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Neighboring on the Air: Cooking With the KMA Radio Homemakers (Shenandoah, Iowa) Paperback – June 1, 1991
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From Publishers Weekly
Much of this nostalgic and occasionally saccharine account of 65 years of broadcasting in Shenandoah, Iowa, will entertain only KMA listeners, particularly those old enough to remember most of the "homemakers" profiled here. However, elements of the narrative by Birkby ( The Festival Cookie Book ), who herself became a "radio homemaker" in 1950, may interest those exploring popular culture or women's history. Birkby easily falls in with KMA's euphemistic lingo, terming the broadcasting work of these women "daily visits" to their "radio friends." They would discuss their families and the details of their daily lives as well as offer suggestions for "making the home a more pleasant, worthwhile place to live." Birkby notes that fans would follow the doings of favorite homemakers for years, tuning in each day the same way they'd listen to episodes of radio soap operas. Of course recipes figured prominently, and many are reproduced here, lackluster dishes like cheese lima bean casserole, pork chop corn bake, sauerbraten with gingersnap gravy, and cherry loaf cake ("a Bachelor's Delight"). Illustrated.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"If there is an poet laureate of radio homemaking, it is Evelyn."—Jane and Michael Stern in the New Yorker
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I occasionally come across a book covering something about which I know nothing. Other than hearing of Mary Margaret McBride's show during the Depression, I knew nothing of these local radio pioneers, sending news, advice and recipes to small towns and rural areas alike. Radio is still the most democratic of our media, accessible to anyone for pennies, and still a vital force in many third-world countries. We used to have radio that encompassed far more than just news and talk-radio; people expected more from the radio back then, and they got it.
The book is broken up into chapters covering the careers and recipes of women broadcasting from KMA radio in Iowa. There is no doubt that the part of a farm housewife could be lonely, and these radio programs would have provided good company. We have no true equivalent today; these broadcasters usually knew their audience personally, and vice versa. Into the sixties, these women broadcast their programs from their own homes, often from the kitchen, where they'd make recipes while giving them out over the air. Most of these women had an 'open door' policy where any listener coming through town could stop by their home and have refreshments without notice! Who would, or could, do that nowadays?
The recipes are excellent. I've made a dozen of them and all have worked well. My favorite so far is Jo Freed's carrot cake; unlike many, it's subtle with the spices and makes a large, juicy sheet cake.
Truly, though, it's the stories of the women working as 'radio homemakers' that makes the book. Most of these women were working because they had to, and mainstream broadcasting was still unheard of for women. Therefore, these women made successful careers appealing to women.
The author was herself a well-known broadcaster and brings personal knowledge of the other radio pioneers to add texture and substance to the book. It is beautifully written in a straightforward and informal style.
I appreciate the author documenting a small, but important, part of American history before all the radio homemakers are gone. Her book is valuable and engaging reading, even without the excellent recipes.
This book assembles recipes and life stories with equal ease. The careful stories are of the various women who had shows on the radio, the topics they explored on-air (mostly homey ones of interest to Iowa farm wives), and their effect on their listening community.
The photographs are poignant and wonderful. The recipes are mostly high-fat, high-calorie dishes that should probably be eaten in moderation. They are perfect for any one who longs for typical old-fashioned midwestern American food: meat and more meat, potatoes, hearty casseroles, vegetables cooked in old-fashioned ways, cheese balls and dips, cakes, pies, cookies, and candy. Some did not sound like anything one might like to try - "Chipped Dried Beef Deluxe," "Six-layer Washday Dinner" and (to this reader) improbable party foods such as "Crockpot Chili Dip." Some are downright disturbing to read, such as "Chipped Beef Chicken," which combines creamed cheese, chicken, bacon, and beef. Heart attack!
The main thing, though, is the size and the goodness of the personalities profiled here, along with the picture of a mostly vanished world. It's really not about replicating the food. A very worthwhile read about a group of interesting and truly nice people.