- Radio in Revolution: Wireless Technology and State Power in Mexico, 1897–1938 by J. Justin Castro
Radio. Mexico. Revolution. Whatever ideas you may have about these topics, you will gain a deeper understanding of their role in history after reading Radio in Revolution. This book is not only a reminder of the power of mass media in the hands of those who wish to unite or divide a country; it is also an excellent example of the multiple ways radio can be a transformational tool during a pivotal moment in a nation's history.
This is an ambitious book. Castro not only covers two of the most widely studied eras of Mexican history—the Porfiriato, or rule by Porfirio Díaz of more than thirty years, and the Mexican Revolution of 1910–1920—but also embraces the subsequent postrevolutionary years and concludes in 1938, halfway through the presidency of Lázaro Cárdenas. The end date is fitting for a book about radio, as 1938 was the year the populist president used the airwaves to proclaim the expropriation of Mexican oil from foreign owners, and weeks later, a military leader by the name of Saturnino Cedillo used radio in an attempt to arm a rebellion against Cárdenas.
Castro's book addresses several questions that explain the relationship among radio, state control, power, and governance. These include, Can radio [End Page 188] technology be a destabilizing force? Why did the Mexican government choose to put radiotelegraph stations in the Baja California and Yucatán peninsulas during the nineteenth century? How does technology affect a nation in transition? How can technological development and political centralization take place simultaneously? As he answers these and other questions, the book affirms the state's perspective.
Radio in Revolution is a book of firsts. The reader encounters the first commercial broadcast in Mexico, May 8, 1923, by station CYL (117); the first radio address by a presidential candidate, Plutarco Elías Calles, on April 12, 1924 (135); the first broadcast of a presidential inauguration in Mexican history, in 1924 (165), also of Calles. Castro utilized a number of archives in Mexico City, beginning with the national archive, or Archivo General de la Nación, and including the archives administered by the ministries of national defense, foreign relations, and education. The book also includes interesting photographs, maps, and data from collections in the state of Yucatán as well as the United States.
The monograph begins with an introduction clarifying certain aspects about radio that are important to remember. For example, Castro explains the difference between radiotelegraphy and radio broadcasting and notes that "radio was initially a point-to-point form of communication" (8). The first chapter traces the origins of radio technology to Europe and describes that one of the reasons radio was adopted in Mexico during the Porfiriato was to gain control of Mexico's territorial fringes: the Yucatán and Baja California peninsulas. The most innovative use of archival sources appears in the second and third chapters, where Castro addresses the years of the Mexican Revolution and explains the interplay of government officials, radio, and rebellions during the decade-long conflict. It is here that one of the book's main claims, "radio was decisive to the outcome of the revolution" (4), is explained. Next, the book transitions from depicting radio as a tool in the hands of rebels and the military to a megaphone in the hands of political leaders during the first years of broadcasting history. This was a time when politicians "spread their ideals among labor and peasant groups, foreign audiences, and a growing urban middle class" (11) through the airwaves. The latter half of the book tells a thematic story of radio in Mexico during the late 1920s until 1938.
Because Castro tackles such a large span of time and includes events in Mexican history notable to political leaders, the book's topics are extremely varied. The author includes a description of spies, clandestine...