Academic journal article Journalism History

Redeeming the Dial: Radio, and Popular Culture in America

Academic journal article Journalism History

Redeeming the Dial: Radio, and Popular Culture in America

Article excerpt

Hangen, Tona J. Redeeming the Dial: Radio, Religion, and Popular Culture in America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.158 pp. $18.95.

Say "radio and religion" and many think of Father Charles Coughlin, the Depressionera ideologue whose anti-Semitic diatribes commanded an audience estimated to be as high as 30 million. Yet during this "golden age" of early broadcasting history, evangelicals also were harnessing the new medium to proselytize their ideas.

Of course, this was not the first time that evangelicals had made good use of a new mass medium. In the early nineteenth century, as David Paul Nord has shown, evangelicals took the lead in developing modern printing and distribution techniques to produce and circulate millions of pages of tracts, pamphlets, and hymnbooks, along with newspapers, magazines, and journals. So this book, which focuses on the careers of three extremely successful Protestant radio evangelists in the early twentieth century-Charles Fuller, Aimee Semple McPherson, and Paul Rader-is a welcome addition to the literature.

Tona Hangen, a lecturer in the History and Literature Program at Harvard University, researched recordings, sermons, fan mail, contracts, and other materials in several archival collections. These include the Collection of the National Religious Broadcasters in Manassas, Virginia; the Billy Graham Center archives at Wheaton College; and the records of the National Council of Churches and the Federal Council of Churches in Philadelphia. She also conducted oral history interviews. The result is a well documented conceptualization of the important role of religious evangelicals in shaping the new medium. Radio evangelists, she argues, reached mass audiences beyond their local communities, "thus hastening the nationalization of American folk religion and the involvement of mass media in even those parts of life formerly seen as private and sacred. …

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