Radio's Civic Ambition: American Broadcasting and Democracy in the 1930s

Radio's Civic Ambition: American Broadcasting and Democracy in the 1930s


By (author) David Goodman


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  • Publisher: Oxford University Press Inc
  • Format: Hardback | 368 pages
  • Dimensions: 160mm x 238mm x 34mm | 621g
  • Publication date: 5 May 2011
  • Publication City/Country: New York
  • ISBN 10: 0195394089
  • ISBN 13: 9780195394085
  • Sales rank: 794,353

Product description

The history of American radio broadcasting has often been written as a lament for lost possibilities, a tale of what might have been. One now familiar landmark in that account is the story of how American commercial broadcasters, in the passage of the 1934 Communications Act, won a great victory over reformers who wanted frequencies set aside for non-commercial use. It is generally agreed that the defeat of the radio reformers was decisive and permanent, and that the best hopes for a public radio in the United States had been thwarted by 1934. In Radio's Civic Ambition, however, author David Goodman focuses not on the lost possibilities and defeated reformers, but on what did happen as the beginning of another chapter in the story of the struggle over the meaning and purpose of American broadcasting. Commercial broadcasters paid a considerable price for their victory: in the years after 1934, American broadcasters always had to be seen to be providing public service as well as entertainment. An impressive range of programs, from imaginatively conceived classical music broadcasts to lively multi-opinion radio forums, was designed to promote civic engagement and individualization. By the later 1930s, political leaders, key social science and communications intellectuals, the Federal Communications Commission, and many articulate and educated ordinary Americans, increasingly expected commercial broadcasters in the US to perform a range of ambitious civic functions, including encouraging local community, strengthening democracy, fostering talent, and producing tolerance for other points of view. A new look at the history of commercial radio broadcasting in America, Radio's Civic Ambition will appeal to students and scholars in communications and radio studies, music history, media studies, and American history.

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Author information

David Goodman teaches American history at the University of Melbourne and is author of Gold Seeking: Victoria and California in the 1850s.

Review quote

"Goodman's book provides a great look at how the American broadcasting industry in the 1930s was civic-minded as well as responsive to government." --American Journalism"In Radio's Civic Ambition, David Goodman has produced a significant critical rethinking of the philosophy and operation of American broadcasting. Bringing out the educational and public service aspects of what has commonly been derided as a wholly commercial system, Goodman demonstrates how American radio was shaped by larger currents in social and political thought, particularly in the fields of classical music and public affairs programming. This impressively wide-ranging study also sheds new light on Adorno's famous critique of US media culture and provides a window into scholarly debates on radio and its social function in the 1930s and 40s. All scholars of American history and culture, as well as media studies, will find it provocative and stimulating." --Michele Hilmes, author of Radio Voices: American Broadcasting 1922 to 1952 (1997) and Network Nations: A TransnationalHistory of British and American Broadcasting (2011)"A brilliant contribution to the history of American broadcasting. Goodman's argument is subtle and bold, painstakingly researched and creatively conceived. Radio's Civic Ambition is a revisionist history in the best sense of the term. Goodman has sifted through the archives, revisited the usual theoretical suspects, and produced an imaginative and persuasive new way to think about American radio's Golden Age."--Jason Loviglio, author of Radio's Intimate Public: Network Broadcasting and Mass-Mediated Democracy (2005)"A thought-provoking and, at times, innovative intellectual history of radio programming."--The Journal of American History"Not only a significant addition to the history of early American broadcasting, and one that forces a rethinking of entrenched assumptions about that system's political alliances, but it is also a model of the

Table of contents

ABOUT THE COMPANION WEBSITE ; PREFACE ; PART 1: AMBITION ; Chapter 1 : The American System ; Chapter 2 : The Civic Paradigm ; Chapter 3 : The Promise of Broadcast Classical Music ; Chapter 4 : Democratic Radio ; PART 2: DIVISION ; Chapter 5 : Class, Cosmopolitanism and Division ; Chapter 6 : Radio and the intelligent listener - the War of the Worlds panic ; Chapter 7 : Populism, war and the American system ; POSTLUDE: FROM TOSCANINI TO SINATRA ; CONCLUSION