Thursday, April 8, 2010

Radio Nature League (1927 May to December)

Note: On June 9, TWB was invited to talk as part of the opening ceremonies for WBZA studios at the Hotel Statler in Boston. In a speech, Burgess highlighted the role of radio as an educational force and a medium which allows "intimate contact" with the home. TWB was absent on June 15, June 22 and June 29 (he was in Nova Scotia; A.E. Bach substituted ). On August 31, the show would break for six weeks while TWB and his family visited Panama. It resumed on November 2. There doesn't appear to have been a meeting on December 14.

May to December, 1927
Items of note:
  • In May Thornton Burgess solicited from listeners over $1000 in donations to the Red Cross for flood victims in Arkansas and Louisiana. This wouldn't be the last time he'd use the Radio Nature League for the "conservation of human life."
  • The program on June 1 featured another "Bird Hike" with Edward Avis. Avis was given some time to talk about and demonstrate British birds. (Avis's British bird work can be heard here).
  • On November 2, the entire program was devoted to Burgess's experiences during his Panama trip. He narrated a typical tour (sans sound effects) through the jungle.
  • Philip Hansling Jr spoke on trees (November 23). He was the only guest speaker this period.
Open hunting season on white-tailed deer in Massachusetts began on the first week in December. Burgess deplored the way the state conducted the season and would use the Radio Nature League as a forum to express his discontent (in future years he would call it "The Annual Slaughter of Innocents" and the "Orgy of Killers."). It also provided him with the opportunity to draw a line between mere hunters and true "sportsmen." On December 7 (his comments were also published in the Burgess Radio Nature League column on January 8) he offered a definition. A sportsmen, he argued, is a man who
respects the laws governing hunting and fishing and lives up to the spirit of them as well as the letter of them. But more than this, he is a man who finds his pleasure in the pursuit rather than the kill, to whom a kill is in reality incidental--the reward for his skill. He is the man who refuses to take unfair advantage of his quarry. He is the man who, when a species is becoming scarce, refuses to go out and hunt just because the law says that he may....Of true sportsmen we have but a few. Of killers--why the woods are full of them.
As one might expect, Burgess was inundated with correspondence for and against this position and this sportsman vs. killer rhetoric would continue every December when the deer season began. Some of Burgess's modest suggestions for reform (only bucks should be taken; there should be a ban on automatic weapons) were eventually adopted, though not during the tenure of the Radio Nature League.

Next: Radio Nature League 1928


  1. Dear all,

    I am the Director of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama and would like to discover more about TWB's visit to Panama, and particularly any information available regarding his visit to the Canal Zone Biological Area (CZBA) on Barro Colorado Island (BCI) in Gatun Lake, Panama Canal. BCI is now part of the Barro Colorado Nature Monument and STRI serves as the custodian of the Nature Monument and BCI. STRI, including BCI, is celebrating 100 years of Smithsonian science in Panama this year, commemorating the 1910-1912 Smithsonian expeditions to Panama and our 88 years on continuous tropical research on BCI. I recently gave a public lecture in Sun Valley and TWB's granddaughter was in the audience and informed me that TWB had spent time on BCI. I would love to discover more about his visit. Thank you, Eldredge Bermingham

    Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

  2. Frances Meigs (Burgess's grand-daughter) writes about the visit to Panama in her biography. (Meigs, unfortunately, passed away in December).

    According to Meigs, Burgess was funded by the National Research Council in Washington, and accompanied by his wife and two grandchildren (Robert and Frances). Alfred O. Gross, who made regular visits to Panama for ornithological research, brought his wife and three children.

    Only Burgess, Gross, and Gross's son, Bill (14) made the journey to the Tropical Research Institute (the rest remainded at a hotel in Balboa). They would be there for three weeks.

    Meigs also provides an excerpt from the RNL travelogue, focusing on the 199 steps up to the Institute, and his sightings of a metallic blue butterfly and a pair of black and white hawks. She also includes a photo of Burgess, Gross, and son in their tropical research outfits.

    Citation: Meigs, Frances B. (1998). My Grandfather, Thornton W. Burgess: An intimate portrait. Commonwealth Editions.