Friday, April 2, 2010

Burgess Radio Nature League


A September 18, 1925 ad for the Milwaukee Journal announces a newly expanded Sunday "Boys' and Girls' Magazine." In addition to "Seckatary Hawkins" and "Through the Gates of Fairyland," the magazine offers "a brand new department by Thornton W. Burgess--'The Burgess Radio Nature League!'"

Google News Archives has it. Dated September 20, it is the first instance of the column I know. It fills nearly a whole magazine page, leading with the mission of the RNL, includes a longish essay on lizards and newts, a shorter piece on birds that fight their own reflection (based on the experience of a correspondent), and a section titled, "Naturalist's Question Box" in which Burgess answers a wide variety of correspondents' questions. There are two illustrations, of robins and kingfishers. The text is taken, with minor editing, almost entirely from Radio Nature League radio scripts.

The Burgess Radio Nature League column ran from September 1925 into 1931. (The last manuscript in the HGARC at BU is dated March 22 and is numbered #289.) Syndicated throughout the country, it functioned both to publicize the radio program (in midwestern cities like Milwaukee or Sioux City, Iowa, where the column ran, it was theoretically possible in 1925 to receive WBZ at night) and to put Burgess's hard work in writing and editing content to remunerative purposes. [This is actually an open question. Burgess claimed repeatedly that he wasn't compensated for his radio work; surely, however, he didn't offer the BRNL column for free].

The "Burgess Radio Nature League" title was not universally used. The Deseret News, for example, used "Burgess Stories of Wild Life" (in Utah, reception of WBZ was probably not even theoretically possible); the Deseret News also ran it on Saturdays, not Sundays. The Winnipeg Free Press called it "Burgess Nature League Talks." Even the Milwaukee Journal preferred a headline based on the column's content to the "Burgess Radio Nature League" heading. Soon, the column would have a distinctive style, enclosing photographs of wildlife subjects (sometimes by Burgess himself) in circles and rectangles. See the 1926 layout below for a taste.

Surprisingly, Burgess didn't seem to use the column as a way of increasing RNL membership across the nation--there is no address to which readers can send membership cards. On the other hand, Burgess did offer to answer readers' questions ("so far as it is possible") care of the newspaper running the column.

For our purposes, the newspaper column provides access to Radio Nature League content that is otherwise only available by slowly perusing deteriorating carbon copies in an archive. To be clear: the column and the program were not identical. Burgess would carefully select material, sometimes from several different programs, to fill the needs of the column. Nevertheless, Burgess's overall attitude about environmental issues as expressed in the program can be found in the columns, as well as details about many conservation-oriented RNL initiatives.

Google News Archives provides access to more Burgess Radio Nature League columns than the first, but some are not indexed because of the orientation of the magazine section (you'll have to read them sideways). Many are indexed under the wrong date. I've provided links below to the columns available from 1925. (The Milwaukee Journal would drop the feature by 1927.)

Sept 27, 1925 (this is a link to a paragraph on the same page--just zoom out to see the BRNL)
Oct 4, 1925
Oct 11, 1925
Oct 18, 1925 (again, a link to a sideways paragraph. Zoom out, and scroll to left)
Oct 25, 1925 (no direct link--link goes to first page. Go to page 54--sideways paragraph. This is an important one--it contains content from the very first Bedtime Story Radio Talk.)
Nov 1, 1925 (sideways paragraph)
Nov 8, 1925 (sideways paragraph--zoom out)
Nov 15, 1925
Nov 22, 1925
Nov 29, 1925
Dec 6, 1925
Dec 13, 1925
Dec 20, 1925

Next: Radio Nature League (1926 January-March)

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