Radio Entertainment In 1920s “Video Killed the Radio Star” is the debut song of The Buggles released September 7th 1979 but, did not make an impression on the general public until its release as the debut video on MTV at 12:01 August 1st 1981, almost 100 years after the invention of radio. Henirich Hertz, a German Physicist, created the foundation of radio in 1886 by proving that electric waves could be transmitted and received without the need of a physical medium (Spiker 2). Nokolai Tesla expanded on Hertz’s design and in 1893 in Saint Louis, Missouri demonstrated that signals could be transmitted wirelessly.
As with any idea there is an ongoing process to improve, and in 1896, Guglielmo Marconi considered as the father of radio received an award for his contribution to radio technology. Marconi’s early radio used dot-dash telegraphy otherwise known as Morse code to transmit messages from one ship to another (Spiker 3). When a ship had trouble at sea they used radio technology and Morse code to communicate with other ships asking for assistance such as, when the Titanic struck an ice burg in 1912 and sank.
During the First World War radio technology was halted in the public sector.
Radio at the time was used by military officials to communicate with soldiers and those not in the war as the government felt it could be used by spies to gain an advantage. The first government owned radio in the United States was KDKA, which began by airing results for Harding-Cox presidency (Taylor 427). Thereafter, many radio stations emerged and encompassed various forms of entertainment including music, drama and news. Radios effect on the culture of the United States is perhaps the greatest technological advancement of the 20th century.
Radio re-configured values, helped usher in new forms of music, played a role in the creation of the star system of the entertainment industry and played a large role in expanding and strengthening the economy. The 1920s saw the improvements and advancements of radio technology in the United States. During this period, many radio stations increased their transmission capacities in order for their signals to be received in a wider area (Spiker 5). Larger studios were constructed, improvements made to the transmission equipment, and microphones were developed to create better sound quality.
In addition, there were improvements made on receiving equipment used by listeners such as the vacuum tube. In early 1920s, there were no government regulations regarding frequency use (Fredrick 130). All stations were to operate at the same frequency. However, as the number of radio stations increased, some stations tried to operate at frequencies higher than the expected one. This created the need for the government to step in and the FRC (Federal Radio Commission) was established in 1926 followed by the Radio Act of 1927 (Messere).
With the establishment of the FRC and the Radio Act of 1927 many regulations were enacted to reduce or eliminate interference so listeners could enjoy their favorite programs. Radio technology created conflicts between tradition and modernity in America. Radio stations were competing for listeners and introduced as many programs that they felt could interest as many listeners as possible (Lafollette 18). Many of the programs overlapped, and listeners were left in a state of confusion with the overlapping programs.
To complicate things further listeners tried to maintain their traditional way but found that radio programs contradicted this and showed a more modern way of doing things. For example, while people loved and listened to traditional songs over the radio, the radios introduced modern music played using modern technology that were more interesting to listeners than the traditional music (Fredrick 137). This left listeners conflicted and questioning whether to keep to their traditional beliefs or move in to a more modern way of doing things.
The 1920s radio entertainment lead to emergence of various forms of music and encouraged sharing of cultures. 1920s radio stations mostly played Jazz, Broadway, and Ragtime music (Taylor 427). Though Jazz music was regarded as devil music, many people began to enjoy it despite the debate over its origin. In 1927, the king of Jazz, Paul Whiteman quelled the debate by reporting the genuineness of Jazz. The playing of such music by radio made them popular even in remote locations where they could have not reached (Taylor 430).
Musicians used the opportunity to tell their stories, educate, and entertain at the same time. The period saw diverse music and encouraged innovation as musicians did as much as they could to make their voices appeal to listeners (Barfield 201). Though Jazz, Broadway, and Ragtime were not mixed music at the time, they were slowly played in dance halls and clubs. African dances such as chicken scratch and turkey trot were incorporated in the music, and progressively gained popularity as Americans enjoyed these new and unique dance styles.
Radio in 1920s helped manufacturers promote their products and services to consumers. The 1920s had a distinctive social and economic viewpoint in the United States; it was a time when there was prosperity and a wealth of goods and services. People were aggressive at making more out of the little they had and had a lot of faith in technology. However, with an abundant supply of goods, manufacturers questioned where and how to move them. Many manufactures resorted to radio advertising to promote buyers to purchase more of the surplus (Fredrick 133).
At the time, listeners were extremely enthusiastic at following radio programs; they could not skip a radio advertisement like a newspaper advertisement if they did, they could miss part of their favorite show (Hilmes 254). The advertisements or adverts as they were to become known as were specifically situated in within shows that people liked. The adverts were very convincing and were presented in a manner that the person advertising was seen as friends providing advice to listeners (Hilmes 255).
This made many people buy the extra products and services, which in turn strengthened the American economy. With more and more manufactures advertising this led to commercialization of radio during the 1920s and thus created jobs for performers. Jobs; yes, pay; no, prior to commercialization many of the performers and deejays that were heard on the radio were not compensated. However, due to the positive returns brought by radio advertising, performers became unwilling to go on air free of charge (Hilmes 257).
Radio station owners were faced with both performers and deejays demanding a lot of money to appear in advertisements. To help offset this radio stations introduced the issue of air time to ensure that they get enough money to pay the growing costs associated with radio entertainment. In return, advertisers bought much of the air time and some sponsored entire shows and took full control over the shows (Hilmes 257; Hilmes 208). By the end of 1920s, most of the shows were sponsored by advertisers and were produced, not by the radio stations, but by advertisers themselves.
The programs were made to ensure that many listeners love radio, listeners were the customers and the more the number, the more the customers attracted (Hilmes, 258). Radio was aimed at any and all listeners and despite the traditional beliefs that encouraged divide among Americans, the programs preached oneness and discouraged differences. The 1920s radio entertainment changed not only the way goods were promoted but also the way people in America performed their daily chores.
Prior to the advent of radio entertainment of the 1920s, American men, women and children would wake up early perform their jobs, chores, or go to school then retreat home for dinner then off to bed. After the advent of radio, the culture of Americans changed. Radio entertainment changed all these; the radio programs of the 1920s were designed for various groups at their free times (Barfield 56). Their morning shows were designed for everyone in the family as all family members were at home, some preparing to go to work while children preparing to go to school (Hilmes, 203).
During the day, women could tune to their radios to listen to programs designed for housewives (Barfield 58). Programs were designed and aimed at women, and a vast many of these programs were sponsored by soap manufactures such as Proctor & Gamble, Colgate, Palmolive and Lever Brothers so they became known as soap operas (Taylor 434). They generally aired programs such as soaps that, though interesting, made women cry the whole day as they see their favorite characters pass through obstacles to achieve their aims (Barfield 59; Spiker 217).
In addition, advertisers recognized the need to have programs aimed at children. Radio stations aired out various programs that suit children and usually involved programs that either educated or entertained children (Barfield 71; Spiker 298). Radio advertisers produced a variety of programs; each designed for the intended audience; men; news and weather, women; soap operas, and children; educational material or entertaining stories such as The Green Hornet and The Lone Ranger, were produced and aired when the intended audience was most likely to be listening.
Radio entertainment in 1920s encouraged investment in radio telecommunication and aired programs that united people from different ethnic groups or races. Contrary to America’s past culture of doing business of manufactured products and agricultural products, radio communication brought a new area of business dealing with radio entertainment. By 1922, about 600 radio stations were operating in the United States. KYW, the first radio station in Chicago, started in 1921 by Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company and was airing only soap operas throughout the week (Taylor 435).
By the end of the opera season, KYW saw the need to diversify its programming and began to broadcast different programs such as; music, sporting events, news, weather and political commentary. People from different communities, ethnic origins, and races felt a sense of belonging as they could listen to programs that interested them. By the mid 1920’s radio entertainment had a firm grip on the general public and played an important role in their everyday lives. Radio Music of the 1920s illustrated everyday occasions (Lafollette 23). They were used to signify occasions such as weddings by the messages they conveyed.
For example, the wedding in Chicago in the spring of 1924 was featured in Lohengrin, which was an opera done by Richard Wagner (Barfield 78). Radio music was also included in funerals. In 1929, a funeral director introduced funeral music in radio programs and established some time when such music was played (Barfield 80). Therefore, radio entertainment became more detailed and diverse including everyone in society and appeared to take care of the needs of people. Radios effect on the culture of the United States is perhaps the greatest technological advancement of the 20th century.
Radio entertainment changed the way Americans went about their daily duties and encouraged the sharing of cultures. Radio changed the economy, manufacturers who used newspaper advertising which did not attract the attention of citizens found that radio advertising helped them promote their products and services and reach more consumers thus gaining customer confidence and making a lot of profits. Many people took advantage of these new opportunities in radio by becoming radio presenters, deejays, news reporters, and the vast number of other jobs created due to radio advertising.
Radio helped usher in new forms of music, as many artists began to experimenting with new forms of music for the purpose of attracting more listeners. Listeners followed what the music said and drifted from their traditional culture to that of more modern thought and practice. Radio brought togetherness and unity among people from different communities, ethnic origins, and races and provided a sense of belonging as they could listen to programs that interested them.
Without radio entertainment of 1920s, the traditional American culture would not have changed the way it has. Works Cited Barfield, Ray E. Listening to radio, 1920-1950. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1996. Print. Fredrick, Lewis A. Only Yesterday: An Informed History of the 1920s. 1964. Print. Hilmes, Michele. Radio voices: American broadcasting, 1922-1952. Minnesota: UP, 1997. Print. Lafollette, Marcel C. “A survey of science content in U. S. radio broadcasting, 1920s through 1940s: Scientists Speak in their Own Voices. ” Science Communication 24. (2002): 4-33. Print. Messere, Fritz. “Welcome to the Federal Radio Commission Archives” Fritz Messere, Associate Professor of Broadcasting and Mass Communications at State University of New York – Oswego. 1997. Web. 22 Mar. 2013 Spiker, J. A. “The development of radio. ” Journalism and Mass Communication 1 (2006): 1-6. Print. Taylor, Tim. “Music and the Rise of Radio in 1920s America: Technological Imperialism, Socialization, and the Transformation of Intimacy. ” Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 22. 4 (2002): 425-443. Print.
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