Broadcasting Freedom: Radio, War, and the Politics of Race, 1938-1948

By Rhodes, Jane | Journalism History, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

Broadcasting Freedom: Radio, War, and the Politics of Race, 1938-1948


Rhodes, Jane, Journalism History


Savage, Barbara Dianne. Broadcasting Freedom: Radio, War, and the Politics of Race, 1938-1948. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999. 391 pp. $18.95.

Barbara Savage has produced a richly-detailed study of African Americans' quest to gain access to the airwaves during the height of radio's influence and popularity in the United States. Broadcasting Freedom is a fine example of the best in mass communication history-a study that situates a crucial historical question within the social and political fabric of mass media institutions. This book provides a rare investigation into the role of mass media in the perpetuation of and struggle against racism, segregation, and discrimination.

Savage sought to explain how the political issue of race was constructed for a large, disuse audience and how that construction evolved into a search for a national language of consensus on the question of racial equality.

In addition, this project contributes to the small but vibrant new scholarship on the history of radio. Savage, a history professor at the University of Pennsylvania, focuses on a series of radio broadcasts produced between the end of the Great Depression and the end of World War II.

The first half of the book, titled "Federal Constructions of the Negro," tells the story of radio programs about African Americans that were developed under the auspices of government agencies such as the Office of War Information and the Office of Education. On the eve of World War II, government officials feared that racial and ethnic animosities threatened national unity. Prodded by black intellectuals and white civil rights advocates, these agencies reluctantly supported the use of radio to promote racial tolerance and understanding.

This study delves into the inner struggles to get these programs on the air, including negotiations with the radio networks, racism and segregation within federal agencies, and the frustrations encountered by black educators, writers, and entertainers in their efforts to counteract the degrading images of Amos n Andy and other popular radio fare. …

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