Exhibit: Ed Craney—the Voice of Montana

Discussion

Ed Craney, standing portrait

Portrait of Ed Craney ca. 1940-1960

In the early days of radio, people responded to the emerging communication medium by forming radio clubs. Members who passed government wireless tests experimented with spark and coil stations, tested transmission ranges, and dabbled with early programs. These enthusiasts valued information exchange in a world minimally tied to broader outlets.

As local businesses realized the marketing potential of radio, broadcasting became more centralized. Government regulations reserved better frequencies for formally organized broadcasting radio stations supported by advertising revenue, and stations delivered timely reports and professional programs to their listeners. 

There were distinct advantages to professionalization and to the centralization of information exchange. Broadcasters could not simply rely solely on emotional rhetoric or shared bias. They structured information and programming more consistently and streamlined information for clarity and ease of dissemination, and reputation became more valuable.

Disadvantages, however, included diminished regional identity, loss of shared local memory, and-most detrimentally-a limited ability to affect change through the simple exchange of evidence.

Early telecommunication professionals with regional investment, such as Ed Craney, understood these realities and took steps to minimize their impacts. Local programs, news reports, and state government broadcasts shared the airwaves with syndicated shows. Craney's local connections tethered him to the values, concerns, and interests of his fellow Montanans even as he advocated for their access to national and international news.

In 2015, the Greate Montana Foundation studied the methods and mediums Montanans use to seek and receive news. The study revealed that Montanans continue to "[rely] on traditional television, radio, and newspaper sources," including the web presence these organizations support for reliable news. While Montanans receive news through social media this type of exchange often introduces information which many Montanans find circumspect.

As a historical society, we look to the past for models that shape our values and concerns. In an era of questionable source credibility and shifting information literacy, it is helpful to rely on models of information exchange developed by previous generations. We can consider the world and issues faced by earlier generations, reflect on the choices they made, and ask critical questions about the information we receive.