And a Time for Hope: Americans in the Great Depression

By James R. McGovern | Go to book overview
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10

Americans Listen at Home

If it is apt to describe Hollywood's successes in the mid and late 1930s as a Golden Age, radio was comparably distinguished through the entire decade both for its impact and as a source of national morale. Two national networks formed in the late 1920s, the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) and Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), greatly helped to explain these successful outcomes. They acquired large numbers of stations and supplied them with standard programming, thereby raising the quality of radio offerings nationally, with local stations retaining a smaller segment of broadcast time. In return, the networks, now with national markets, were compensated by large advertising fees from program sponsors. With this setup and a variety of programs, a group of talented performers, radio's reputation for reliability and reasonable authority, and a major reduction in the cost of radios, radio prospered and radio sets became a household fixture. 1 Stations affiliated with networks more than doubled in the 1930s; the number of families listening to radio also nearly doubled (estimated to be 27.5 million families in 1939). 2 From 1935, when American households already owned twice as many radios as telephones, that number doubled to 44 million radio sets in 1939 when 86% of American homes had radios—some battery powered—and they listened to radio on an average of four and one-half hours a day. 3

As a pervasive instrument of popular culture in the 1930s, radio exerted a powerful influence on American society. In 1933, a presidential commission, acknowledging radio's new outreach, highlighted its effects on society, including fostering homogeneity, diluting class and regional differences, aiding pronunciation, and providing recreation in rural areas. 4 Indeed, it seems likely that radio became at this time an essential component in the genesis

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