Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Tune Out

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 17, 2011

For those who have actually tuned out, you know how difficult it can sometimes be to stop paying attention to sounds and noises in one’s immediate environment.  It’s not a new problem; it’s been around for centuries.  However, it’s been less than a century since the expression tune out was introduced into conversational English.

On March 18, 2011 USA Today ran an article entitled, “Tennessee Tries To Tune Out Pearl Controversy.”  The article dealt with Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl and the NCAA investigation into recruiting violations Bruce Pearl allegedly committed and allegedly lied about.

Just over a decade before that article was published, the Post And Courier newspaper of Charleston, South Carolina published an Associated Press article on March 7, 2001 entitled, “Napster Must Tune Out Songs.”  Like the previous story mentioned, this article dealt with crimes committed (in this case copyright infringement) and the Federal court order directing Napster to remove copyrighted music (as identified by a list that had been submitted to the court) from the music-swapping service.

The decade before that, the Milwaukee Journal published a news story by Dale R. Steinke entitled, “State Wants To Tune Out New Show.”  The article reported on the national television news program aimed at high school students that the State Department of Public Instruction in Wisconsin refused to allow into their schools.  While the Department did not object to the news in the program, it did object to the commercials for junk food and razor blades.

The Chicago Tribune wrote about voter turnout in their November 23, 1977 edition.  The article was aptly named, “The Voters Tune Out.”  The article states in part:

Who was it who said, “What if they gave a war and nobody come?” Well, whoever it was, if he took a look at the turnout at the polls two weeks ago he might be tempted to give it a new twist and ask, “What if they gave an election and nobody voted?”

On October 14, 1964 the Sarasota Journal carried a news story entitled, “Networks Caught In The Squeeze: Viewers Tune Out Political Ads.”  It addressed the problem the 3 American networks of the day were experiencing when they pre-empted entertainment programs to make room for short paid political broadcasts.  The reason was because even a 50-minute paid political broadcast meant that the network would invariably lose part of their audience because the ad ran.

However, 30 years before that, on February 2, 1934 the New York Times ran an article entitled, “Dry Areas To Be Invited To Tune Out Gin On Radio.”  It stated in part:

For the first time on record a radio announcer will invite persons listening in tomorrow night to tune out his station. The invitation was devised by Station WOR to safeguard a program, for which a liquor company is the sponsor, from being construed as advertising in sections banning alcohol.

The Los Angeles Times ran a series in the spring of 1922 entitled, “Times Radio Department.”  The April 1 column began with:

In the last lesson we showed how radio waves are sent out by the transmitting antenna. Our purpose today is to discuss the simplest method by which these waves may be detected at a distant station. It will be remembered that radio waves were first described as changing magnetic fields moving outward from the transmitter as a ripple in a pond moves out from the place where a pebble may have struck the surface of the water.

The article ended with:

Tomorrow we shall tell you how you can buy add a few more instruments to “tune out” or filter out that which the listener does not wish to hear.

It should be noted that in 1916, Frank Conrad began broadcasting from his Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania garage with the call letters 8XK. It was relaunched as KDKA on November 2, 1920 with the claim of being “the world’s first commercially licensed radio station”. Interestingly enough, KDKA was the first radio station to broadcast the results of the 1920 American Presidential Election or Republican candidate, Warren G. Harding and  Democratic cnadidate, James M. Cox.

Radio station CFCF in Montreal began broadcasting on May 20, 1920; radio station WWJ in Detroit began broadcasting on August 20, 1920.  Because the expression “tune out” links directly back to radios and broadcasting, Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the expression than the one from the Los Angeles Times newspaper article series of 1922.

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