Opening a Whole New World: A History of Broadcasting in Iowa

Produced by
The Communication Arts Department
Wartburg College


Supported by:

Humanities Iowa
The National Endowment for the Humanities
The Iowa Broadcasters Association
Wartburg College


A whole new world opened up -- first through our ears on radio and then before our eyes on television.

The birth and growth of electronic communication -- perhaps the most significant dimension of the revolutionary change which has swept over human experience in the 20th century and now is propelling us into the 21st. Using radio waves to bring information and entertainment into our homes has produced results that have ranged from corrupting to inspiring -- but it has changed just about everything.

Iowans were in the forefront of both the tinkering and invention which produced the technology of radio and television -- and in development of the programming which was the life-changing dimension of the electronic communication revolution.

This is a story about Iowa's role in Opening A Whole New World that we had never known before, through radio and television -- a glimpse into the history of broadcasting in Iowa.

The Earliest Beginnings

Today, there are 241 radio stations, 28 television stations and hundreds of cable systems operating in Iowa. The TV is on an average of 7 hours a day in our homes and radio listening averages about 3 hours a day. These instruments of electronic mass communication which so dominate our lives had their beginnings in the last quarter of the 19th century as Flemming, Hertz and Marconi learned there are radio waves in the atmosphere that can act as a carrier of electrical energy.

Putting the sounds of the human voice on those carrier waves through crude transmission devices followed soon after the turn of the century. And a fully-developed technical system for using them to transmit both sound and pictures was in place when America entered World War II. Radio came fully into its own as an entertainment medium in the 1930's, and as an information medium in the next decade, as the first broadcast journalists brought the story of World War II into our homes, as it was happening.

When the war ended, the tidal wave of television was unleashed and rolled over our lives with astonishing speed and incredible impact.