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Book Review: Radio After the Golden Age
The Evolution of American Broadcasting Since 1960
by Jim Cox
Appendices, notes, bibliography, index,
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
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
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