[Marxism] Politics and the radio (from PEN-L)
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Aug 25 06:32:48 MDT 2004
> > At 1:49 PM -0700 8/22/04, Doyle Saylor wrote:
> >I think the underlying economic force is the old
> > radio model of one to many broadcasting, and the
>newer internet based technology.
> > That's the model that Bertolt Brecht criticized for
> > not making the best use of radio's potential:
>The parallel that is being made here between radio and
>the internet really isn't accurate, given that there
>are technical limits to so-called "two-way" radio.
>shameless self-promotion: below is slightly altered portion of piece that
>will appear in december 2004 issue of journal _the historian_... michael
>Few (if any) people likely associated radio and politics in the immediate
>years following Italian Gugliemo Marconi's 1895 invention of the
>"electronic voice box."
>Radio's appearance generally coincided with that of other new technologies
>at the turn of the twentieth century * airplanes, automobiles, cinema, and
>electricity, for example - offering people the adventure and excitement of
>Early radio was contested terrain. Corporations wanted to use it for
>commercial purposes; educators and intellectuals wanted to use it for
>cultural and political objectives; and amateur "ham" operators wanted to
>use it to communicate with one another. While business concerns
>eventually won out, various interests would use the medium to deliver
>speeches, disseminate messages, hold debates, and offer question and
>According to Don Moore, politics was introduced into radio when Detroit's
>Clark Wireless Telegraph and Telephone Company was contracted by a
>navigation company to send 1906 mid-term election returns to ships sailing
>the Great Lakes. A decade later, inventor Lee DeForest (whose "audion
>tube" made for improved reception and provided a foundation for the
>electronics industry) broadcast presidential election returns on 6
>November 1916 to about 7000 fellow "hams" operating up to 200 miles from
>his New York home in the Bronx.
>(Interestingly, DeForest foreshadowed the 1948 Chicago Tribune "Dewey
>Wins" (over Truman) headline when he announced before midnight that
>Republican Charles Evans Hughes had defeated Democrat Woodrow Wilson).
>Fueled by technological improvements in voice quality and transmission
>dependability of the airwaves, radio became increasingly popular after
>World War I.
>Fewer than one thousand listeners apparently heard Pittsburgh station KDKA
>announce that Republican Warren G. Harding had defeated Democrat James M.
>Cox for president in 1920. The small audience for the broadcast
>notwithstanding, listeners phoned in to express their support for more
>election news and stations soon began offering candidates for local and
>state offices the opportunity to speak "on the air." Harding occasionally
>addressed radio audiences during his time as president; Calvin Coolidge
>continued to do so upon becoming the nation's chief executive following
>Harding's unexpected death in 1923.
>Both the Republican and Democratic parties, no doubt motivated by the fact
>that the percentage of US households owning radios had grown from a tiny
>fraction to about 10%, broadcast their nominating conventions in
>1924. Republican Coolidge, whose voice expressed poise and exuded
>confidence, employed the medium to his advantage, first at his party's
>convention, and then during a largely radio-driven campaign that climaxed
>with a coast-to-coast broadcast purportedly heard by the largest listening
>audience in history to that time. One might say that the victor won
>voters' hearts and minds by capturing their ears.
>Coolidge's Republican "handlers" might well have taken their cue from
>would-be Democratic candidate William McAdoo who, had he won his party's
>nomination, intended to run for the nation's highest office via a radio
>transmitter that he had installed in his home. Actual Democratic
>candidate John Davis (nominated after fifteen convention days and 103
>ballots), who opened his bid for the presidency with a more conventional
>(for its day) "whistle-stop" train tour, turned increasingly to radio
>during the course of the campaign.
>Meanwhile, Robert LaFollette's Progressive Party campaign, strapped for
>funds as "minor" candidates generally are, financed radio time by raising
>more money during broadcasts than air-time cost. LaFollette's dilemma
>highlighted a crucial feature of radio; broadcasters had limited interest
>in "public service" broadcasting. Their principal concern was profit,
>thus, those desiring to be "on the air" were going to have to pay to do so.
>Radio would become a market by 1930; there were more than six hundred
>stations and about twelve million homes (approximately 40% of the total
>number of American families) with receivers.
>In light of the growth such numbers indicated, the two major political
>parties leveraged themselves in both the 1928 and 1932 presidential
>elections, going into debt to pay for advertising time in each
>instance. On one hand, the existing political culture quickly integrated
>radio into "existing patterns of behavior and power" as a system of "paid
>speech" took hold during political campaigns. On the other, the medium
>altered the style of electioneering.
>Franklin Roosevelt, whose speaking voice was tailor-made for radio, built
>upon its prior political use. FDR had introduced himself to the general
>public with several well-received speeches broadcast from the 1924
>Democratic convention; his radio appearances during the 1932 presidential
>campaigns conveyed character and sincerity. Subsequently, he relied upon
>radio during his lengthy presidential tenure, the famous "fireside chats"
>establishing a rapport between himself and the American people that helped
>sell New Deal programs during the Great Depression and guide the nation
>through World War Two.
>As novelist Saul Bellow writes,
>I can recall walking eastward on the Chicago Midway*drivers had pulled
>over, parking bumper to bumper, and turned on their radios to hear
>Roosevelt. They had rolled down the windows and opened the car
>doors. Everywhere the same voice, its odd Eastern accent, which in anyone
>else would have irritated Mid-westerners. You could follow without
>missing a single word as you strolled by. You felt joined to these
>unknown drivers, men and women*not so much considering the President's
>words as affirming the rightness of his tone and taking assurance from it.
>(According to Robert Sherrill, before Roosevelt went on the air, a Navy
>pharmacist's mate would "carefully clean out his sinuses to make his
>lovely tenor voice resonant).
>Speaking from a small basement room (that had no fire place) in the White
>House FDR maneuvered an end-run around the print media controlled by
>Republican publishers while making listeners feel as though he had dropped
>by their house for a chat. Moreover, this consummate politician
>apparently warmed to these shrewdly calculated "homey" and "down to earth"
>appeals to "common people" as well. According to Secretary of Labor
>Frances Perkins, "His face would smile and light up as though he were
>actually sitting on the front porch or in the parlor with them. People
>felt this, and it bound them to him with affection."
>In addition to candidate orations and politician speeches, radio lent
>itself to debate as well as question-and-answer formats, more often in
>terms of discussions about "issues of the day" rather than elections.
>Audiences in the 1930s and 1940s, for example, could tune into "Town
>Meeting of the Air" to listen to panelists discuss important
>matters. According to historian Michael Schudson, this National
>Broadcasting Company (NBC) program encouraged informed citizen
>participation in government. Perhaps, although audience research
>conducted at the time suggested that such fare had little impact on either
>public opinion or voter turnout.
>(One might also question the framing of such programs. For example, a 23
>January 1939 "Town Meeting of the Air" broadcast (with a panel that
>included Communist Party USA General Secretary Earl Browder) considered
>the question, "Is America Menaced by Foreign Propaganda?")
>Still, Republican Thomas Dewey relied upon live radio Q&A broadcasts
>during his 1946 campaign for New York governor and, two years later, some
>80 million people are said to have tuned in to hear prospective 1948
>Republican presidential nominees Dewey and Harold Stassen square off, sans
>querying journalists, in a brief exchange allowing each man to make an
>opening statement and issue a closing rebuttal.
>Due to Florida's very broad public records law, most written
>communications to or from College employees regarding College business are
>public records, available to the public and media upon request. Therefore,
>this e-mail communication may be subject to public disclosure.
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