Transmitting the Past: Historical and Cultural Perspectives on Broadcasting

Transmitting the Past: Historical and Cultural Perspectives on Broadcasting

Transmitting the Past: Historical and Cultural Perspectives on Broadcasting

Transmitting the Past: Historical and Cultural Perspectives on Broadcasting

Synopsis

Original essays exploring important developments in radio and television broadcasting.

The essays included in this collection represent some of the best cultural and historical research on broadcasting in the U. S. today. Each one concentrates on a particular event in broadcast history-beginning with Marconi's introduction of wireless technology in 1899.

Michael Brown examines newspaper reporting in America of Marconi's belief in Martians, stories that effectively rendered Marconi inconsequential to the further development of radio. The widespread installation of radios in automobiles in the 1950s, Matthew Killmeier argues, paralleled the development of television and ubiquitous middle-class suburbia in America. Heather Hundley analyzes depictions of male and female promiscuity as presented in the sitcom Cheers at a time concurrent with media coverage of the AIDS crisis. Fritz Messere examines the Federal Radio Act of 1927 and the clash of competing ideas about what role radio should play in American life. Chad Dell recounts the high-brow programming strategy NBC adopted in 1945 to distinguish itself from other networks. And George Plasketes studies the critical reactions to Cop Rock, an ill-fated combination of police drama and musical, as an example of society's resistance to genre-mixing or departures from formulaic programming.

The result is a collection that represents some of the most recent and innovative scholarship, cultural and historical, on the intersections of broadcasting and American cultural, political, and economic life.

Excerpt

Susan L. Brinson

Television screens stare at us from every corner. Regardless of where we might find ourselves, the likelihood is great that a television set will be turned on to provide us electronic company. Retail stores, bars and restaurants, waiting areas of every variety, offices, and nearly every room of our homes are populated by the ever-present screen. Environments that lack the cool glow of a tv picture often provide radio entertainment lest our ears become too accustomed to silence. Broadcast messages are so pervasive that we pay little attention to them except when we desire gratification. Television and radio are ubiquitous, yet characterizing them as such understates and oversimplifies their significance to life in the United States. Since 1920, broadcasting has been one of the defining features of modern American sociocultural, political, and economic life. in the post–World War I economic boom of the 1920s, Americans spent millions of dollars buying radio sets and incorporating radio programming into their daily lives; by 1926 there were more than 4.5 million radios in people’s homes. Music, religion, sports, education, and politics were delivered “through the ether” directly into the living rooms, kitchens, and bedrooms of American homes. Regardless of age, education, or even nationality, nearly everyone consumed radio messages. From 1920 to today, the vast potential of radio and television to woo votes, educate the masses, save souls, and make billions of dollars has contributed to the extraordinary growth of the media. It is now virtually impossible to escape television or radio broadcasts or their omnipresent messages.

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