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Published on February 16, 2014

Author: wkovarik



From Revolutions in communication: Media history from Gutenberg to the digital age, by Bill Kovarik, published by Bloomsbury. See

Brief lectures in Media History Chapter 8 Radio’s Golden Age (11 of 15)

Like discovering a new continent Interest in electromagnetic spectrum sparked by solar flares of 1859  James Clerk Maxwell publishes theoretical paper on the mathematics of the electromagnetic spectrum  Heinrich Hertz tests Maxwell’s theory and measures radio waves  ◦ Asked about the value of the experiment, Hertz told students: “It’s of no use whatsoever.”  Scientific basis for radio in place by 1890s

Two visions of radio Guglielmo Marconi Fessenden Spark radio telegraphy Reginald Continuous wave telephony

Guglielmo Marconi Gifted amateur who used Edison “cut and try” method  Made radio telegraphy practical 1890s  ◦ Low frequency ◦ Grounded antenna ◦ High power transmitter  The signal soaked up the entire spectrum – only one transmitter at a time possible

Reginald Fessenden Gifted amateur who used Edison “cut and try” method  Made radio telephony practical 1906  ◦ High frequency transmission ◦ lower power transmitter ◦ Bounced signal off ionosphere  Continuous wave - many transmitters possible at the same time

Titanic - April 15, 1912  Marconi spark system ◦ Protected by patents but ◦ Long out of date ◦ Only one signal at a time  Nearby ship Californian told to “get off” the air “Sixteen hundred lives were lost that should have been saved if the wireless communication had been what it should have been.” NY Times, May 2, 1912

Titanic changes radio  Radio monopolies outlawed – ◦ Federal Radio Act of 1912 Fessenden continuous wave system widely adopted  American Marconi becomes Radio Corporation of America (RCA)  David Sarnoff envisions radio broadcasting supported by advertising 

Monopoly radio network  Demand for radio sets explodes after World War I ◦ 5,000 tubes per month in 1921 to 200,000 by mid-1922; by 1930 125 million / month  RCA creates NBC 1926 ◦ Network broadcasts begin  FRC 1927 General Order 40 ◦ Created 25 super stations (clear channel)  23 of these were NBC owned or affiliated ◦ Some 700 independent and educational radio stations were pushed off the air

The Golden Age of radio An “electronic hearth”  McLuhan:  ◦ “Re-tribalizing” effect ◦ A return to oral culture Radio borrowed from vaudeville and theater  During its golden age in the 1930s and 40s, radio attracted the best entertainers in the world. 

Amos n’ Andy - 1st popular show On radio 1928 – 1960 On TV 1951- 1953, Withdrawn 1966 Lowbrow, sterotyped humor But with some social values Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll

     Comic strip NY Daily News 1924 “Gee whiskers” “Leapin' lizards!” Ovaltine sponsors wrote radio scripts and shunned comic strip’s original political messages Sidekick: Punjab On Air 1931 – 1942 NBC Blue network

Lone Ranger “Hi-ho Silver, Away” tagline was invented moments from first airtime  Kimo-Sabe means Faithful Scout  On Air 1933 – 1956 Mutual NBC Bruce Beemer played the Lone Ranger on radio in the 1940s and 50s

Radio debut in 1930 as narrator for Detective Story Hour  Comics followed  Shadow program 1937  Orson Wells narrated 1937-38  Batman was a take-off  On Air 1937 – 1940s CBS

NBC Chase & Sanborn Hour    NBC’s main Sunday night program Starred Charlie McCarthy & Edgar Bergen Also: ◦ Eddie Cantor ◦ Jimmie Durante ◦ Dorothy Lamour ◦ Bob Hope ◦ Nelson Eddy ◦ Don Ameche ◦ Mae West (banned in 1938)

Mae West in the Garden of Eden With “If trouble is something that makes your blood run like seltzer water, mmh, Adam, give me trouble… “ Big trouble from the FCC, Dec. 12, 1937

CBS – Mercury Theater On Air 1938 – 1940 CBS War of the Worlds Oct 30 1938

Why a panic? News program style  6 million listened,  1 million believed  War news from Europe was new  No commercial breaks (Mercury had no sponsor)  Wells didn’t believe that people were really panicking / didn’t break up program 

FDR’s Fireside Chats 1933 – 1944 30 informal talks Started as NY governor 1929 Term coined by CBS exec, not Roosevelt, but he adopted it.

Edward R. Murrow, Wm. Shirer CBS “director of talks” Covered London as war broke out Shirer based in Berlin

Father Charles Coughlin “Hate speech” on the radio Weekly broadcasts 1926 – 1940 16 million listeners in mid-1930s Anti-communist, antisemitic, isolationist, conspiracy theorist Openly sympathetic to Hitler Direct paraphrasing Nazi propaganda Secretly took $ from Nazis NBC, CBS refused to run program after Kristalnacht comment in 1938: "Jewish persecution only followed after Christians first were persecuted.”

Content regulation  FRC licensing upheld in Brinkley, Trinity cases 1930s ◦ Note press licensing not upheld in Near v Minnesota, 1933    NAB code changes 1938 FCC Mayflower decision 1940 FCC Blue book report 1946 ◦ Attempt to fight “Shabby commercialism” and a “listeners be damned” attitude ◦ Public service requirements  Fairness doctrine 1947 ◦ Equal time for all viewpoints

Structure regulation  NBC two networks – blue and red ◦ Blue network becomes ABC following anti trust decision by US Supreme Court, 1942  Loraine Journal v US, 1951 ◦ Supreme Court said newspaper could not refuse advertising simply because a company also placed radio ads ◦ (Regulation of “refusal to deal” was the basis of the Microsoft anti-trust suit 1999)

New competition from TV Television replaces radio early 1950s  Radio reverts to local ownership and music content  ◦ Corruption in promotions called “payola” Music industry growth 4x 1960 – 1980  Formats fragment  New competition leaves radio going bankrupt  Telecomm Act 1996 allows consolidation of radio industry under few owners  ◦ Clear Channel and Viacom/CBS Infinity Broadcasting now own most of market

Talk radio End of the “Fairness Doctrine” in 1987 gave a green light to partisan political radio shows  Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Michael Savage, Glen Beck  Liberal talk radio fails to launch  ◦ Air America 2004 – 2010

Satellite radio, podcasting  XM Radio and Sirius approved 1997 ◦ Condition was that they never merge   XM Radio and Sirius merge 2008 International satellite radio ◦ Increasingly useful for UN peacekeeping Podcasting made possible through ITU’s MPEG-1/Layer3 (mp3) compression technology  Podcasting makes satellite radiomore or less obsolete  Mobile asynchronous audio devices like iPods mean the end of the radio audience 

Decoder Ring Theater But storytelling is never obsolete

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