Radio

 

Radio was the first mass medium which brought popular entertainment into the home. It created global personalities who became household names but who, unlike the movie icons, seemed real and accessible. It produced great media institutions like NBC, CBS and the BBC and enjoyed a dot-com type boom when it launched. It was the first battleground for electronic copyright and redefined the practice of politics and advertising. From the 1920s to the 1950s radio dominated the media landscape.  It is now a niche medium overshadowed by television but it was the development of radio that shaped today’s media world to a significant degree.

Hearing is one of the key senses and radio is a direct extension. It takes two of the media building blocks - speech and music - and makes them instantly available to a wide audience. Radio takes the magic of the campfire story, the message of the market-place orator and the thrill of the live performance out from its immediate audience and into the home.  Radio is mostly free to listeners and this allowed the creation of vast audiences in a way never achieved by print. McLuhan called it the “tribal drum”.  It has proved to be a potent and resilient medium.

For a period of 30 years (from about 1925 to 1955) radio was the principal way that most people, at least in Europe and America, got news, information and entertainment. It created stars and millionaires in entertainment and journalism and made and broke politicians. It was a major force in building national and cultural identity and it developed the structures of media ownership and control that were later adopted by television. The previously dominant newspapers had to respond to radio by focusing on features and entertainment and on the big names of radio itself.  Magazines changed by featuring far more colour photography. Cinema embraced sound as well as pictures. The recorded music industry at first resisted and then collaborated with radio to create the profession of disc jockey.  Radio put the “mass” into media as it created broadcasts which were a shared national experience.