Jewish radio had maintained a heavy presence in Detroit but now radio entrepreneurs are pioneering the next age of radio.
Grace Turner’s article about the King David Network in the Nov. 14 issue of the JN was very interesting. Launched a year ago by Dovid Nissan Roetter and broadcast from a studio based in Southfield, the network’s mission is to use “Jewish teachings to spread positivity.”
It is also interesting that his network is an online network, not traditional programming beamed by an over-the-air radio station. It is not unique in 2019, but it is part of today’s digital world. Thinking about the evolution in broadcast media, I went back into the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History to see what I could find on Jewish radio.
I first searched using the term, “Radio Shows,” hoping to find evidence of the first Jewish radio programming in Detroit. However, this search located pages from the Detroit Jewish Chronicle that were either advertisements for sales of radios or dealer shows for radios. The first advertisement for such a “radio show” was in the Jan. 11, 1924, issue of the Chronicle.
You can find some reports about radio in the Chronicle beginning in 1916, but these largely referred to military usage of radio. By 1920-21, you can begin to see advertisements for the sales of radios although radio programming was still sparse. The first radio news program in Detroit aired Aug. 31, 1920, by a Detroit News-owned station that became WJR AM.
The first report of a radio program featuring a Jewish Detroiter was in the April 21, 1922, issue of the Chronicle. Mrs. Max N. Freedman (Lillian Shimberg), a concert pianist and native Detroiter, appeared “before the microphone” on WWJ Radio.
Since then, there have been a lot of Jewish radio shows in Detroit. In 1930, Yiddish was heard on the radio for the first time. The program presented by Max Blatt lasted only six months. It was soon replaced by Hyman Altman’s long-running show on WJLB: an hour of Yiddish programming every Sunday at noon. In the 1940s, there was the “Yiddish Swing” show on WJLB and, in 1949, you could tune into the Chronicle Hour, the newspaper’s own show on WJLB.
The 1930s and the 1940s were the heyday of radio. Nearly 80 percent of American families had at least one radio and listened to programming every week. After WWII, its media dominance began to erode with the growth of television.
And now, in the digital age, radio entrepreneurs like Dovid Roetter are pioneering the next age of radio. By the way, another form of media has also stood the test of time: the Detroit Jewish News.
Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.