World War I, one of the deadliest conflicts in recorded history, and the harbinger of modernization in many aspects of life as we live it today, began on this day 1914 – exactly 100 years ago.
Although this war sometimes get’s overshadowed in the anneals of history as simply a precursor to World War II, and in many ways it was, here in Canada ‘The Great War’ is viewed as our unofficial break from our old English ‘Dominion’ status and the beginning of us, as Canadians, dictating how our country is run, and not looking to the King or Queen for answers.
In many similar ways the United States came into their own as well. By breaking their long held belief that “Europe should settle their own affairs” they became a much larger player on the world political stage, not only by strength of arms, but also in economic output and financial backing.
One aspect that is always overlooked, and is ultimately the focus of this piece, is the music of World War I. The ability to record and listen to music on a mass scale was still in it’s infancy. In fact, Thomas Edison had only invented the electric phonograph less than 30 years before. Most music was still performed in small parlors to groups of friends, or alternatively, via piano rolls. Even radio was still in it’s humble beginnings – a mere two years before the outbreak of war Major Edwin F. Armstrong had issued his patent for a regenerative circuit, which made radio reception practical. Billboard and Neilsson, nor any equivalent, were around tracking plays or popularity. The mass media age had literally not yet begun.
Ultimately it was the war, and the technological advances made during the 4 year conflict, that forced companies like The Victor Talking Machine company to focus on research and development for war-time use and then immediately translate those war machines into civilian products.
Advances and inventions in audio recording and playback made during WWI include:
– The superheterodyne reciever, used in virtually all radio recievers
– The Society of Motion Picture Engineers (SMPE) is formed
– The Scully disk recording lathe invented, making magnetic recording (tape) possible
– Bell Telephone Laboratories invents the condenser microphone
– The Radio Corporation of America (RCA) is founded
…and a mere 3 years after the conclusion of the war, in 1921 the first commercial AM radio broadcast is made by KDKA, in Pittsburgh PA.
Although these were years of horrendous tragedy and bloodshed, some of the most important advances of modern audio engineering happened in these 4 short years during World War I.
So, lest we forget, let’s have a listen to some of the renditions of the hits from that day.
This is apparently the first ever hit protest song
Here’s a WWI tune revised in 1939 for WWII by the Andrews Sisters