Radio Voices: American Broadcasting, 1922-1952

Overview

In Radio Voices, Michele Hilmes looks at the way radio programming influenced and was influenced by the United States of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, tracing the history of the medium from its earliest years through the advent of television.
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Overview

In Radio Voices, Michele Hilmes looks at the way radio programming influenced and was influenced by the United States of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, tracing the history of the medium from its earliest years through the advent of television.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Don't expect a sentimental journey through radio's Golden Age in Hilmes's well-researched study. Jack Benny, Orson Welles and the soaps are all here, in passing, but the agenda is serious sociology: the dialectics of American culture as reflected in this "lost" medium. Hilmes presents radio as an ongoing battle to first define, then exploit, a changing America by a shifting cast of power brokers. It didn't take long for the 1920s invention to be wrested from the amateurs by the moguls of commerce: networks, sponsors and, most powerfully, ad agencies. Hilmes then examines their attempts to bring into a big new "imagined community" all the tensions of a very diverse society, as when racial stereotypes are spun into a narrative that transfixes white America in Amos 'n' Andy. Women are ghettoized to the soaps and daytime programming while at night Hollywood voices try both highbrow and lowbrow bait in comedy/variety and drama. WWII further strains the disenfranchised members of radio's utopia, before TV inherits the whole mess. Hilmes, who teaches communication arts at the University of Wisconsin and is the author of Hollywood and Broadcasting, backs up her theses with fascinatingly cynical memos from the incunabula of J. Walter Thompson and NBC, as well as comments from an impressive chorus of social scientists. Her writing, alas, suffers from too many phrases like "naturalizing strategic cultural hierarchies behind the screen of gender destruction." This should not deflect readers, however, who are willing to sacrifice radio's golden Oz to meet the often forgotten men and women working the levers behind the curtain. (Apr.)
Kirkus Reviews
An often evocative study of the sociological impact of the Golden Age of radio.

Hilmes (Communication Arts/Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison) notes that the years in which radio was the principal source of American mass entertainment and information have been almost completely forgotten by the public and ignored by academics. She believes that radio had just as much of an impact on the way we live as the frequently studied media of film and television, and her study is an effort to redress this imbalance. Not attempting a complete history, Hilmes has cast the book as a series of interlocking but essentially self-contained essays on such subjects as the radio images of immigrants (Rise of the Goldbergs, etc.), blacks (Amos 'n' Andy), and women (the evolution of daytime programming, etc.). This is intriguing material and Hilmes, an admitted radio buff, appears uniquely suited to present it. However, Radio Voices is uneasily balanced between the more casual voice of popular history, with its entertaining anecdotes and emphasis on vivid personalities, and a more rigorous scholarly tone, with its heavy footnoting of sources and extensive, sometimes ponderous analysis. The more scholarly voice often wins out, and this is unfortunate, because Hilmes is at her best when simply telling the lively stories of such forgotten favorites as Gertrude Berg and Mary Margaret McBride. If her often insightful analyses were couched in the same easy tone, she might have had a book that would appeal to a wider audience than she attempts to reach.

There is much to admire here, but pop culture buffs may wish that Hilmes could break her academic chains and speak as directly as the radio voices she so clearly loves.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780816626212
  • Publisher: University of Minnesota Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/1997
  • Pages: 353
  • Product dimensions: 5.88 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: The Nation's Voice
1 Radiating Culture 1
2 How Far Can You Hear? 34
3 Who We Are, Who We Are Not: The Emergence of National Narratives 75
4 Eavesdropping on America: Kitchen Table Conversations 97
5 The Disembodied Woman 130
6 Under Cover of Daytime 151
7 The Disciplined Audience: Radio by Night 183
8 On the Home Front: Fighting to Be Heard 230
Conclusion: Terms of Preferment 271
Notes 291
Collections Consulted 329
Index 331
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