Symbols (March, 2000)
Award-winning author Jerry Apps offers you a new book in the
tradition of his popular Rural Wisdom and When Chores Were Done. In
his inimitable style, Apps brings to life the symbols of a rural past
through factual information and storytelling.
Apps says that symbols of our rural past "are scattered throughout the
countryside, in farmsteads, and villages, and at the crossroads where
dusty trails once converged. Many are easily seen, others less so as
time has aged, rusted, and hidden them behind the icons of progress.
These symbols are reminders of early home life in the country, work on
the farm, how rural people kept in touch, the importance of community,
and how farm folks relaxed and had fun."
Some of the symbols have little or no practical use today: windmills,
threshing machines, and walking plows. Others are as significant now
as they were decades ago: country churches, radios, telephones, and
Apps examines each symbol, explaining its relevance, then in a story
recalling the symbol's importance to rural life as it was, and finally
with historical information. Those readers already familiar with
little Jerry, Pa, and the Kolka boys will be pleased to renew their
acquaintance with these new tales; those new to Apps' books will
delight in the world he so skillfully brings to life.
4-color laminated softcover
10 x 7 inches
Symbols Viewing a Rural Past
by storyteller and historian
Radios helped bring rural and urban people together. Farmers heard the
same national news, the same music, and the same comedy programs that
their city cousins heard. The radio also helped farmers keep
up-to-date on market happenings and university agriculture research.
All of this was free, except for the cost of the radio and batteries:
and the patience to listen to commercials selling everything from Red
Brand fencing (Keystone Steel and Wire company) to Wheaties, Lux Soap,
Crisco, Lava Soap, Pepsi-Cola, and Ovaltine.
- - - - - - - -
At first all I heard was a little static when I snapped on our Philco
battery-operated radio. Every afternoon, after my chores were done:
the wood boxes filled, the chickens fed, and the eggs picked: I could
listen to my "stories." I was there, with my heroes, living high
adventure through the radio.
I heard the announcer's voice and pulled my chair a little closer. I
was listening to Captain Midnight, one of my favorite programs where
the bad guys were captured, the good guys were saved, and everything
came out alright by the end of each segment. The program was sponsored
by Ovaltine, a powdered chocolate-like flavoring to mix with milk. I
convinced Ma that I absolutely needed to drink Ovaltine, at least
three jars of it. If I sent in three jar labels I would receive a
genuine decoder ring. I never told Ma that I didn't like Ovaltine-flavored
milk. I drank a glassful every meal, trying to smile as I did. I had
to have the decoder ring. It was impossible to grasp the entire
meaning of each Captain Midnight show without decoding the message at
Finally, the second jar of Ovaltine was empty, and I urged Ma to buy
the third and last one so I could send in the labels. I filled out the
little form and mailed it all in. And I waited. Program after program
went by, and I missed the important message at the end because I
didn't have a decoder ring.
After a month, a little box arrived in the mail. I tore the box open
and found my ring. A shiny gold and blue ring that could be adjusted
to fit my finger. I slipped it on, hardly able to wait until evening
and the Captain Midnight show.
When the show was over, the announcer read the secret numbers and I
copied them on a sheet of paper. After some struggle and adjustment of
my special decoder ring, I figured out the message and wrote it down:
"Drink more Ovaltine." Some message. I didn't even like the stuff. I
continued listening to Captain Midnight but with far less enthusiasm.
I wore my decoder ring until it turned my finger green, then I put it
away with my other important things.
History of Radios
Radio history began in 1895, when Guglielmo Marconi, a self-taught
Italian inventor, experimented with sending radio signals. Radio
experiments took place in the United States as well, building on
Marconi's pioneering efforts.
In 1920, Westinghouse built a 100-watt commercial radio station on top
of a factory in Pittsburgh and KDKA came on the air. Other radio
stations soon followed. By 1922, 537 radio stations were broadcasting
in the United States. About 100,000 radio sets were manufactured in
1922, 500,000 in 1923. Prices soon began dropping; therefore, average
people could afford a set.
Several kinds of radio programs emerged. News programs immediately
became popular. Many people remember President Franklin Delano
Roosevelt's speech to Congress on December 8, 1941: "Yesterday,
December 7, 1941, a date that will live in infamy, the United States
of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air
forces of the Empire of Japan."
Many radio broadcasts were designed for farmers: early morning and
noon market news, information from university researchers, and weather
information. Radio stations such as WHA at the University of Wisconsin
broadcast agricultural information. WHA also broadcast special
programs on music, art, and nature appreciation to the one-room
country schools scattered throughout the region.
Everyone enjoyed radio comedy shows: Amos and Andy, Fred Allen, Burns
and Allen, Bob Hope, Lum n' Abner, Jack Benny and Mary Livingston, Red
Skelton, Milton Berle, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, The Great
Gildersleeve, The Life of Riley, The Aldrich Family, and of course
Fibber McGee and Molly. No one wanted to miss Fibber McGee opening his
overcrowded closet and having everything tumble out on the floor (the
wonders of sound effects) on nearly every show.
For the children, adventure shows were broadcast every afternoon with
heroes like Jack Armstrong: All-American Boy, The Lone Ranger, Tom
Mix, Terry and the Pirates, The Green Hornet, Sky King, Hopalong
Cassidy, Tarzan and Sergeant Preston (with his lead dog King), and
Radio broadcast Friday night fights: Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney, Joe
Louis and Max Schmeling. There were music programs, such as The Guy
Lombardo Show, Kraft Music Hall, and Your Hit Parade. And variety
shows, Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, The Ed Sullivan Show, and Major
Bowes' Original Amateur Hour. The National Barn Dance began
broadcasting on WLS (Chicago) in 1924 and continued until 1960. The
Grand Ol' Opry came on the air in 1925, from Nashville, Tennessee, and
continues on television.
During daytime hours, radio broadcast soap operas: The Romance of
Helen Trent, Ma Perkins, Backstage Wife, and Our Gal Sunday.
Evening drama programs drew thousands of listeners to their radios:
Gangbusters, The FBI in Peace and War, Death Valley Days, and The
Shadow, with Orson Wells playing the lead part.
Farmers had radios long before electricity came to their farms. With
battery power and an antenna stretched from the radio set to the
windmill, farmers could pick up a few stations.
Early radio had something for everyone: drama, music, comedy,
children's programs, news, weather, farm market reports. It was a
welcome addition to rural communities.