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Radio Voices

American Broadcasting, 1922-1952

1997
Author:

Michele Hilmes

Radio Voices

An overview of radio’s impact on American culture in the first half of the twentieth century.

Examining the way radio programming influenced and was influenced by the United States of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, Michele Hilmes traces the history of the medium from its earliest years through the advent of television.

This book will have an immediate and long lasting impact on the ways we will consider the role of broadcasting in the US.

William Boddy, Baruch College and Graduate Center, CUNY

The Shadow. Fibber McGee and Molly. Amos ’n’ Andy. When we think back on the golden age of radio, we think of the shows. In Radio Voices, Michele Hilmes looks at the way radio programming influenced and was influenced by the United States of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, tracing the history of the medium from its earliest years through the advent of television.

Hilmes places the development of radio within the context of the turmoils of the 1920s: immigration and urbanization, the rise of mass consumer culture, and the changing boundaries of the public and private spheres. Early practices and structures-the role of the announcer, the emergence of program forms from vaudeville, minstrel shows, and the concert stage-are examined.

Central to Radio Voices is a discussion of programs and their relations to popular understandings of race, ethnicity, and gender in the United States of this era. Hilmes explores Amos ‘n’ Andy and its negotiations of racial tensions and The Rise of the Goldbergs and its concern with ethnic assimilation. She reflects upon the daytime serials-the first soap operas-arguing that these much-disparaged programs provided a space in which women could discuss conflicted issues of gender. Hilmes also explores industry practices, considering the role of advertising agencies and their areas of conflict and cooperation with the emerging networks as well as the impact of World War II on the “mission” of radio.

Radio Voices places the first truly national medium of the United States in its social context, providing an entertaining account of the interplay between programming and popular culture.

Radio Voices

Michele Hilmes is associate professor in the Department of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She is also the author of Hollywood and Broadcasting (1990).

Radio Voices

This book will have an immediate and long lasting impact on the ways we will consider the role of broadcasting in the US.

William Boddy, Baruch College and Graduate Center, CUNY

Michele Hilmes’s engagingly written and carefully argued account reveals how radio soap operas, situation comedies, action-adventure programs, and variety shows helped fuse a distinct national identity and national consciousness during a vital period in U.S. history. Hilmes shows us how situation comedies both expressed and contained the rough edges of U.S. ethnic and racial experiences, how daytime dramas explored alternative identities and created an alternative public sphere for women, and how comedy-variety shows and nighttime dramas reflected the contours of social class. Radio Voices succeeds splendidly as an inquiry into commercial radio’s role as a historical force, but it also serves as a splendid example of the value of combining media studies with ethnic studies, feminist studies, and cultural studies.

George Lipsitz, University of California, San Diego

Hilmes presents radio as an ongoing battle to first define, then exploit, a changing America by a shifting cast of power brokers. Hilmes, who teaches communication arts at the University of Wisconsin and is the author of Hollywood and Broadcasting, backs up her theses with fascinatingly cynical memos from the incunabula of J. Walter Thompson and NBC, as well as comments from an impressive chorus of social scientists.

Publishers Weekly

This interesting and important volume adds to a rising flow of historical studies of radio, helping to resurrect its fascinating story.

Choice

Radio Voices is the most-cited publication in a recent spate of cultural studies of radio. Hilmes analyzes the early practices and programs of radio-such as the daytime serial drama that would evolve into the soap opera-in relation to the emergence, after World War I, of mass consumerism. She argues that, as the United States rose to world power during the Age of Radio, the medium was crucial in helping to form an American national identity and to blur the boundaries between the public and private spheres.

Chronicle of Higher Education

Hilmes offers a fresh, exciting, path-breaking and insightful history of radio broadcasting. Radio Voices provides an innovative and accessible history of U.S. broadcasting that promises to inspire a new wave of critical cultural analysis of the radio era. Radio Voices may prove to be the most important for the research it promises to inspire by rethinking and enlivening the field of radio history.

Journal of Communication

The title, Radio Voices, is well chosen: the voices of the radio pioneers, which one might too easily assume to be irrecoverable, emerge through the book’s frequent extracts from correspondence and scripts. Radio Voices will remind scholars of popular culture of the pleasures and rewards of archival study.

Journal of American History

The author’s extensive research has turned up many delicious tales not recounted elsewhere.

Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television

Radio Voices: American Broadcasting, 1922-1952 by Michelle Hilmes, while centered on golden age radio programming, represents a serious cultural study, one with heft and weight. It cogently and compellingly examines how the prevailing social norms, attitudes, and prejudices of the day, particularly held by station, network, and advertising agency power brokers, shaped the medium’s programming in a way that sustained and perpetuated the country’s inequities and injustices, ultimately to the significant detriment of women and minorities. In pursuing this narrative motif, Hilmes creates one of the most comprehensive and incisive examinations of the role of the medium in the early decades American life. This important and thought-provoking volume reflects and underscores the mounting interest in radio studies that occurred in the 1990s. Publication of several monographs probing the social and cultural influence and function of the medium during its heyday and following the debut of television helped generate long-overdue interest in and focus on the myriad significant and unique aspects of audio discourse. Indeed, this book-as well as others embracing a like theme-demonstrates that radio was (and to a degree still is) far more than just a radio music box. Hilmes’s books ranks high in the steadily involving canon of research dedicated to this worthy proposition. Recommended for Radio scholars, academics, students, and fans alike.

Communication Booknotes Quarterly