In A Tower in Babel, media historian Erik Barnouw describes the invention of bleeping at the dawn of the radio age. Or proto-bleeping, I should say, since the earliest system didn’t produce a censorship sound, but rather provided the engineer with a switch to a nearby phonograph that could be flipped to play music in case any troublesome content should appear over the live microphone.
This innovation seems to have been prompted by the 1921 appearance on Newark’s WJZ of one Olga Petrova (born Muriel Harding in 1884), a famous vaudeville actress and singer known (and feared) for her strong views. Petrova was “a fanatic on birth control and always making speeches about it,” according to Barnouw. She was friends with Margaret Sanger, who founded the American Birth Control League, the organization that would later become Planned Parenthood.
One night in 1921, Petrova, then engaged at a Newark theater, went to the local radio station WJZ to perform. ...
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