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Open Collection of Student Writing (OCSW)

A Critical Analysis of Popular Radio and the Origins of Broadcasting

It’s Tuesday night, you’re writing a paper, but you hate writing in silence. In dire need of some noise you thoughtlessly reach over and turn on the radio. You don’t listen, but the different advertisements and songs playing or disc jockey’s voice is enough to  satiate you. The radio is our background music or our attempt and filling the silence in the car, it’s more of a convenience than anything, but certainly something we can live without, since we have so many different modes we can turn to in order to fill the silence. But think back, to before we had phones and ipods. Before people had television sets and computers in their homes. What we now view as simply another way to fill the silence of our lives, was once the only form of broadcast media people had.  We’ve grown so accustomed to being able to sit down and watch tv show or listen to a podcast while we eat, that we completely forget about the form of media that inspired it all. The radio is the single most underrated form of media in today’s world. Established during a time when people heard the term “media” and immediately thought of the written word, radio introduced a completely different way of stimulating our minds. We were so comfortable as a nation with our books, magazines, and newspapers. If you really wanted to delve into something more you would go out and see a film with your date. But when you were home and in need of entertainment, something to occupy your mind, you grabbed a book or put on a record while you made dinner. That all changed with the radio. All of a sudden, people were given an access to stories, music, shows, and national news, all in their living room at home. It became a staple in every home. A family tradition stemmed from gathering around the radio for the nightly news broadcast or for the new episode of your favorite show. It was the birth of something never before seen, a ritual in every home in suburbia. In fact, radio in American homes created a completely new consumer culture in our nation. In 1941, nearly 70%  of radio programs carried advertising. Radio provided a captive audience for advertisements to sell their product to. This kind of mass marketing completely formed new age of consumer culture that is still alive today.

By the 1920’s radio had blossomed into a full fledged source of news and people  depended on it for their stories and updates, seeing as the radio proved itself to be faster than waiting for the the newspaper. The radio was able to broadcast sports events, presidential elections, celebrity news, etc. During World War II, nine in ten families owned a radio, and they listened on average for about three to four hours per day.The radio became the main source of news for many. By 1940, over a quarter of American automobiles came with radios. As the reliance on radio grew, so did the number of people buying sets for their homes and offices. From 1922 to 1923, the number of radio sets in America increased from 60,000 to 1.5 million.What was once 28 radio stations operating in 1922, grew to be 1,400 fully operating stations by 1924. During this time the world was introduced for the first time to some of the biggest commercial broadcasters that are still thriving today, such as the National Broadcasting Company (NBC)  and the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). Radio was this insatiable beast that was never fed and continued to grow. It was being used for more than simply entertainment though. It was a way of communication between pilots and in warzones. People relied on it to get their messages to certain people when there was no time for any other method. For those not involved in the war, the radio helped keep them updated on the events of war, or even distract them from the issue entirely. The radio was detrimental to the invention of television and the birth of a completely new media industry in our country. The radio had invented soap operas, mystery shows, and funny sitcoms. When television came, it took all that radio had created and claimed it as its own. This would have been the perfect time for radio to concede and give way to television completely. But instead it decided to change with the times and prosper, as it will continually do through time. Around this time transistor radios came about, allowing people to take their radio on the go. Transportable media that could be carried on your person, it was a completely new and innovative concept that allowed radio to keep up with competing formats.   This was the inspiration behind so many technological advances we’ve had in our time, i.e the walkman, ipod, cell phone, etc. This reinvention was simply one of the many that  radio has undergone that has allowed it to maintain it’s stance as a top tier media outlet.

Radio today is nothing like it was when it first made its appearance in American homes. Throughout the last century, radio has taken on many forms in order to become current and stay up to date with the times. After transistor radios came about alongside the popularity of Rock and Roll, radios were resurrected from the grave television had put them in. This was around the time the Top 40 was born, a format that is still very much alive in today’s radio. Radios were able to create the perfect balance of DJ banter and catchy tunes, enough to keep listeners around for the next couple decades.  As time continued, it was thought once again that radios were a thing of the past when so many were listening to walkmans or television shows, wanting more than just the usual joking of disk jockeys or the same songs played again and again. Though radio, as always, refused to take any hits lying down. In the 1990s, Talk Radio came along and swept the nation, soon becoming the most popular format of radio altogether, especially on AM stations. This allowed for many people to get their daily news, seek advice, receive answers to personal questions, etc. This new style gave radio a new look yet again, and brought it once more into the popular media scene.

If nothing else, the mere adaptability and constant transformations radio has undergone is nothing short of miraculous. It has withstand the toll of time and somehow found a way to remain constant in an inconsistent world. It’s as if time and time again radio finds the hole that need to be filled in the media, and instantly fills it. It has completely transformed with the times and remained a dependable source for our society to receive entertainment, news, advice, etc. Even now, radio has taken of the popularity of the internet and become more accessible to listeners. Radio stations can now be accessed online, or even  on downloadable apps for cell phones. There is even a new type of internet radio, where a listener can have their music suggested to them based on the type of music they listen to or artists they like. Radio is constantly developing and changing with its consumer in order to remain relevant, and even though so many see it as simply background noise in our loud and ever consuming lives, it’s honestly the most influential and constant form of media to ever exist.

Keywords: radio, broadcasting, history of radio                                               

Citations

Randle, Quint. “A historical overview of the effects of new mass media: Introductions in magazine publishing during the twentieth century.” First Monday, firstmonday.org/article/view/885/794.

“Radio Activity: The 100th Anniversary of Public Broadcasting.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 26 Jan. 2010, www.smithsonianmag.com/history/radio-activity-the-100th-anniversary-of-public-broadcasting-6555594/.

Gugliotta, Guy. “December 2017.” Discover Magazine, 31 May 2007, discovermagazine.com/2007/jun/tireless-wireless.

Lewis, T. (1992). “A Godlike presence”: The Impact of Radio on the 1920s and 1930s. Magazine of History, 6(4), 26-33

Sean Cashman, America in the Twenties and Thirties: The Olympian Age of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (New York: New York University Press, 1989), 329.

Campbell, Richard, et al. Media & culture: mass communication in a digital age. Bedford/St. Martins, Macmillan Learning, 2017.

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