Academic journal article Journalism History

Sounds of Change: A History of FM Broadcasting in America

Academic journal article Journalism History

Sounds of Change: A History of FM Broadcasting in America

Article excerpt

Sterling, Christopher, and Michael Keith. Sounds of Change: A History of FM Broadcasting in America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008. 317 pp. $22.50.

When the DVD came onto the video market barely a decade ago to replace the VHS format, the transition was relatively fast, smooth, and complete. That transition is all the more remarkable given the public's relative satisfaction with VHS and the effort and expense for consumers to make the switch to the new technology. Compare that to the decades-long war waged for FM broadcasting. For numerous Americans, static interference made AM radio nearly unlistenable at least some of the time. "How to overcome static was radio's chief technical dilemma," note authors Christopher Sterling and Michael Keith. But, when Edwin Armstrong delivered a solution, the world did not exactly beat a path to his door. FM radio barely survived during its first four decades before eventually emerging as the dominant medium. Sounds of Change tells the largely neglected story of how FM broadcasting became the dominant tadio medium.

Although it is puzzling that the story of FM radio has not had its own definitive history to this point, it is not a surprise that Sterling and Keith would step in to fill the void. They have had a hand in producing a modest library of broadcasting and broadcast history scholarship and are well known to broadcast historians, and Sounds of Change is another solid contribution to our understanding of the broadcast industry. Their well documented study explores the technology, public policy, economic forces, and the stations, their workforces, and their audiences that came to constitute a new social institution. Although sometimes weighed down by a recitation of call letters and frequencies, the book nevertheless tells a compelling story that captures the impending dread of FM's setbacks and the joys of its eventual victories.

Two critical junctures in FM's story are identified. The first was the Federal Communication Commission's 1945 decision to shift FM's allocation of frequencies from 42-50 MHZ to 88-108 MHZ. "This had terrible short-term effects but positive, and more important, long-term effects," the authors note. The move scrambled earlier efforts to build a critical mass of listeners but allowed FM much more room for growth when the listeners finally came around. …

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