In 1937, a severe polio epidemic hit the U.S. Similar to today public facilities such as playgrounds schools closed, and people weren’t able to shop or attend movies. The Chicago Board of Health decided to postpone the start of school for three weeks.
This delay sparked the first large-scale “radio school” experiment where some 315,000 children in elementary school took their learning home and used the radio to get their lessons from school teachers. Seven local radio stations donated air time. September 13 marked the first day of school. Local papers printed class schedules each morning. Social studies and science classes were slated for Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays were devoted to English and math. The on-air school day began with announcements and gym. Classes were short – just 15 minutes – providing simple, broad questions and assigning homework.
Though the program ran for less than three weeks, it transformed the role of local radio in Chicago education.