Dr. Gabriele Balbi, a Swiss scholar, visited St. Lawrence University campus on September 27th, 2011. Dr. Balbi is a lecturer in “History and Theory of Communication” at the Institute of Media and Journalism, University of Lugano (Switzerland). He is currently a visiting scholar at Columbia University.
Dr. Balbi gave a lecture on the 27th entitled; Media History Matters!: Araldo Telefonico as an ‘Early Radio’. The topic of his speech was quite intriguing. Dr. Balbi spoke about the development of the telephone and how its uses have changed significantly over time. Dr. Balbi continued on to relate these changes in the telephone to the progressive advancement throughout media history.
During its years of infancy, the telephone was a point-to-point medium of communication; however, it would soon develop into something much larger. In the early stages of the telephone, many people from every walk of life used it in completely different ways, each using it for their own progression within their occupation or task. Some who made use of these early aged telephones were; doctors, who used it to detect the presence of metal within a wound, such as a bullet within a soldier’s leg, fisherman in order to find fish within their range, and vintners (winemakers) used the telephone to know if their wine was of good quality. While all of these bits of information are very fascinating and seem quite odd; these were simply some interesting facts that Dr. Balbi “threw in” however the main focus of his lecture was yet to come.
Between the end of the nineteenth century and the first 20 years of the twentieth, the telephone was used in two ways; it was used either as a point-to-point source, or as a one-to-many medium. These two uses occurred within France, the United Kingdom, Hungary, the United States of America, and Italy. The circular telephone was first founded in 1881, in France, and would be widely used in the world by the early 20th century. The circular phone allowed for the broadcasting of the radio, which became a very important development. From that point the telephone developed into a point-to-many mediums system, allowing for one point to connect to many different users at one time. The phone would ring in a different tone for each different program; this allowed the user to know when a broadcast they like was playing. During this time when the “phone radio” was being developed the “actual” radio had already been developed and was present in many households. However, many homeowners actually preferred the telephone for radio usage than the radio itself.
You may be curious as to why the telephone was much more popular than the radio. Well, the radio in the early 1900s was quite large, heavy, bulky and therefore relatively non-portable unless the homeowner enjoyed throwing his back out on a regular basis. Not only was portability a factor, but the telephone also delivered a much clearer broadcast than that of the radio because it used a wire rather than wireless transmitter for the broadcasting of its channels. During this time period, the telephone companies also had the rights to opera and theater shows. This was possibly the first time in history that the rights of a certain show would be sold to a specific medium. Due to this new medium, people began to dress up within their homes as if they were going for a night out in public. People did not know which was the proper way to dress now that they had an outside source of entertainment within the sanctity of their own homes. This caused people to dress up in order to listen to the radio in their living rooms.
Think about what we can do with our cell phones today. Are we as a society reverting back to the concepts behind the circular phone? We can now listen to music, watch movies and television shows, and even get the most up to date news on our phones. Today we have a slightly more advanced version of the circular phone, that much is clear. So we must ask, are we really changing in our technological media development or are we simply looking back through our past media history and using their past ideas?