Friday, February 26, 2010

Birds of the Radio Nature League

Starting in the fall of 1924, Thornton Burgess hosted a weekly radio program on WBZ (based in Springfield at the time). He would call it "The Radio Nature League." Instead of writing 15-30 minutes of original material each week, Burgess called on members of his league to contribute questions and experiences about wild life which could be incorporated into his show. Soon, as the show gained traction, he would invite real naturalists as speakers. I am planning to write much more about the Radio Nature League in future posts.

For now, though, I wanted to concentrate on the role of birds in the program. During his first year of broadcasting, after the first stage of soliciting club members, Burgess introduced a new class of membership. League members who pledged to feed birds during the winter received a "silver star." He would go on to create other categories as well: League members who built birdhouses in the spring received a "red star" and League members who (following the model of the Green Meadow Club) created or helped to create bird sanctuaries received a "gold star."

Why was "feed the birds" the first action? I think Burgess truly believed that song birds benefited from being fed during the winter (a somewhat more dubious idea these days). On the other hand, I think this was a persuasion strategy. Burgess understood that feeding birds was a simple but powerful way to bring humans and wild life together--an act of kindness on the part of humans that would be gratefully appreciated by birds, in bring them into closer contact. It might also stimulate curiosity about the bird visitors, which would lead to more correspondence and identification with the League.

In fact, when Burgess would briefly come out of radio retirement in the late 1930s to do a program for the Springfield ASPCA, he would begin in classic form, this time soliciting members by making them pledge to feed the birds.

Next: Bedtime Stories prehistory: Friends in feather and fur

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