In Memory of Radio

In Memory of Radio Pop-Culture References in "In Memory of Radio"

There are many interesting pop-culture references in "In Memory of Radio" that might be unfamiliar to the modern reader. Despite the fact that many of them might be obscure today, it is important to look them up and understand them in order to get the full meaning of the poem. The speaker of this poem calls upon many famous figures and popular radio shows to give a taste of a specific cultural moment in America in the early-mid-20th century. He also includes more obscure references to radio figures, such as The Shadow, The Red Lantern, and Mandrake the Musician, superheroes that all have unconventional supernatural abilities. (Every pop culture allusion is analyzed in this guide—see the "Glossary," "Characters," and "Literary Elements" sections.)

In a poem where the speaker calls himself "the poet," it is important to carefully look at every allusion in the poem for deeper meaning. Many of the historical figures mentioned in this poem (particularly in Stanza III), are known for their eloquence and powerful rhetoric. Televangelists such as Oral Roberts and F.J. Knight got rich off of the millions of Americans that tuned into their shows. They made something commonplace such as going to church new and exciting by putting the experience on radio and television. It goes without saying that they were both excellent orators, drawing huge audiences as a result of their rhetorical skill. The Shadow and Mandrake the Magician are superheroes that are both known for muddling the minds of their opponents. The Shadow puts a "cloud" into their minds so that their mental faculties are halted. Mandrake the Magician uses hypnotic gestures to control the minds of his opponents.

In a poem told in the voice of the poet, it is interesting that many of the cultural references mentioned are about to individuals with the power to affect other people's minds, either through words or supernatural abilities. Perhaps Baraka is making a statement about the role of the poet in bringing about real change in the minds of his readers through his own power with words.