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Radio’s Intimate Public

Network Broadcasting and Mass-Mediated Democracy

2005
Author:

Jason Loviglio

Radio’s Intimate Public

Uncovers radio’s role in the development of an imagined national community

Jason Loviglio shows how early network radio produced a new type of community marked by contradictions and tensions between public and private, mass media and democracy, and nation and family. Examining a broad range of radio programs, including Vox Pop, and FDR's Fireside Chats, Radio's Intimate Public illustrates how media space promised listeners a fantasy of social mobility and access.

Elegantly written and argued, Radio's Intimate Public offers a fresh and compelling interpretation of radio's role as a key force in renegotiating the boundaries between the private and the public, the home and the nation, and the 'average American' and the famous. A sparkling addition to the growing and important work in radio studies.

Susan J. Douglas, author of Listening In: Radio and the American Imagination

In the 1930s, radio’s wide popularity created an important shared experience among Americans, from motorists and pedestrians on the city street to families on the living room couch after dinner. In Radio’s Intimate Public, Jason Loviglio shows how early network radio produced a new type of community marked by contradictions and tensions between public and private, mass media and democracy, and nation and family.

Radio voices were thrilling, Loviglio argues, because they moved with impunity back and forth between private and public. As a result of this new intimacy, the dichotomy between the two realms was challenged, the idea of mass-mediated democracy arose, and the definition of “the public” was called into question. Examining a broad range of radio programs, including The Shadow, soap operas, Vox Pop, and FDR’s Fireside Chats, Radio’s Intimate Public illustrates how this new and contradictory media space promised listeners a fantasy of social mobility and access—even as it reminded them of the hierarchies that protected their own relative privilege.

Bringing theories of the public sphere to bear on American cultural history, Loviglio explores early network radio and the tension between intimacy (interpersonal communication) and publicity (mass communication). In doing so, he unearths the origins of today’s reality television where people are invited to participate vicariously in official transgressions of the boundary between public and private existence, even if only to help police it.

Radio’s Intimate Public

Jason Loviglio is assistant professor of American studies and director of the Certificate in Communications and Media Studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He is the editor (with Michele Hilmes) of Radio Reader: Essays in the Cultural History of Radio.

Radio’s Intimate Public

Elegantly written and argued, Radio's Intimate Public offers a fresh and compelling interpretation of radio's role as a key force in renegotiating the boundaries between the private and the public, the home and the nation, and the 'average American' and the famous. A sparkling addition to the growing and important work in radio studies.

Susan J. Douglas, author of Listening In: Radio and the American Imagination

Beautifully written, well conceived, and extensively researched. I can easily see such a book playing an important role in classes, both introductory and specialized, and will assign it myself in a new course on radio cultures. Jason Loviglio has written an important, accessible, and interesting book on radio and has changed how historians should think about the time period he covers.

Technology and Culture

This is a book that should be on the reading list of every radio scholar, and indeed anyone interested in the development of media cultures in the modern age. . . . A very fine piece of scholarship and a stimulating contribution to debates not only about the historical development of American radio specifically but also more generally about the reconfiguration of the public sphere in the age of modern media.

The Radio Journal

Radio’s Intimate Public

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction: Radio's Intimate Public

1. The Fireside Chats and the New Deal
2. Vox Pop: Network Radio and the Voice of the People
3. Public Affairs: The Soap-Opera Cultural Front
4. The Shadow Meets the Phantom Public

Conclusion: America's Most Fascinating People

Notes

Index