Radio Active: Advertising and Consumer Activism, 1935-1947

Radio Active: Advertising and Consumer Activism, 1935-1947

Radio Active: Advertising and Consumer Activism, 1935-1947

Radio Active: Advertising and Consumer Activism, 1935-1947


"Irate listeners attacking anti-union advertisers, boycotts of soap operas, a bitter ex-federal official who took up the cause of consumers--Newman brings us all of this and more, revealing in her stunning new book how twentieth-century consumers--especially women--contested commercial radio in its glory years. With tremendous clarity and analytical sophistication, she shows that far from 'duped consumers, ' radio listeners were savvy, sassy, and effective activists who talked back plenty to commercial radio. Analyzing the dynamics of as a contested zone between listeners, advertisers, radio stations, and new consumer intellectuals, Newman deftly and persuasively reframes our understanding of the cultural politics of consumption."--Dana Frank, author of "Buy American: The Untold Story of Economic Nationalism

"Cultural historians often claim that audiences were far from passive victims of mass media manipulation, but Kathy Newman is among the first to reveal how ordinary people actually responded. Focusing,on the major mass medium of the 1930s and 1940s, the radio, Newman brilliantly tracks the dialectical process through which audience attention became a commodity that broadcasters set out to sell to sponsors and then how listeners, often women, turned their new-found importance to their own ends as assertive consumers. This is cultural history at its best, bringing together as it does the influence of intellectuals, the workings of cultural institutions, and the reactions of popular audiences."--Lizabeth Cohen, author of "A Consumers' Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America

"Lively and accessible, Newman's fascinating account of the characters and concernsbehind anti-commercial activism illuminates an overlooked facet of radio history. Her cast of middle class reformers who used radio's own commercialized address to mobilize the consumer movement reminds us of advertising's comp


In 1934 the makers of Lux soap hired the social scientist Paul Lazarsfeld to conduct a study on the efect of one of their soap advertisements. Lux worried that the ad might create the idea in the mind of consumers that cosmetics were harmful. Lazarsfeld's study confirmed Lux's worst fears: “Thirty-eight per cent of the women, when they were asked directly, replied that they thought the advertisement meant that cosmetics are harmful. ” In a related and even more surprising result, Lazarsfeld asked the women respondents to agree or disagree with the statement, “Nowadays, the consumer needs legal protection against the manufacturer of cosmetics, ” and discovered that more than three-quarters of women, or 76 percent, agreed that consumers “definitely” or “probably” needed legal protection against cosmetics manufacturers (see Table 1).

It is unlikely that these numbers, which reflect a high degree of suspicion of the cosmetics industry, were the mere result of cosmetic advertisements. A burgeoning consumer movement which produced a coherent literature, an educational outreach program, and received publicity from the mainstream press had helped the average consumer to become wary of false claims made by advertisers and products that were proven to be harmful (see Chapter 2). Still, it is significant that advertisers worried that their own advertising copy might create the impression that cosmetics were harmful. Advertisements often implied that competing prod-

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