Friday, March 31, 2023

The Importance of Telling the Stories

I never met Eunice Randall. I wish I had, because she was the first female radio announcer in Massachusetts, and one of first in the United States. She may have been on the air as far back as late 1919, but we can definitely place her on the radio throughout the early 1920s, doing everything from reading bedtime stories to the little kids, to reporting the news headlines, to playing the latest hit songs. She also repaired the equipment when it broke (which it often did), and if a guest didn't show up (all radio was live back then), she and one of her colleagues at the station would sing duets. 

Thanks to her niece, I have a few photos, some of her writings, even a rare recording of her, re-enacting the first show she ever did; she was barely 21 the first time she went on the air, and I wonder if she was nervous. I also wonder what it was like to be the first-- at a time when there were no other women doing what she did, a time with no female role models, when many men did not believe women belonged anywhere except in the home. (In fact, when Eunice first got on the air, women still didn't have the right to vote.)  

This photo is one of my favorites. It was taken at station 1XE in Medford Hillside, Massachusetts, in 1921. It was staged for the newspapers, but it wasn't too far from reality: early radio studios were far from glamorous, and you had no idea who was listening, since not everyone had a radio yet; plus, given the early technology, signals faded in and out. But anyone who did receive 1XE must have been amazed when they heard her voice. (By all accounts, including fan letters, she became very popular.) 

Eventually, Eunice left radio. She worked for one of the utility companies, making technical drawings. She kept up with ham radio, long a favorite hobby of hers. She married a fellow ham, a guy she had known for many years. After retiring, they moved up to Maine. She died in 1982. But when I was on the air, I never knew she existed; and back then, few if any media history books mentioned the pioneering women broadcasters from radio's early years. So, I never got a chance to thank her. I never got a chance to ask her what it was like being there at the beginning.

But I am glad I found out about her in the mid-1990s. Having been the first woman on the radio at my college station in 1968, I had searched for years to find out the names of the first women at other stations. Once I finally found Eunice, I searched for living relatives, and found her niece. And that's when I promised I would make sure Eunice was never forgotten again. I've kept that promise. And I championed her (posthumous) induction into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame. Her niece was there to see it.

On June 8, 2023, it will be my turn to be inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame. I am being given the Pioneer Broadcaster Award, and I'm the first woman to win it. It's partly for my long radio career; it's partly for what I did in discovering and championing the rock band Rush; but it's also partly for my many years as a media historian, researching and telling the stories of the once-famous but now often forgotten reporters, sportswriters, and broadcasters, the men and women who have contributed to our lives. 

I don't know if anyone considers me a role model. I don't know if I'll be remembered in the future. But I do know that it's humbling and gratifying to see my accomplishments validated by my peers. Many people along the way said I'd never succeed. And yet, here I am, about to join some of the folks I admire most in the Hall of Fame. And I promise to keep researching, and keep telling the stories, because there are so many more that deserve to be told. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

I'd Wager You've Heard About This

According to all the local newspapers, as well as local TV & radio, this past Friday was a BIG day. It was the day when online sports betting finally arrived in Massachusetts-- or as Associated Press reporter Steve LeBlanc referred to us, "sports-crazed Massachusetts." And evidently, the timing could not have been more perfect. "Massachusetts sports fans raced to their cellphones to begin placing bets, as the state allowed online sports wagering just days ahead of next week’s start of the NCAA basketball tournaments."

He wasn't exaggerating. According to Channel 4 in Boston, more than 400,000 fans in Massachusetts signed up for mobile sports betting accounts after the launch. And the Boston Globe reported that "over the first weekend of mobile wagering, Massachusetts bettors invested far more time placing bets than did those in similarly sized states." And the Worcester Telegram reported that "In-person betting began at the end of January, but mobile betting is expected to quickly become the dominant method of sports wagering here."

And then came the barrage of ads. Endless radio, TV, and online ads. Ads that showed excited, happy people (including many people of color), all betting on their favorite sport from the comfort of their couch. And not just betting on which team will win. Betting on outcomes within the game, like choosing a certain NFL football player and betting that he will score a touchdown, or betting that a certain NBA basketball player will score more three-pointers than he did previously. The possibilities are endless, and all the ads make it seem like so much fun. 

But the hard-sell is making me nervous. I understand the state of Massachusetts, along with the casinos, and the sports betting companies like FanDuel & DraftKings, will make lots of money from in person and online betting. And some of the fans may make a few bucks too. But let's be honest: most will not. And rather than being fun and exciting, gambling can quickly become addictive. I'm always amused when I see companies that advertise booze saying in their ad to "drink responsibly"-- okay fine, if you're a casual drinker, you probably will; but it's an addictive product, and some folks will be doing the opposite from drinking responsibly. And the more they use the product, the more the companies that provide it make a profit. Ditto for gambling-- I see the disclaimer about "if you think you have a problem, you can call this hotline for help." But few addicts will admit they have a problem. They'll just keep gambling, hoping to win back what they lost.      

I'm not trying to be a curmudgeon. But I admit I'm one of those folks who fails to see the benefit of gambling. Yes, I've bought a scratch ticket now and then, and I won $40 bucks in a slot machine in Vegas once-- but I've also seen folks who spend their entire paycheck buying scratch tickets, or who get to the slot machines and lose every cent they have. Yet, we're encouraging folks to bet online, and telling them it's safe and easy. And as much as various government officials insist that teens won't be allowed to bet, and that protections are in place to keep online betting from being abused, why do I think it won't take long before some folks (including teens) will find ways around the guardrails?

Like I said, the hard sell is making me nervous. It's also taking away from the joy and the beauty of sports. If everything is reduced to a transaction (bet on this play, bet on this outcome), how do you just relax and enjoy the game? I truly don't understand why folks can't spend some time cheering for their favorite team without turning it into a bunch of opportunities to place another bet. I'm sure there are folks who are reading this and think I'm totally wrong, so please explain to me what the benefit of online sports betting is. To me, the downside is more worrisome than any upside. But I'm willing to bet that some of you will disagree...