EDITOR'S NOTE: This piece was previously published at Richland Source in 2013.
Let's reconsider our Richland County pioneers from 1813, in contrast to the media that made its advent during the 1920s.
The forested world in which the settlers lived offered them a quiet environment that we can no longer conceive of in our time. Aside from the wind in the trees and birdsong echoing across the landscape, they had no ambient noise to fill the world with background as we do today.
In fact, in September of 1813 when the Battle of Lake Erie was raging 75 miles north of Mansfield, there were settlers in Richland County who could actually hear the cannon fire. The canopy of forest was unbroken from here, clear to the lake, allowing the percussive war noises to resound easily throughout the intervening biosphere.
Imagine how miraculous it would seem to pioneers to hear the sounds of studio orchestras, broadcast news and the laughter of studio audiences coming from the kitchen of a farmhouse in the lives of their great-great grandchildren.
The Breakthrough of Broadcasting
By the 1920s-30s, news and entertainment content, previously constrained to print in newspaper columns for hundreds of years, suddenly bounded off the two-dimensional page into the multi-dimensional reality of radio and the nearly-supernatural illusion of motion pictures.
By 1926 there was a local radio station broadcasting from the square in Mansfield from the top of the Southern Hotel. In 1929, when the Richland Trust Building went up nine stories into the sky, WJW moved its operations up there to broadcast from 'the top of the world.'
The new facilities gave WJW the capacity to host live bands and studio interviews just like any big-city market, and the much taller radio tower allowed it to be heard as far away as Pittsburgh.
The 1920s also brought live sports broadcasts to Richland County, pioneered by a man whose name is still prominent today -- attached to our local sports venue: Arlin Field.
Harold Arlin had a distinctive radio personality that earned him recognition in the U.S. and Europe as the "Voice of America." Though his radio career launched in Pittsburgh, it was through the Westinghouse Company so his subsequent life was spent in the Mansfield Westinghouse; and after a life of community involvement, the city was proud to name its stadium in his honor in 1947.
In the late 1930s a new radio station, WMAN, adopted responsibility to provide the county with music, talk and sports coverage for the rest of the 20th century and beyond. The broadcasts originated for many years from studios above the Ohio Theater, known today as The Renaissance Theatre.
The News Reel
The Ohio Theater gave birth to another new source of local news in the 30s -- through the creative genius of Harry DeLaney. He was a projectionist at the movie house for 50 years and also an amateur filmmaker.
Before every feature film, he showed news reels of national and world events. In addition, he felt that local events deserved equal time, so he set out with his 16mm camera to capture a record of the times on film.
Using film to present a story added yet another dimension to news gathering that became more increasingly prevalent throughout the country as decades progressed. Ultimately, news left the theaters in the 1950s and moved into the family home -- in the form of a television, and again the industry was transformed.
TVs in Richland County were mostly tuned to Cleveland or Columbus affiliates of national broadcasting systems. There were only three stations to choose from … none of which were interested in talking about Richland County.
We did make it onto all the national affiliates newscasts coast to coast, however, in 1978 when a trucker and his big rig were buried in a 30-foot snow drift here for six days.
Truly local television programming came around in the 1970s with station WFCO (Fun Center of Ohio) and then WMFD.
Then, in the next generation of television viewers, when the TV dial turned into a TV remote with cable exploding on the scene, all of those buttons indicated the hundreds of new stations that became available on the little home screen. In the generation to follow, as the TV screen evolved into the computer screen, and the remote metamorphosed into a keypad and mouse, the source of news -- whether local or global -- made a radical leap in number of choices.
The quantum leap in media communications that has taken place during the latest generation of our time has proven a synthesis of all the media that has gone before.
When all we had were newspapers, the stories were told in words alone. When printing technology improved, there were pictures illustrating the words.
When radio came along, there was audio and films added motion to the pictures.
With television all of these technologies moved into the family living room. Today, via the Internet, with the use of whatever device you are looking at now, you have the words, the pictures, the audio and the movies in your hands all at once.