Sound Business: Newspapers, Radio, and the Politics of New Media

Sound Business: Newspapers, Radio, and the Politics of New Media

Sound Business: Newspapers, Radio, and the Politics of New Media

Sound Business: Newspapers, Radio, and the Politics of New Media


American newspapers have faced competition from new media for over ninety years. Today digital media challenge the printed word. In the 1920s, broadcast radio was the threatening upstart. At the time, newspaper publishers of all sizes turned threat into opportunity by establishing their own stations. Many, such as the Chicago Tribune 's WGN, are still in operation. By 1940 newspapers owned 30 percent of America's radio stations. This new type of enterprise, the multimedia corporation, troubled those who feared its power to control the flow of news and information. In Sound Business, historian Michael Stamm traces how these corporations and their critics reshaped the ways Americans received the news.

Stamm is attuned to a neglected aspect of U.S. media history: the role newspaper owners played in communications from the dawn of radio to the rise of television. Drawing on a wide array of primary sources, he recounts the controversies surrounding joint newspaper and radio operations. These companies capitalized on synergies between print and broadcast production. As their advertising revenue grew, so did concern over their concentrated influence. Federal policymakers, especially during the New Deal, responded to widespread concerns about the consequences of media consolidation by seeking to limit and even ban cross ownership. The debates between corporations, policymakers, and critics over how to regulate these new kinds of media businesses ultimately structured the channels of information distribution in the United States and determined who would control the institutions undergirding American society and politics.

Sound Business is a timely examination of the connections between media ownership, content, and distribution, one that both expands our understanding of mid-twentieth-century America and offers lessons for the digital age.


Reminiscing in 1951, Detroit News publisher William E. Scripps recalled that he was something of an experimenter as a young man and mused that, had he not had the calling of a family publishing business, his interests “probably would have led me into engineering had I been growing up today.” Instead, William started working at the News because he was “ambitious to try to help my father,” James E. Scripps, who had founded the paper in 1873. In the summers, William worked for the paper as a “messenger boy or any other job that there was to do” and soon, he recalled, “I went through every department in the plant, through every one of the mechanical departments.” William E. Scripps expressed no regrets over his decision to enter publishing. He was happy working for the family business and was always “interested in the newspaper.” And yet, he claimed, he retained a fascination with technology and confessed that he “couldn’t entirely forget scientific and mechanical things.” During the early years of his career at the Detroit News, Scripps found no way to combine these professional and personal interests. This would change, however. William E. Scripps had an old friend named Tom Clark who liked to experiment with wireless communication, an early form of what later became known as radio broadcasting.

Thomas E. Clark was a Detroit inventor who owned an electrical service . . .

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