Talking History focuses on a wide range of topics in Canadian history, and it consists of articles by Canada's foremost historians and history experts. Our contributors use the power of narrative to bring the past to life and to show how it is not just relevant, but essential to our understanding of Canada and the world today. "Talking History" is a series made possible through a special funding grant from the Department of Canadian Heritage.
Sean Graham is a William Lyon Mackenzie King Postdoctoral Fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University, where his research focuses on the history of national broadcasting and Canadian efforts to situate itself within the North American broadcasting environment. He is also an editor at Activehistory.ca and host/producer of the History Slam Podcast.
Radio—that thing a lot people listen to in the car when their phone runs out of battery power—hasn’t always been an afterthought in the world of popular culture. During the 1930s it was at the centre of the entertainment industry. In fact, it has been said that radio was so popular during the 1930s that during the summer you could walk down the street and follow the hijinks of Amos n’ Andy through open windows. Coinciding with radio’ …
My desk is awash in receipts. Recently unfolded from the depths of my wallet, they keep sliding out of their designated piles. Four months since I updated my spreadsheet; I've really let things go! I circle the vital information, then enter it on my keyboard. The CD mechanism on the computer grinds, and from the tinny speakers comes a voice: Mona Gould, my grandmother, reading her poetry and telling stories from her life.
Mona is nowhere. She died in 1999 and was cremated, yet now a complex sequence of zeroes and ones brings her voice into my office this early September day. There are other sounds on the CD, the traffic on the highway outside her apartment in Barrie where the tapes were made, the clunk and whir of the original cassette machine, the banter with her friend John Ide, who had the foresight to capture her voice on tape.
A former broadcaster and poet, Mona was eighty-one years old when John undertook that recording session. Later, he transcribed the results for an art installation which allowed her to be heard again after many years of obscurity. Recently, he transferred them to CD, with plans to develop the work further.
This afternoon's combination of activities is no accident: doing my finances and listening to Mona' s voice. Only a spreadsheet could p …