COLLECTION HIGHLIGHTS

On the Air with Monica Mugan

Photograph. Watson Studio, c.1930. HWHG Permanent Collection.
In this photograph of the Watson Studio, there is a device that appears to be a radio to the righthand side.

Before the television made its way into North American homes, radio changed the ways that Canadians consumed news and entertainment. Radio was a widespread “craze”, and consequently, the Watson family was no stranger to its draw. In several excerpts from her diary, Phoebe Watson, mentions a few of the programs she tuned in to. One of these programs was Monica Mugan, a self-titled morning show that featured interviews and talks on various subjects.

Thurs 11 Dull + windy in A.M. rather cold + blizzardy all day. Got down stairs in time to hear Monica Mugan at eleven fifteen, what a waste of time waiting for breakfast in bed.

Excerpt from Phoebe Watson’s Diary, 1942-1943. Courtesy of the National Gallery of Canada.

Opening with the theme tune I’ll See You Again by Noel Coward, Mugan’s show was meant to convey the sense of “listening in” on personal conversations in a private space. Despite this focus on an air of “domesticity”, in one of the few remaining recordings of Mugan’s show, she conducted interviews in the very public space of the 1943 Women’s Institute Convention at Toronto’s Royal York Hotel.

Though little audio remains of the program’s contents, the small parts we have shed light on some of the goings-on that Phoebe may have had an interest in listening to. This diary entry is dated to February 1943, a month after Mugan’s report at the Convention. Given Phoebe’s affiliation with several women’s organizations such as the Women’s Art Association of Toronto, her local Ladies’ Aid and Ladies’ Auxiliary, it makes sense that she would listen to a program about other women’s groups in Canada.

Photograph. Phoebe Watson in the Watson Studio, c.1936. HWHG Permanent Collection. The purpose of Ladies’ Aid and Ladies’ Auxiliary organizations was to provide support for their community, most often in the form of fundraising for their local churches and assisting soldiers and veterans.

Interestingly, because the show was not well preserved, the other references to Mugan in Phoebe’s diary let us know about some of the other subjects she covered.

Frid. 12 1943

Dull + Windy A.M. Listened to Monica Mugan while mending oldest corsets, have to conserve elastic took an hour + half, dislike spending time at it in daytime, wrote to Muriel Millar. Monica Mugan gave a very interesting talk on the like of Abraham Lincoln [sic] how like his life was to Homer’s only more so as he had a harder time. It was blustery all day.

Excerpt from Phoebe Watson’s Diary, 1942-1943. Courtesy of the National Gallery of Canada.

Monica Mugan’s show was one of many women-centric programs that arose during the golden age of radio broadcasting. The small snippets from Phoebe’s diary provides a connection between Phoebe and a particular moment in Canadian radio, allowing for an audible glimpse into the Watson home.

The Zurich Herald, 1940
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