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Selling Radio: The Commercialization of American Broadcasting, 1920-1934

Overview

And now a word from our sponsor.... When the first radio stations signed on in the 1920s, this phrase was unknown to listeners. Fifteen years later, however, advertising ruled the airwaves. Selling Radio recounts the initial difficult coupling of broadcasting and advertising, shows how the triumph of advertising transformed the content of radio programming, and exposes the complicity of business, technology, and government in reducing the promise of radio to the adage that "time is money." Susan Smulyan argues ...
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Overview

And now a word from our sponsor.... When the first radio stations signed on in the 1920s, this phrase was unknown to listeners. Fifteen years later, however, advertising ruled the airwaves. Selling Radio recounts the initial difficult coupling of broadcasting and advertising, shows how the triumph of advertising transformed the content of radio programming, and exposes the complicity of business, technology, and government in reducing the promise of radio to the adage that "time is money." Susan Smulyan argues that the emergence of commercialized broadcasting was not an inevitable development but rather the result of a bitter struggle over the form and content of the new technology. Initially schools, churches, and small businesses sponsored stations, broadcasting local sporting events and such home-grown comedy and musical acts as "The Happiness Boys." In the mid-1920s, the enthusiasm that greeted the idea of a national broadcasting system quickly soured with the announcement that wired networks using AT&T's long lines would be financed by selling radio time to advertisers. Early opponents of commercial radio included not only listeners but also station owners, educators, religious leaders, and Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, all of whom decried the "worthless stuff" of advertising. Even prospective advertisers doubted that radio ads would work. Selling Radio describes how the radio industry overcame the opposition and in the process dramatically altered the content of broadcasting. As listeners were reduced to consumers, folksy regional programs were replaced with slick, fully scripted shows and schedules created by sponsors to attract a nationwide audience. With the passage of the Communications Act of 1934, the paradigm of commercial-driven programming was established and later adopted without question by the next great communications technology - television.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
When radio began, it was the exclusive province of those interested in the advancement of technology; programming was of little concern and commercialization was not even thought of. But, as the medium's popularity grew and radio sets entered millions of homes, the concern with filling air time grew, even as programming became increasingly expensive. The result was to commercialize the air waves, resulting in the diminution of the hope that radio would be primarily a source of education and/or a force for national unity. As Smulyan, an assistant professor in the Department of American Civilization at Brown, so succinctly puts it, the attempt was ``to reduce listeners to the lowest common denominator, that of consumer.'' How that goal was gradually accomplished in the period between the two world wars is the subject of this admirably researched volume, which is informative, but handicapped by the author's dry academic style. Photos not seen by PW. (Mar.)
Booknews
Smulyan (American civilization, Brown U.) argues that the emergence of commercialized broadcasting was not an inevitable development but rather the result of a struggle over the form and content of the new technology. She describes how the radio industry overcame public opposition to advertising and altered the content of broadcasting, and concludes with a discussion of the impact of the Communication Act of 1934 on the next great communications technology--television. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781560983125
  • Publisher: Smithsonian Institution Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/1994
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.32 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.95 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: Who Pays for Radio? 1
1 Toward National Radio 11
The Urge for Distance 13
Formation of a National Audience 20
Roots of National Radio Service 31
2 The Rise of the Network System 37
Funding Broadcasts 39
Technological Options for National Radio Service 42
Super-power 44
Shortwave Rebroadcasting 48
Wired Networks 52
Beyond the Technological Imperative 57
3 Arguments Over Broadcast Advertising 65
Early Stations 66
Opponents 68
The Campaign for Broadcast Advertising 72
Promoters 73
Campaign Rhetoric and Strategies 75
Changes in Broadcasting 81
Radio Advertising to Women 86
4 Twisting the Dials: Changes in Radio Programming 93
Early Radio Programming 94
Pre-network Sponsored Shows 98
Transitional Programming 111
Vaudeville Comes to Radio 117
Electrical Transcriptions versus Networks 122
5 Drunk and Disorderly: The Backlash Against Broadcast Advertising 125
Timing of the Protests 127
The Protesters and Their Agendas 132
Industry Response to the Protests 139
Congressional Attempts to Reform Commercial Radio 142
Conclusion 154
Changes 155
The Rest of the Story in Radio 155
The Rest of the Story in Television 163
The End of the Story 165
Notes 169
Index 216
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