Loviglio and Hilmes argue that neglecting writing about early radio does not mean that radio did not play a powerful cultural role. They claim that radio has stronger effects, comparing to any other mass mediums, on defining and shaping consciousness throughout the 20th century (Loviglio and Hilmes, p.9). However, many factors, according to them, might be contributed to the some historians’ avoidance writing about early radio, one of which is the struggle of early radio between those who wanted to use it as enabler of their free democratic public sphere (i.e. radio amateurs), and those who wanted to control the public sphere through regulation, restrictions, and concentrated industries (i.e. governments and businesses). Douglas agrees with them in our first part of this week readings; however, she made an interesting proposition regarding the history of radio in the United States, showing the influence of commercial and governmental hegemony on the formation of the American broadcasting as a whole (Douglas, 1987, p. 2).
Although AT&T considered early radio as “frivolous” (Douglas, 1987, pp. 2-5), it was, along with Marconi and de Forest companies, competing to lead the wireless technology in the late 1800 and early 1900. They all were eager not to allow amateur wireless operators to be more than customers for their products, especially after de Forest invented the device that strengthened radio signals (Audion: the triode vacuum tube) in 1906, which allowed long-distance broadcasting–which also qualified de Forest, according to Douglas, as the most interesting pioneer in radio history!
The rapid spread of amateur radio and the role of wireless communication in the Titanic disaster in 1912, alerted the United States government of the significance of the radio and led it to impose the Radio act, which limited amateurs’ usage of the radio waves, and that is similar to what we witness nowadays of the government’s exploitation of crises. Likewise, when the U.S. entered the First World War in 1917, the military and its contractors, like Marconi Company, pushed through their exploitative policies while citizens were too emotionally distracted by the war. They took over the waves and banned amateurs’ radio, wiping out citizens’ right to use the radio and making it a privilege for government and businesses (Douglas, 1987, p.6).
Interestingly, in this week’s readings some aspects of the fundamental differences in social responses, primarily between the advent of wireless and radio in the United States and its appearance in the Arabian Peninsula –Saudi Arabia in particular, before the unification of the third Saudi Kingdom in 1932. Whereas the U.S. society in early 1900 received radio with great enthusiasm, Saudi society received it with great distrust and that distrust contributed to the high rate of illiteracy and religious zealotry, in fact, some when saw the device for the first time thought that it was the devil speaking!
Could you explain the part about radio in Saudi contributing a high rate of illiteracy. How might radio have contributed to this?
In The Social Construction of American Broadcasting, the author discusses the historical implications of radio and how it progressed through its early stages. By doing so, he argues that political implications played a huge role on how the business of radio stations was booming with amateurs being the victims of such political influences. However, opportunities were created after the War against Germany and amateurs knew what information people were seeking. The author’s attempt to explain the historical impact of radio stations and the evolution of the radio business is clearly emphasized throughout the article. His argument about how radio improved American life because it allowed all classes of society to gain information from the medium makes it easy for the reader to follow where the article is heading and how the author came to such conclusions.
In Rethinking Radio, the author attempts to look at why Radio became understudied as soon as Television emerged. He discusses the rise and fall of the medium of radio and how it is slowly rising again. He questions why radio is not the dominant medium in everyone’s home. Although I do understand where the author is coming from when discussing such issues of medium and cultural impact through mediums but it seems to me that his concluding statements suggest that he hasn’t looked into the differences between television as a medium or film as a medium and radio. Yes radio does engage audiences and has its own impact and implications on culture but the visuals of film and TV speak a different language that makes them dominant forms of communication for so long.
The studies from this week don’t relate much to the work that im doing but it is always good to read historical essays about different mediums to understand the limitations of such research. I think by doing historical research on Whiteness in U.S. cinema, I can somehow relate these studies by looking at their approaches of history and how they differ from my approach.
It is that radio infiltrated everyone’s homes in the US thereby ensuring that all “classes of society to gain information” or is that more perceived that real?
I am a radio fan and sometimes I think we don’t realize just how much we still listen to radio (in our cars when driving, through the television set in our homes when doing house chores, on our cell phones as we walk between classes etc). We cannot watch TV or catch a movie while driving but we can listen to radio. I therefore wonder whether we don’t just relegate radio to a less important medium or to a gap filler.
The readings this week appear to have been selected just for me! Although my focus for my end of semester paper is not specific to Black radio and or Black college radio, there is a wealth of information that I will use for my college radio study. These readings have provided me with a wealth of literature to consult.
The readings begin broadly with offering a taste of radio in general. Hilmes (2002) articulates the rise, fall and re-emergence of radio. The author spells out the contributory factors that led to the fall of radio’s popularity (TV is the culprit and film studies). Television, in particular, snatched industry funding and focus away from radio, effectively relegating radio to be used by subaltern communities, Black people in particular.
Hilmes (2002) also highlights something I have also recently noticed – that in all of the intermittent focus on radio studies, college radio has been largely absent in scholarship. In fact, the recent attention to college radio has come because of the shift to internet radio. To Hilmes (2002), the re-emergence of radio studies can be attributed in part to a “historiographical shift” which began to pay attention to cultural issues that had been marginalized for decades (p.10). However, attention to radio studies is still low and slow compared to the visual media.
From Hilmes (2002) we move on to Russo (2002), a piece I will not be discussing here although I note the racial representation and nationhood themes carried in the Green Hornet.
The other reading that interested me is by Barlow (1999) especially the reading titled “Payin the Cost to Be the Boss”: Black-Owned Radio. Here we learn of black radio ownership issues and the emergence of African American entrepreneurs including Cathy Hughes who was this past weekend honored for her contribution to the African American community (see http://newsone.com/3056771/radio-ones-cathy-hughes-honored-by-black-womens-agenda/).We also read of Black college radio and Black community radio. College radio primarily run by students, and mostly funded by the communications departments offered space for practical learning especially for journalism students. These stations also played an important role in the reproduction of the hip hop culture (p.284).
At the core of the Black community radio is the concept that underpins all community radio stations, “encouraging innovative programming and grassroots community participation” (p.286). These stations supported anti-apartheid fights in South Africa through commentary and also by playing South African music banned in that country. Dr Nelson Mandela, after his release from a 27 year incarceration journeyed to America as one of his first official visits. Americans had done a lot to pressure the apartheid government. Mandela had even been conferred an honorary doctorate by a US university in absentia. (watch Mandela’s very first interview in the US in 1990 here with Ted Koppel of Abc- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q6eE9BIUfBg.).
The reading by Douglas (1987) functions to fill in details I lacked. I have always been aware of how the radio industry boomed in the 1920s. I also knew of radio’s links to navy ships and to the First World War. However, I lacked the details that Douglas (1987) provides about the role of radio amateurs. There are also a number of interesting things that the author discusses. First, from the onset, radio was the mouthpiece of the government. Second, the fascination with new technology and technology’s impact on society is not new. Douglas (1987) mentions that amateurs confined themselves to the home environment using the radio technology. Although we use technology on the move these days, the issue of time spent using technology is not new. Third, people had great hopes for what radio would usher in. For example, Douglas (1987) mentions such hopes include “an upgrade in American music, radio as an extension of school, improvement in politics and religious inclusion.” Fourth, there is the issue of national unity but also cultural homogeneity. Technological determinism? I think so.
In these papers the issue of what it means when ownership is concentrated in the same hands is not sufficiently discussed. In part, this is because these are not papers interested in the challenges of concentrated radio ownership. However, enough information is provided to get one thinking about and possibly exploring this issue further.
Note: I elected not to discuss the section that deals with the mockery of Black people during the time of black face and minstrel shows.
From writings in cultural history, I’ve been exposed to the role radio played in American culture in the early 20th century. The radio played a pivotal role in disseminating information and creating a collective American identity for much of the 30s and 40s. After the introduction of television into the home, radio seemed to disappear and wasn’t heard from again. I loved Michele Hilmes’ opening question, “What happened to radio?” Her examination of how radio came to become the most “persistent and ubiquitous media companion” in the background of our lives was interesting, and I found her outline of the problems of studying radio to be very helpful. The study of radio becomes more complicated with the internet and platforms like Pandora and Spotify becoming a dominant form of aural engagement with the ‘radio.’ These platforms continue to utilize the same structure as the radio, but do some of the problems Hilmes presents when studying radio disappear (or become more complex) when radio is in fact experienced through a computer screen?
I’ve done a bit with amateur radio in the past, and this has never occurred to me, but after reading Hilmes’ article, the article on black radio, and the large number of amateur radio persons in the early 20th century, I bet there have been people within the LGBT community during the mid-20th century (pre-Stonewall) who utilized the radio as a way to create, connect, and collaborate. I’d be interested in looking into that further.
More to follow.
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