9XM talking: WHA radio and the Wisconsin idea.

Author:Stavitsky, Alan G.
Position:Book review

Davidson, R. (2006). 9XM talking: WHA radio and the Wisconsin idea. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. 405 pages.

As an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin in the 1970s, I walked to class every morning past a historical marker recognizing "9XM-WHA: The Oldest Station in the Nation." Although the UW station's significance has been duly noted in summary to generations of broadcasting students, doubtless including most Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media readers, in survey texts and scholarly articles, Randall Davidson's book provides rich detail about the landmark educational station, much of it previously untold.

Full disclosure: in addition to earning a bachelor's degree from Wisconsin, I worked in Madison radio in a past incarnation, wrote my doctoral dissertation at Ohio State in large part about WHA, and was a regular listener when I lived in the Badger State. So I eat this stuff up. Admittedly, the average reader may not share my fascination for some of the minutiae in Davidson's exhaustive recounting. But therein lies its value. For example, his treatment of WHA's unsuccessful attempts to gain nighttime broadcasting authorization from the FCC during the 1930s illuminates vividly the way federal communication policy has traditionally disenfranchised noncommercial radio and television.

9XM Talking, a reference to the then-experimental station's on-air ID, adds to the received history of WHA in three important ways. First, it highlights the critical role that the station's founder, UW physics professor Earle Terry, played in keeping WHA alive in its tenuous early years. Second, Davidson elaborates the neglected...

To continue reading