Zeh Bouck and 1937 Shortwave Retailing

1937DecRadioRetailingThe avid shortwave listener (SWL) will probably dispute it, but this picture contains a certain glimmer of truth. Junior is tuning in a program on the short waves on the family’s console radio, much to the dismay of the rest of the family. The picture’s caption, in the December 1937 issue of Radio Retailing, notes that “novelty rarely wears well–We (radio retailers) have been headlining thrills…police calls, aircraft, ships at sea, distance merely as “dx” . . . so long that the public erroneously assumes that shortwaves have little lasting entertainment value.”

The accompanying article, “Is Our Short Wave Selling All Wrong?” makes a strong case that it is.  The author, writing under the pen name Zeh Bouck,  starts by saying that he was paid for listening to shortwave broadcasts, one of his jobs for the past fifteen years, and that the novelty, if it ever existed, wore off a decade earlier.  He starts by noting that retailers were selling the shortwaves as a novelty, on which listeners could hear the sounds of Big Ben, along with “aircraft! Amateur Stations! Police!”

He then proceeds to show why the novelty wears off so fast. The hams are “vaguely reminiscent of a phonograph record with a crossed groove, and of similar interest to anyone but an amateur. Police broadcasts are distinctly a novelty and hold no permanent entertainment value except for some Milquetoast who derives therefrom a vicarious satisfaction at some drunk beating up his wife in a third floor rear.”

Fortunately, Bouck goes on to explain that there might be a right way to sell shortwave. He noted programs of actual entertainment value, and recommended that retailers get their hands on program guides.

The author, Zeh Bouck, was born John W. Schmidt in 1901, and held various calls over the years, starting with 2PI, until his death in 1946. He eventually legally changed his name to Zeh Bouck. He was a prolific writer about radio, including a number of articles in Boys’ Life. You can find a good biography of him at this link.

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