This chapter covers radio from its invention in the 1890s to internet streaming radio today. A selection from this chapter is found in the Features section: Radio and the Titanic.
Like many new media forms, radio was highly regulated early on; but unlike most other media forms, radio (and television) broadcasting never escaped the heavy hand of government regulation in the US and the rest of the world. This was, in part, because the supply of radio spectrum is not elastic like film, web sites and printed newspapers and magazines. Yet radio and television are highly plastic, widely dispersed media, and it is not surprising that a high level of regulation persists.
In developing nations, specifically Africa, Asia and Latin America, radio is the medium with the largest audience. Some of the most important initiatives include Developing Radio, and Radio for Development, and the Caribbean broadcasting initiative. The idea of using radio for development is not at all new — the World Bank studied the concept in the 1970s, and use of radio for education goes back to its earliest days in the US and Europe.
- Titanic: How did radio telegraphy help and / or hurt in the Titanic disaster?
- No use whatsoever: How could someone as brilliant as Heinrich Hertz say that there was no practical use for his discoveries about radio?
- Oh the humanity: Herbert Morris made the Hindenburg disaster famous. What do we know about the Hindenburg disaster today?
- War of the Worlds: Would people be frightened by a radio report of an invasion from Mars today? Why or why not? What made it frightening in 1938?
- Research question: Radio telegraphy was invented around the same time in India, Brazil, Italy and New York. The Italian inventor (Marconi) is almost the only one remembered by history. Why?
People & Events
Heinrich Hertz, Guglielmo Marconi, Reginald Fessenden, Edwin H. Armstrong, David Sarnoff, William S. Paley, Orson Wells, Herbert Morrison, Mae West, Amos n’ Andy, Edward R. Murrow, William L. Shirer, Father Charles Coughlin, Franklin D. Roosevelt,
Radio telegraphy, radio telephony, continuous wave versus spark, talk radio, radio censorship, fireside chats, War of the Worlds broadcast, controversy over news on radio, FRC regulation, Mayflower decision (leading to Fairness Doctrine, Ch 9); payola scandals, radio station ownership consolidation in Telecommunications Act of 1996, satellite radio, internet radio, MP3 players (iPods etc).
Documentary video and audio
- Short program on the Golden Age of Radio — With Good Reason interview with Prof. Kovarik.
- Radio : out of thin air / A&E Television Networks ; The History Channel New York : c1997
- Philadelphia Inquirer short video about RCA museum in Camden NJ. (May 8, 2012)
- Hearing America: A Century of Music on the Radio (American Public Radio)
- Radio museum, Huntington WV is the largest radio museum in the eastern US.
MARconi and the titanic
- Marconi’s plans for the world, 1912 — They included wireless telephony, wireless heating, wireless lighting, and wireless fertilizer. Hey, two out of four isnt bad.
- Marconi calling— an extraordinary and innovative web site about the invention of radio telegraphy.
- The sinking of the Republic — how telegraphy helped rescue passengers.
- The New York Herald uncovered hidden arrangements concerning news of the Titanic.
- Marconi Company and Titanic Disaster Communication (1912)
The Sounds of the Past
Radio and politics
- Reginald Fessenden’s 1906 Christmas Eve broadcast is remembered in this Dec. 25, 2013 Washington Post story.
- Sarnoff’s “Radio Music Box” memo, 1916 — Early Radio History web site.
- FDR’s Fireside Chats were the first time a president used the radio consistently to reach out to the public. This Fireside Chat from April 29, 1935, like many in the 1930s, was an attempt to project confidence during the great Depression. By 1940, a more somber FDR would tell audiences of the danger of Nazi victory. And by January 11, 1944, another Fireside Chat on the Bill of Rights would remind Americans of the economic rights they were also fighting for. Text of the Fireside Chats is available here.
- Gandhi’s 1930 Salt March radio re-enactment from BBC Witness.
- Father Charles Coughlin — A growing radio power in 1936, but cut off the air by NBC and CBS as a Nazi apologist by 1939. Radio address 1938: Not Antisemitism but Anti-Communism. For other broadcasts see I am the Witness web site.
- Amy Semple Macpherson was a radio evangelist whose politics were not as extreme as Coughlin.
- Winston Churchill’s famous “Fight them on the Beaches” speech, June 4, 1940.
- Marlene Deitrich – “Hello, boys.” Address to the Fifth Army.
- Harry Truman announces V-E day. (short clip)
- September 21, 1939: A Day in Radio
- The Sounds of History – great site with links to radio news.
- War of the Worlds Halloween, 1938 broadcast; Mercury Theater site; documentary clips of reaction to War of the Worlds; Newsreel of Wells the morning after; Wells on TV reminiscing about the broadcast around 1970. Recently we’ve head the idea that the hoax was a hoax.
- Amos n’ Andy — Offensively stereotyped by modern standards, this comedy by two white guys was an extremely popular early platform for social commentary, as this sketch from the 1928 Smith – Hoover election shows. (Hoover was a Republican, by the way).
- Lone Ranger — Interesting background in the introduction, but the show starts at 1:08.
- Mae West and Don Ameche in The Garden of Eden sketch, 1938. This gave the FCC serious heartburn.
- The Shadow radio drama — This one is The Man Who Murdered Time, probably 1938. There are links to others on the YouTube page. at 3:30 on this page, there’s an interesting statement about radio itself: “Thirty years ago, the notion that a human voice could circle the earth would not only have been called fantastic, but impossible.”
- Fibber McGee and Molly – 1942 broadcast. Note the disparaging remarks about Hitler.
- Flash Gordon — The amazing interplanetary adventures of Flash Gordon and Dale Arden. This is the first episode broadcast in 1935 where he and Dale meet Professor Zarkov.
- Boswell Sisters — Dancing Cheek to Cheek — one of the best-remembered early radio songs.
- A Date with Judy radio comedy. Not well remembered today but funny and pitched to the feminine audience.
- Jack Benny radio program Nov. 2, 1941 on NBC. Show starts at 1:55. A little more than a month later the world would change as America entered World War II.
- Sherlock Holmes – Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce were favorites of the era. Murder in the Casbah was broadcast over Armed Forces Radio around 1943.
- Little Orphan Annie was a cartoon character translated to radio in the 1930s. The actual story in this clip starts at 2:30, which gives you some idea of why the FCC was complaining about over-commercialization of radio at the time.
- CBS Radio Mystery Theater – 1,399 episodes from 1974 – 1982, searchable by plots, actors and writers.
- Newspaper heroes on the radio — Also Turn Back the Dial — Both are great websites about radio by Bob Stepno.
- Radio’s longest running show — The Grand Ole Opry
Radio News 1930s and 40s
- “No one in Europe wants to fight.” — Mutual Broadcasting Service’s John Steele tells Americans not to worry as Austria becomes part of Germany in March, 1938. (Also see Wikipedia background on what was called “the Anschluss.” And for more see the Nazis take over Austria March 1938. )
- Hans Kaltenborn reports August 27, 1939 on The eve of war
- Nauen Transmitter Station – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- William L. Shirer covers the beginning of WWII (broadcast)
- Elmer Davis on the French surrender June 21, 1940.
- This is London — Edward R. Murrow, probably summer 1940.
- This is Trafalgar Square — Edward R. Murrow, Aug. 24, 1940.
- (And an interesting modern juxtaposition of the famous Trafalgar Square broadcast)
- “Orchestrated Hell“ – Edward R. Murrow describes an air raid over Berlin, Dec. 2, 1943.
- Murrow — 1986 TV movie.
- D-Day — Charles Collingwood, CBS eyewitness report, D-Day June 6, 1944.
- Drew Pearson reports on the Soviet advance on Berlin, April 22, 1945.
- Edward R. Murrow reports on the liberation of the Buchanwald concentration camp, May 1945.
- Hiroshima — CBS reports the Hiroshima bomb from the home front Aug 7, 1945.
- Nagasaki — British Group Captain Leonard Cheshire, designated as an observer of the US atomic bomb by Winston Churchill, reported for the BBC on the Aug. 9, 1945.
- WWII propaganda personality ‘Tokyo Rose’ never existed.
- The Fairness Doctrine: How we lost it, why we need it back, FAIR, 2005.
- End of the Fairness Doctrine meant the rise of right-wing extremism. Bill Moyers, March 24, 2016.
- Conservative radio talk show host fired after making critical comments on natural gas (fracking)
- The day the music died — College radio at Vanderbilt sold to NPR affiliate
- The Limbaugh slut flap of 2012 — Some in the talk business suggest things are different now. Washington Post March 15.
- CommunityRadio | Reclaim the Media
- NPR is on the ropes, or at least, so says the Wall Street Journal, which has never been much in favor of public radio. New York Public Radio’s CEO Laura Walker talks about why it ain’t necessarily so.
- NPR is reinventing radio in the age of iPods — June 8 2012 Fast Company. But stations have resisted NPR’s podcasting, and the NPR business model is breaking, according to an April 10, 2016 story in Slate Magazine.
- Royalties from digital radio are starting to add up. NYT June 17, 2012.
- DarwinTunes experiments with music production.
- Internet radio and royalties — For years, online services like Pandora have complained that rate schedules are much higher for Internet than for satellite radio. A bill called the Internet Radio Fairness Act is being considered in Congress.
- Double loop learning: New York Times, Jan. 20, 2013: The rock band OK Go described how it once operated under the business model of the 20th-century rock band. But when industry record sales collapsed and the band members found themselves creatively hamstrung by their recording company, they questioned their tactics. Rather than depend on their label, they made wildly unconventional music videos, which went viral, and collaborative art projects with companies like Google, State Farm and Range Rover, which financed future creative endeavors. The band now releases albums on its own label.
- The future of car radio is connectivity to the internet — USA Today March 26, 2013.
- The digital age is killing AM radio — New York Times, Sept. 9, 2013.
- This American Life considers self-syndication on radio. New York Times, March 30, 2014.
- Ring of Fire radio, hosted by Robert F. Kennedy
- The effect of “free” on music, New York Times, June 8, 2014.
Google exec says you can’t devalue music. And a few other worthy things about the future of radio. Digital Music News, Nov. 1, 2013. “It’s been called editorial music merchandising or content programming, but whatever you call it, the object’s the same. We’re here to help you through that maelstrom of musical choice… We’re not gatekeepers. We’re not taste-makers. We’re park rangers. Being a park ranger means our job isn’t to tell visitors what’s great and why. Our job is to get them from any given thing they like to a variety of other things they might. We may have our own favorite paths and being park rangers we probably even prefer the less crowded ones, but our job is to keep them all maintained so visitors to our park can chose their own adventure. They might not feel our hand on their backs as they wander, but it’s there. It’s just subtle. So how does that work in practice? Here are three guiding principles:
- There should be no dead-ends.
- There should be different recommendations for different people
- Context is more useful that opinions.”
Radio and the music industry
- The MIDI revolution — NPR, May 12, 2013
- The Music Industry is still screwed — Salon, June 20, 2014
- Radio and the music industry were circumventing technologies for the boomer culture of the 50s – 70s. And a new audience was just what radio needed, according to radio DJ Casey Kasem. ( “Out of Thin Air,” (A&E, History Channel 1997). So musicians and comedians with social and political messages communicated through radio and rock and roll music, and it was powerful stuff: Rock n’ Roll music was banned in the Soviet Union until the 1980s, and is still heavily restricted in China and some Arab nations. But in the US and Europe, the safer versions of Rock n’ Roll songs were often aired by FM radio stations. Radio stations were limited, as noted in the song I Dig Rock n’ Roll Music. (“But if I really say it, the radio won’t play it, unless I lay it between the lines”). And hey, you could see they were having fun with this song.
When they couldn’t “really say it,” commedians (Bill Cosby, Steve Martin, George Carlin, Lily Tomlin and others) used LP (long playing) records, an older technology than radio, and also useful as a circumventing technology.
News & literature
- Archive of radio news — News and public affairs programs from the 1930s to the 1970s
- Radio Lovers – A variety of classics in radio plays.
- Librivox — The audio equivalent of Wikipedia, all in the public domain.
- Journalism heroes — A rich collection of radio plays about news men and women, organized by Bob Stepno.
- NBC University Theater — A collection of classics intended to accompany “at home study” in the 1940s and 50s.