Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Out of the Dark: A History of Radio and Rural America

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Out of the Dark: A History of Radio and Rural America

Article excerpt

Out of the Dark: A History of Radio and Rural America. By Steve Craig. (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, c. 2009. Pp. [xxviii], 228. $42.00, ISBN 978-0-8173-1663-1.)

In Out of the Dark: A History of Radio and Rural America, Steve Craig argues that radio fueled the radical shifts in U.S. culture between World War I and World War II. By speeding the flow of information, news, music, entertainment, and advertising to once isolated areas, radio smoothed out the starkest differences between urban and rural life and brought rural citizens a greater sense of national belonging. The influence ran two directions, since rural audiences shaped radio programming in previously unexamined ways: from U.S. Department of Agriculture-sponsored shows mixing entertainment with weather updates, market reports, and information on government policies and farming methods to Saturday night barn dances, presumably aimed at rural audiences but popular among urban listeners, too.

Early in the book, Craig establishes that concern over isolation and rural-to-urban migration arose within government and social agencies during the early twentieth century. Among technologies with the potential to modernize rural life--the car, telephone, and electricity--radio was the only one that needed no major infrastructure, like modern roads or wiring. Quickly embraced, radio introduced urban and consumer values to rural audiences, planting seeds for further changes. Craig shows how government and commercial interests overlapped to create an advertisement-driven network of high-powered radio stations. A three-tiered system developed: clear-channel network affiliates, regional and local stations, and border stations--"super-powered stations located just across the Mexican border that broadcast programming in English with the specific intent of reaching large U.S. audiences" (p. 70). Craig's overview paints a rich picture of radio's diversity during its earliest decades. …

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