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This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.

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Book Review: Radio After the Golden Age
The Evolution of American Broadcasting Since 1960
by Jim Cox

McFarland, 2013
Appendices, notes, bibliography, index,
ISBN 978-0-7864-7434-9
Paperback $45, 254 pgs.
Order: 800-253-2187 or
Book review by Arlene Osborne
(From Radio Recall, December 2013)

Author Jim Cox knows radio, how to research it and how to write about it. This time he takes readers on a journey of discovery with a book containing more detail on radio's evolution than one could ever imagine. While the sub-title proclaims the subject to be the evolution since 1960, it is far more than that. For example, after following this year's America's Cup races, I was surprised to learn that the birth of broadcast journalism happened when Guglielmo Marconi was commissioned to provide minute-by-minute wireless telegraph coverage of the 1898 Kingstown Regatta and the 1899 America's Cup races!

Radio was expansively introduced in the 1920s. But the author goes back even further to explain how inventor Reginald Fessenden "dispersed the sound of his voice across the ether" using his high-frequency alternator on Christmas eve 1906. In the 1920s, most radios were homemade, consisting simply of some wire, an oatmeal box, a piece of crystal, a "cat's whisker" and a pair of earphones. (My dad used to tell of listening to reports of Lindbergh's Paris landing with a crystal radio he had built using a Quaker oatmeal box.)

Radio reached its zenith in the 1930s just as the Great Depression took hold. The author quotes The World Almanac of 1932 as reporting the radio "was the most prominent piece of furniture in the house, and frequently the most expensive. The family would gather around it and stare at it as if it were a glowing fireplace. The American public had spent $1.5 billion buying radios - a staggering figure for the depression days of the early 1930s." And by 1945, more homes were equipped with radios than with bathtubs. Try to find that statistic in another book, folks!

In 1947, John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley of Bell Labs, developed the transistor. It helped radio survive as television edged its way into the limelight. Teenagers embraced the new radios and were soon listening to rock and roll wherever they happened to be.

DJs became permanent fixtures at radio stations, and proved to be cost-effective since they required no scripts or orchestras. But record sales were influenced by the songs played by the DJ. Therefore, it was not long before record companies were buying off some of the platter spinners and payola was born. The scandal extended into television as well. Many careers were ended as a result but as one critic said, "no deejays were packed off to prison."

As the programs we have grown to love began to disappear from the AM dial, FM radio was steadily encroaching. David Sarnoff of RCA envisioned TV having a big future, and bankrolled its development with profits from NBC's two AM networks.

An entire chapter is devoted to narrowcasting (often called block programming), while the following chapter addresses talk radio and talk shows. In 'Theater of the Mind Deja Vu," the author tells of how some of the major networks tested the waters to see if an old-time radio revival of sorts would fly in the 1970s. As we know, programs such as Himan Brown's CBS Radio Mystery Theater, X-Minus One and The Zero Hour came to be during that time.

This book may not be one that every oldtime radio fan will choose to own, as it is jampacked with facts, figures and details -- the 'Notes' section alone is seventeen pages! Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised to find it contained a lot of radio history that held my interest, all amassed in one very comprehensive volume.


Arlene Osborne is an old-time radio researcher, writer and editor who lives in Sandown, New Hampshire. She is a Bell Labs retiree and flew hot air balloons commercially for twenty-four years. She has been a member of MWOTRC since the mid-1990s.