Baraka focuses this poem, at least on the surface level, on the popular culture of radio and television in 1950s America. He imbues the poem with the names of pop-culture icons whose work was pervasive throughout the mid-20th century: Kate Smith, Goody Knight, and even Hitler are all name-dropped in this poem (lines 3, 12). Baraka also focuses on voice and the collective colloquial language of America. He intersperses idioms throughout the poem; for example, the speaker says that he "certainly wouldn't want to go out on that kind of limb" about love (line 16). Baraka also includes references to superheroes and children's shows that would have been household names in the decade. All of these elements work together to provide a snapshot of a particular cultural landscape of American history.
The theme of individuality comes up in "In Memory of Radio" when Baraka separates the speaker of the poem (who presumably can be read as Baraka himself) from a collective that can't quite see what he is getting at: "Saturday mornings we listened to the Red Lantern & his undersea folk. / At 11, Let's Pretend / & we did / & I, the poet, still do. Thank God!" (lines 19-22). There is something in the status of being a poet that separates Baraka from the masses and allows him an important retrospection on the cultural touchstones of the past. Baraka's individuality extends to Jack Kerouac at the beginning of the poem, as they are the only two people who can see the "divinity" of the fictional character The Shadow (line 1). "In Memory of Radio" seems to suggest that being an artist like Baraka or Kerouac helps one to tap into the cultural landscape they are situated in and to understand the true meaning of that culture.
In Memory of Radio Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for In Memory of Radio is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.