of commerce Herbert Hoover favored well-off and commercial stations—ones financially committed to maximizing their listenership—assigning them prize frequencies, for instance. In the wake of the Radio Act of 1927 that established the Federal Radio Commission, the new regulatory body followed suit, reallocating the nation’s frequencies to commit the government formally to support commercial broadcasters and the advertising system. The National Broadcasting Company and the Columbia Broadcasting System took advantage of that climate, setting up the first national networks in late 1926 and late 1927 respectively. Seeking a mass audience, the two networks distributed programming to stations all across the county.
As the Depression decade began, then, the modern American broadcasting system—dominated by centralized and commercial national networks—was newly up and running. The mass production of culture that radio made possible enabled a few broadcasters to blanket the nation. And with that, many Americans had to make sense of a new way of hearing the world for the first time. In 1926 no networks existed and fewer than 5 percent of all stations sustained themselves selling advertising. Roughly half a decade later the commercial giants NBC and CBS controlled 30 percent of the nation’s stations—and those stations had such strength that the networks held roughly 90 percent of the broadcasting power. Sales of radio advertising, insignificant in 1927, topped a hundred million dollars in 1930. A few national advertisers, motivated by commercial goals, dictated the content of programming that listeners across the country tuned in to more and more regularly in the Depression. That opened space for some kinds of communication and threatened to drown out others. By the early 1930s the programming forms that would endure through radio’s heyday—and eventually appear on television as well—took shape: situation comedies, variety programs, adventures, dramas, and political addresses to name a few. By the end of the decade, the two New York Cityûbased networks had also become the leading sources of news for millions throughout the country.
It was during the Depression that radio truly attracted a mass audience in the United States. As commercial enterprises, the networks created programs designed to be consumed by a wide following. And with the broadcasting system that would endure for most of the century in place, listeners tuned in to those programs in droves. Radio ownership more than doubled in the 1930s, from about 40 percent of families at the decade’s start to nearly 90 percent ten years later. By 1940 more families had radios than had cars, telephones, electricity, or plumbing. To the members of that vast audience, radio, and particularly network offerings, became an integral part of their daily lives during the Depression. Americans loved the new medium, listening to each set an average of four to five hours a day. And with listeners preferring national programs to local ones by a ratio of nearly nine to one, audiences tuned those sets to network stations for most of those hours. Across the country, millions and millions of listeners heard the same programs for hours each day.
Traveling abroad is a tricky thing. You learn and experience so much, meet new people….but it can be very isolating and lonely at times. Assignment: Radio’s Ana Noshpal tells the story of the first time she felt she had found who she was, in the context of another country.
While I was searching for myself... I was already in the sky above all those countries that I could only dream of .. places that I had only seen in movies..
While I was searching for myself... I was already flying over the vast blue ocean..
While I was searching for myself... I was already walking through the airport with thousand questions flying on my had..
While I was searching for myself... I start meeting new people, places and things..
While I was searching for myself... I managed somehow to get lost .. to lose all I had until the moment I started the quest for finding me…
My country is far away.. And only few of you know where is it. It is so small that many of you could not even show it on the map.. But Macedonia is really warm.. Warm from the honest looks of my parents, warm from the real hugs of my friends, warm from my longing for it..
Far away... That is actually how I felt. Far away from everything that I knew.. I was alone, lonely and lost...
But I was excited. I wanted to conquer these new places. To find them and feel them. My heart was beating with the rhythm of my country, but here.. that rhythm was different. The melody that I make with my steps on these streets is not the same as those at home. Surrounded by thousands and still alone. Lonely. Lost.
Then, I stared thinking. OK. The rhythm of life is different, but there must be something at least similar. Here and there you can find people if nothing else.
I finally started finding myself. I found myself in a new faces, streets…in a new region.
I found my self around people with huge smiles and hands open wide. I found myself on wide-open paths. Filled with energy, they start following my steps. I started creating new melodies. With new people in new places. I found my self.
But then, I found a fake smiles... Yes, cold smiles and hugs... empty words..
As time passed by, I realized that they were fake because, here the hearts of the people beat with a different rhythm.
Just like When you write your name in the sand along the shore, the first wave will fade your name, the second one ... will erase it completely. That’s how I felt with my new friends. Like a name written on the shore.
I was afraid to be a friend because I was afraid a wave would come and erase our friendship from their existence.
But I didn't know then what I know now.
Ohh.. the time flies.. days and weeks are passing by so fast..
I learned that there is a way to keep my name on the coast and not to be erased from the waves of the sea. Now I wake up happy. I drink my morning coffee filled with happiness. I breathe deeply and remember the smell of the coffee in my country. Now both smell the same. I can feel the peace, the calmness and harmony. I walk the street, and while walking I feel new melody under my feet, in my ears, a new music into my heart.
Now everything is crystal clear. It’s a new language, but the words are the same. They talk about happiness, beauty, warmth. I meet people who have become my friends, I meet with their friends too. It reminds me of my friends at home. Now both are equally dear to me. Now, the one who were far away from me, soon they will be very close and the others so far from me.. (or those now far but soon very close, and those so close but soon far from me).
But I see both with eyes full of tenderness... Eyes full of sincerity, and in return I get warm and sweet smile.
I have found myself… But in both countries - two very different worlds. And to be honest I can't say for sure which one is the real one, the one that is mine. Maybe both are. Maybe…
English: Assignment:Radio reporter Ana Noshpal's personal essay about her journey as a world traveller.
Macedonian: Assignment:Radio reporter Ana Noshpal's personal essay about her journey as a world traveller.