Radio Housewives Remembered
July 21, 2021 11:14 AM   Subscribe

KMA’s radio housewives "filled the rural [Iowa] airwaves from the 1920s to the 1980s, with recipes, gardening advice, and friendship...They were the early mom influencers. They created a sacred space, a gentle gathering of women’s voices, which had no place in major media outlets. Here, they could be themselves: just women talking to lonely women over the airwaves." Lyz Lenz's Men Yell at Me newsletter considers wives, whiteness, and the construction of midwestern identity: When Women Filled the Air.

Listen: Evelyn Birkby Kitchen Klatter Show, December 31, 1985, one item in the Evelyn Birkby Collection (Iowa Women's Archives at the University of Iowa Libraries).

Evelyn Birkby canning on her stove, Shenandoah, Iowa, 1950s.

Four recipes from Neighboring on the Air, and three recipes from the Up a Country Lane Cookbook.
posted by MonkeyToes (7 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
Oh, I love that. I just finished reading "Susan, LInda, Nina & Cokie" about NPR's founding mothers, but all through the book I kept thinking about how those women were on the air because they came from so much wealth and connection. This alternate story (sort of alternate-- still very white) was a nice accompaniment.

And having done my time as a very, very lonely mom, I doubly loved imagining the connection created.
posted by DollyIvins at 1:47 PM on July 21 [3 favorites]


I first heard of the KMA housewife hosts in an NPR piece some years ago, which framed them as the ur-podcast. (As it happened, I first learned what a podcast even was when a radio show -- a standard, terrestrial, local radio show -- first started releasing its episodes as podcasts god knows how many years ago now.)

This writeup, especially at the end but also in the descriptions of how the hosts interacted with their listeners IRL, really underlines the similarities to me. The idea of a broadcast medium filling a deep social need with a parasocial type of relationship is probably as old as the idea of a broadcast medium, but somehow it seems especially strong and poignant in audio.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:59 PM on July 21 [1 favorite]


(I think it was MeFi's own Jesse Thorn who posited that this connection comes from having the hosts' voices literally in your head, via earbuds. But I think it might be because you listen to a podcast the same way you typically listen to your own family and friends--while you're going about your everyday tasks, sometimes engaged, sometimes a bit distracted, sometimes asking them to repeat themselves. It mimics very much the sensory experience of being kept company.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:06 PM on July 21 [4 favorites]


Was it this? Food Podcasts 1.0: These Radio Pioneers Had It Down 90 Years Ago: "Today, we've replaced the telephone with earbuds. With their sometimes informal presentation and direct connection to the host, Janik says, "I see podcasts drawing a direct line back to these homemaking programs.""

Now that's an interesting connection (though I doubt that my favorite podcast hosts would appreciate fans dropping by for a bite to eat, as happened to Birkby & co.)--and "a broadcast medium filling a deep social need with a parasocial type of relationship" is a great way to put it.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:27 PM on July 21


Was there a similar radio program in The Egg and I? Turns out there’s been a radio drama of the book, I’m having no luck searching for mentions in the book.
posted by clew at 5:23 PM on July 21 [2 favorites]


I think this kind of radio show, hosted by Neighbor Dorothy, features in some of Fannie Flagg’s novels, including Welcome to the World, Baby Girl.
posted by elphaba at 8:28 PM on July 21 [1 favorite]


There were so many lonely women on the farms in Iowa. Every day the men would leave and the wives would be left in their homes with their cooking and cleaning and gardening and children, and nothing but the radio for company. Evelyn Birkby, an author and radio broadcaster who died this year at 101, told me in 2017 that living on a farm with small children was the loneliest period in her life.
My Grandma was one of these lonely, isolated farm wives. She never quite got over the death of her oldest daughter from a mysterious fever while Grandpa was away from home with the only vehicle, and the nearest neighbor with a telephone was so far away that by the time one of her preschool-aged sons walked there to try to call the doctor it was too late. The day after Grandpa left for the war, she got someone to take her and the surviving kids into town, where she got herself a job and an apartment. Even after Grandpa got home, she would only agree to move back out of town if they had a telephone in the house and she had her own car (which she kept working to pay for).

As much of an introvert as I am, it’s a life I don’t think I could have taken. Radio must have been such a blessing.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:13 PM on July 22 [2 favorites]


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