By Gregory Clark, July 15, 1933.
Into the village of Terra Nova – which lies somewhere between the desert sands of Camp Borden and the jungles of the Nottawasaga Valley – we drove and pulled up by the garage.
Over on the general store steps sat five young men. They had on faded overalls, shapeless caps and hats on the back of their heads. They wore that air of doing nothing forever that seems a gift of general store steps.
I got out of the car and walked around to the radiator cap which I pretended to be examining.
And then, very casually, I started to whistle some bars from “Stormy Weather,” the Cotton club tune which at the moment is making snakes hips from the Panama canal to the Arctic Circle.
Out of the corners of our eyes we watched.
The five lads on the general store steps tired lazy heads to look at each other. They grinned mildly.
Then two of them joined me in the tune, whistling, moving sympathetically in snakes hips motions on the general store steps.
Another softly clapped his hands to the sweet, moving rhythm of this up-to-the-minute tune.
The fourth rolled his eyes up in the familiar ecstasy of the jazz.
Hick towns are suddenly vanished from the face of our earth.
The same night that Cab Calloway in his Cotton club with coffee-colored Ethel Waters electrified exotic New York with “Stormy Weather,” these same boys of Terra Nova, fresh from the plow and the harrow on the lonely hills of remote and lost portion of Ontario, heard it, stilled to it, rose to it, thrilled to it, through the magic, the distance-destroying timeless, house-changing, farm-changing, style-changing, habit-changing magic of radio.
Ten years ago, those five youths, up from their solitary toil on these steps for a soft drink, might never have heard “Stormy Weather.” They might have heard it when it was old and stale in some Chinese restaurant in Shelburne or Barrie, sizzling out on a worn victrola record, when they came to town for their monthly or half-yearly bust of recreation.
In blue suits, stiff-legged, dangle-handed, they would have sat shyly, and red of face, in the cubicle of a Chinese restaurant in country town, half pickled with the bright lights, the spaciousness, the busy thronging crowds of Barrie or a Shelbourne Chinese cafe. And they would have barely heard it and at once have forgotten it.
Today, they know it, they know their popular, their classic, their artists, their humorists, their stylists of the earth and the air better than the very New Yorkers who sit in the club where these elegances are first born. For radio is a selector. And country people, with silence and space and loneliness all about them, are selective, too.
We went out all over central Ontario, down side roads up clay back roads, visiting farms and finding out what radio means to the farm.
We found many curious and delightful things. We found, for instance, that in the farm, the radio net is in the kitchen.
We found that it has transformed lonely houses into homes filled with life.
We found that lonely women, who spent all day listening to the far music of their men’s voices directing horses on distant fields, now have company all the long day, bright clever women talking about women’s affairs, music, funny talks by funny men, and talks by that heart-breaker, Tony Wons.
They see their men-folk coming hurrying across the meadows in the middle of the day to listen to some special program, some speech, debate, discussion of affairs. Or to join with the women in laughing at some favorite joker. Because in the country, they love fun.
“It seems to me,” said Adrain Bateman, whose lovely and prosperous farm lies between Bradford and Bond Hend, in little known but rich section of Ontario, “that radio must mean twice as much to the farmer as it does to the town men. For example, I can’t say how much I would miss the weather forecast and the news. It is a small thing to you. But an important, all important, thing to the farmer. Until lately there was a noon broadcast of livestock prices taken at the stock yards that same morning. That is bread and butter to the farmer; when a buyer came along in the afternoon, you knew and could refer to the current prices of stock. You can watch from day to day the prices of the very thing you are producing, stock, grain and produce.”
In Mr. Adrian Bateman’s fine home, where geraniums gleam at the windows, there are grown-up children and an old man, to whom that radio with its thousand voices, Its Amos ‘n’ Andy, its hockey games, is the difference between happiness and unrest.
“I have no doubt,” said Mr. Bateman, “that throughout the country, the younger people are much happier, much more satisfied to remain on the farm than they have been for many years. The radio in some degree restores what farm life lost when the towns and cities took such an enormous lead in the entertaining aspect of life.”
Mr. Tom Huxtable dwells somewhere in between that village of Terra Nova and the more widely known village of Horning’s Mills; although there is no harm if you never heard of it either.
“What programs do the country people like?” we asked.
“Well,” said he. “I like the news morning and night. And I like speeches on politics and current affairs.”
“And the family?”
Mr. Huxtable’s family numbers eight.
“Each member of the family has his or her own likes,” said he. “Eddie Cantor, certain orchestras. certain singers. I don’t quite follow it all, but it seems to me the average country family is an authority on all that is liveliest, newest and best on the air. You can hear a debate on music, drama or any of the arts at any fence corner, at any cross roads from one end of the country to the other.”
“You like news?”
“Yes,” said Mr. Huxtable, “and I find I know more about what is going on in Toronto and New York than the city people I talk to. They apparently haven’t time to keep up with what’s going on.”
Has Transformed Farm Life
But near Stroud, which is in Simcoe county, the family of Mr. Bert Marquis is half boys and half girls.
“We want breakfast before the news broadcast,” said one son. “But we usually have to wait for lunch until the noon broadcast is over.”
“And how about the 11 p.m. new broadcast?”
“The head man always sits up for that,” answered the daughter. “You will see lights burning all over the country now, where darkness reigned before 10 p.m. five years ago. In the winter, especially on Saturday nights when there are hockey games and Wade’s square dance orchestra, the lights burn a lot later than they ever have in the entire history of farming. One night last winter, they burned until after 2 o’clock. That was the famous five-hour game. Those who have radios invite their less fortunate neighbors over. The radio has transformed social life on the farm. Radio has brought more neighborliness into the country than perhaps all the organizations there have been for creating a social spirit on the farm.”
We encountered one farmer who said that he had a large room in his house in which, on the average winter Saturday night, ten families from the surrounding township were represented.
“Such visiting was never heard of five years ago,” and he. “The room filled with visitors, the radio going. the women-folk preparing sandwiches and coffee. Radio has created a new atmosphere on the farm.”
The storekeeper at Bond Head thought that perhaps 30 per cent of all the farmers had radios in operation.
Nat Bredin, who runs the hotel at Bond Head, says he owes radio a good deal of business, because all winter long, especially on Saturday nights, it attracted twenty to thirty farmers from all around who wanted to hear the game. And the food programs during the week draw customers for the soft drinks, the pool tables and the pleasant company of the hotel common room. The bar was abolished and hotels went lean. Now radio in making the hotel a gathering place once more.
Out Stayner way there was one farmer who resolutely refused to buy a radio.
“It is an instrument of the devil,” he declared to the various radio salesmen who called at his farm. The radio salesmen make the rounds of the country the way they cannot in towns and cities. “Instrument of the devil,” asserted this well-to-do farmer. “It is nothing but jazz and nonsense. Bringing more of that city stuff into the country. Turning all the young people’s heads. Taking everybody’s mind off the serious business of farming. No, sir, no radio for me!”
This farmer was a religious man of the type still found in large numbers on the land. One clever radio salesman took a radio out one Sunday morning. Owing to the difference between city and country time it was possible for him to get one of the big Toronto churches at 10 o’clock country time, before the farmer was ready to go to church. The farmer did not want the thing in his house but the salesman explained that he merely wanted to show that for all its faults, the radio was great instrument for good.
The farmer heard choirs lifting their mighty voices, organs resounding, deep voices intoning prayer that filled the farm house. He was deeply impressed. He was sorry he had to leave for church just as the radio minister got nicely launched into the sermon.
Front Rooms Opening Up
“Besides church,” said the salesman, “you can get the prime minister of Canada, the president of the United States, and yes, the King of England himself, discussing public questions.”
“And,” said our informant, “one month later, you could go by that farmhouse at any hour of the night, and you could hear all the jazz bands in the world lifting the roof of it!”
You know that front room in farm houses? The one immediately behind that front door that never opens? That room in used for funerals, weddings and nothing else.
But not always, since radio.
Because those who bought radios in the pre-shiver days, bought those large console or cabinet style, and naturally you could not clutter up a farm kitchen with a great big elegant piece of furniture like that. So was put either just beyond the kitchen door, or right in that parlor.
And now many farm parlors of Ontario are back in circulation again.
We saw radios on shelves, on top of sewing machines, on ice boxes, radios in chairs, on cream separators in comers, on the floor.
But the kitchen wins out by a big majority as the favorite position.
“I hope the radio commission will give us country people a set program of farm market reports,” said one.
“I wish they would give us a news broadcast at 10 o’clock at night,” said another. “Eleven is too late for farmers to stay up.”
But the great majority had no suggestions to make.
They like the same things the New York broker in his love nest likes, the same joker who jokes for Broadway gets across with the little house hidden down the narrow ways
Their speech is coming easier, since they hear so much of it in their once quiet houses all day long.
What the greatest cities have of laughter, of wisdom, of art and science they are spilling out into the sky, to fall like the rain on the bourgeoning earth.
And, like rain, like sunlight, it is making things grow in the country.
“Snake Hips”, was a type of dance.
“Tony Wons Scrapbook“, was a popular program as Anthony “Tony” Wons was also known as “scrapbookman” as he collected works of writing from Shelley, Whitman, and other great writers. The show was conversational in nature, like an old friend who stops by for a chat. He often asked the listening audience “Are you listening?”
Eddie Cantor was a popular singer and comedian.