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From Communism to Anti-Communism

 | 
Andre Liebich
, 
Svetlana Yakimovich

Soviet Life in 1931

Listening to the Radio, Volga Region

Hiroaki Kuromiya

Texte intégral

The back of the document reads in Russian: “РАДИО – ЛУЧШИЙ ПРОВОДНИК КУЛЬТУРЫ В ДЕРЕВНЕ. Радиослушание в дер. Сухой отрог Вольского р-на Н.Волга. /сн.Прехнера/ Март 31г. МС.” [Purple stamp] “UNIONBILD G.m.b.H. (…)” – [“RADIO IS THE BEST GUIDE OF CULTURE IN THE VILLAGE”. Listening to the radio in the village Sukhoy Otrog, Volsky district on the lower Volga”]. Black and white photograph; 16 x 22.5 cm.

1Radio communication was invented at the end of the 19th century. Although the Italian physicist Guglielmo Marconi is usually credited with its invention, for which he was awarded a Nobel prize in physics in 1909, Russia, whether Soviet or non-Soviet, claims that one of its physicists Aleksandr Stepanovich Popov was the real inventor preceding Marconi. He has received Western recognition of sorts in seeing that the main auditorium of the International Telecommunications Union headquarters in Geneva has recently been named after him.

2Whoever the inventor of the radio, in a vast country like Russia and the Soviet Union where communication was always very difficult, a wireless transmission of sound promised to improve communication greatly. The Bolshevik government did not fail to take note of its political utility as a propaganda tool. It had military significance as well. In fact, Popov is said to have been prohibited from publishing his invention by imperial Russia’s military authorities. In a country where literacy was still very limited (in 1917 more than half of the adult population in the Russian Empire were illiterate), visual and aural communication was indispensable: films, posters, radio proved to be the most useful. While films and posters needed some time to be produced, radio communication was simpler and quicker.

3The transmission of human voices over the air waves first took place in Bolshevik Russia in 1919, two years after the October Revolution. Although music was also an important part of radio programs, political information and agitation became the core of Soviet broadcasts. From the early 1920s “radio points” began to be created in the country where radio programs were broadcast over loud-speakers, even in far-away hamlets, and people gathered and listened to them.

4This photograph shows such a point in a village in the Lower Volga region of Russia in 1931. Entitled “Radio is the best guide of culture in the village” the photo shows a broad cross-section of listeners, from a mother with an infant to an older man in a typical peasant shirt and an adolescent. It is likely that the smiles on the faces of the young boy and a woman are not due to the content of the broadcast but rather to the thrill of being photographed as those whose face is turned away from the camera appear to be listening intently. The scene illustrates neatly how educational and propaganda themes blended seamlessly. The culture that was diffused by radio was, obviously, Soviet culture where raising the level of political and cultural consciousness was part and parcel of the Bolshevik experiment.

Bibliographie

Steven Lovell, Russia in the Microphone Age: A History of Soviet Radio, 1919–1970, London: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Table des illustrations

Légende The back of the document reads in Russian: “РАДИО – ЛУЧШИЙ ПРОВОДНИК КУЛЬТУРЫ В ДЕРЕВНЕ. Радиослушание в дер. Сухой отрог Вольского р-на Н.Волга. /сн.Прехнера/ Март 31г. МС.” [Purple stamp] “UNIONBILD G.m.b.H. (…)” – [“RADIO IS THE BEST GUIDE OF CULTURE IN THE VILLAGE”. Listening to the radio in the village Sukhoy Otrog, Volsky district on the lower Volga”]. Black and white photograph; 16 x 22.5 cm.
URL http://books.openedition.org/iheid/docannexe/image/6631/img-1.jpg
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