Listening to Radio, 1920-1950

Listening to Radio, 1920-1950

Listening to Radio, 1920-1950

Listening to Radio, 1920-1950

Synopsis

This fresh and engaging account of early radio's contributions to U.S. social and cultural life brings together varied perspectives of listeners who recall the programs that delighted and enchanted them. Radio, the first electronic medium to enter the home, is examined as a chief purveyor of family entertainment and as a bridge across regional differences. Barfield draws from over 150 accounts, providing a forum and a context for listeners of early radio to share their memories - from their first impressions of "that magical box" to favorite shows. Opening chapters trace the changing perceptions of radio as a "guest" or an "invader" in U.S. homes during the exuberant 1920s, the cash-scarce 1930s, and the rapidly changing World War II and post-war years. Later chapters offer listener responses to every major program type, including news reporting and commentary, sportscasts, drama, comedy series, crime and terror shows, educational and cultural programs, children's adventure series, soap operas, audience participation shows, and musical presentations.

Excerpt

O pioneers! The engineers and the tinkerers, the financial backers, the performers, and others who brought radio to maturity as a major entertainment and information medium have been celebrated in epic histories of broadcasting, in analyses of program types, and in biographies and autobiographies. However, one essential figure in the shaping of early radio has been largely neglected in accounts of the medium's earliest and most interesting decades. Engineers refined their transmission methods and equipment, entrepreneurs built their networks, comedians honed their timing, sponsors contrived their messages, announcers cultivated their golden tones--all for the obvious purpose of making an impact on the home or workplace listener. And yet that auditor has been assumed to be a mute and passive lump of humanity, a dutiful buyer of every advertised product, and an eager ear for anything that programmers, performers, and creators saw fit to offer. Of course the listener was always assumed to be there, counted in the Hooper ratings, fulsomely greeted in program introductions, and represented in absentia by the studio audience's cued applause. Was "the unseen audience" really the passive and unvaried listenership that H. T. Webster pictured in his satirical 1940s syndicated cartoon panels? What were the individual or typical listeners' responses to a variety of program offerings in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, and early 1950s? What place did radio have in their lives? Where did they listen and with whom?

The purpose of this book is to let those veteran listeners speak for themselves: to describe their program choices, to recall their preferred listening places and companions, to offer their own perceptions of the special role . . .

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