Saturday, March 07, 2009

Hello Everybody! The Dawn of American Radio by Anthony Rudel

I love radio despite what it's become--noisy and tasteless and corporate beyond belief. While corporations have almost always been a major part of radio, what we're forced to accept now by and large has left it sterile, bland, and as lifeless as a fish on the shore after the tide has gone back out to sea.

The idea of it, invisible waves going through the air that transmit music and opinion and news to you in your home or your car or wherever you can pick it up, is almost too strange to be real. That was certainly the feeling at the early part of the last century, when, admittedly, the world was much bigger than it is now and we weren't nearly so connected or educated. Rudel explains in a light and informative style, how in less than 2o years, radio changed America and the world.

In a short time, Americans latched on to radio with paws and claws and it changed how we thought, how we listened, how we were entertained and informed and from there, it spread its reach around the world. That farmers in Nebraska could hear about swells dancing to an orchestra at the Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan suddenly made the world a lot smaller. It made stars of some, created business empires for others, all the while keeping the people informed as they had never been before
and changed us forever.

One of the elements of the book that caught my attention were the number of striking parallels from then and now--radio and the Internet, a nation facing a devastating economic crisis, the failures of Herbert Hoover and George W., the successes of FDR and Obama. Radio was originally the pursuit of amateur hobbyists; a small-time operation without regulation and with little sense of its own reach and potential. Who was it for? What could it do? The other question that loomed large was who owned the airwaves and who controlled them? Interestingly, these same questions were asked again in the last 10 or 15 years about the Internet. Let's hope we learn well before the Internet is completely taken from us and put in corporate hands, as well.

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