The word “history” is usually associated with at least three various notions: a historical process as a chain of events in the past, heaps of age-old archive documents of long-gone times and a retrospective image of some events created by the textbooks, documentaries and other modern sources of information. This is the historiography that creates the image of the past in the minds of people, gives explanations of bare facts. It also provides particular appraisals and understandings of history.
The mass media development, which includes the rise of radio, as well, is one of the most contradictory points for historiography as the subject of the study itself has been used for the supply of information. Obviously, this information is often unreliable or biased. As a result, many historical events connected with mass media have contradictory perceptions from a present point of view, for example, the Watergate Scandal where the role of mass media was crucial. The history of radio is no exception.
Michelle Hilmes makes an attempt to provide a profound insight in the history of mass media not just to “undergo a pattern of ‘natural’ growth based on its ‘essential’ qualities” (18) but to find out underlying facts, conditions, connections between the events in the radio development and the situation in the country. By demonstrating a systematic method in historiography, he comprises the slightest details in order not to miss anything and present a full, overall image of the history of radio and other media.
Hilmes finds out the context of radio development, social, cultural and technological forces radio, out of which radio emerged “not just as a machine but as a practice” (19). He notes that radio was quite a complicated technology for those times as it could “make sound fly invisibly through the air in order to be received at a great distance by those with the right kind of technological know-how” (19), wonders who decided that such technology was needed, examines surrounding social and cultural circumstances, which had an impact on the development of radio.
The type of historiography approach, when applied to the rise of radio, appears to be quite effective. Nowadays, connections between things become closer not just concerning historical events but dealing with various types of media. As a result, separate parts of the whole modern world become more connected. Henry Jenkins calls this phenomenon “media convergence” (34) and predicts that “our media future could depend on the kind of uneasy truce that gets brokered between commercial media and collective intelligence” (35).
The Hilmes’ histological method was probably influenced by the above-mentioned tendencies. So, there is no wonder that he demonstrates quite a negative attitude to the other version of radio development shown by PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) documentary “Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio” (1992) considering “that discouraged or obscured other [not that famous as the characters of “Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio”] participants of the radio’s development” (19).
One hundred minutes’ documentary based on the non-fiction book by Tom Lewis follows the history of radio from the point of view of famous, influential and rich people, who took the active part in the creation and development of radio. Among the protagonists, there is inventor Lee De Forest, RCA Chairman David Sarnoff, technological genius Edwin Howard Armstrong.
Differently to Michelle Hilmes’ approach, Burns’ vision appears to be more emotional and closer to the atmosphere of those times as the film is filled with antique music and radio programs, the main characters are shown as people with their own believes, views, relations to each other. As a result, the story looks more exciting and interesting to see even if there are some exaggerations or “creative decoration of facts”.
Moreover, Hilmes and Burns deal with different types of media. There is no applicable way to cram all minor details in 100 minutes, whereas a printed media has such an opportunity.
To sum up, both historiography methods are valuable for a better understanding of the rise of radio as they complement each other. A good suggestion for the one who has no idea about the history of radio would be to begin with the Burns’ approach and then, for a more profound insight, proceed to the Hilmes’ systematic outlook.
Relationship between The Motion Picture Industry and Radio/Television of the Period between 1930 and 1960
The beginning of the 1930s proved to be difficult times for American society as the Great Depression reached its highest point. At the same time, that period was a starting point for significant changes, which took place in the radio and mass media industry at all. Many of those changes are due to the development of advertising and the widespread popularity of some radio soap operas. Though, the turning point for the mass media was the development of television which, combined with already existing radio and Hollywood film-making industries, formed the basis of what we now call “media convergence” (Jenkins 34). The tendency of encompassing media development starts when radio advertising becomes more intensive.
Though a recession in the summer of 1929 brought about a steep drop in home construction, newly founded investment trust companies pushed the stock market ever higher. Radio served as a cheerleader and accompanist to the orgy of affluence, coming to rely increasingly on ad support at a time when advertising sang the theme song of the decade (Hilmes 65).
The first step to the unification of various media types was made when the Depression made a bridge between people who were pro- and against radio. After the Communication Act of 1934, due to which both newspapers and radio received more governmental regulation, many newspapers and radio stations joined their efforts in the creation of united projects like performing shows based on comic strips and vice versa. These had positive results for both, especially radio. “Most radio’s top-rated variety shows in the 1930s and 1940s featured self-reflexive production aesthetic” (Hilmes 106).
Approximately at the same time, the relationship between radio and Hollywood began. Hollywood had already become a worldwide known center of American film-making industry, and radio proved to be extremely profitable. This led to the exchange of talented people between radio and Hollywood and collaboration in various spheres.
The creation of the first international American radio station “Voice of America” during World War Two showed that the radio industry began to proceed from entertainment activities to news, propaganda and other related issues. Office of War Information contributed to the distribution of war information in order to keep up morale, encourage unified and democratic thinking, and support wartime initiatives. The significant feature was that they mostly worked with already existing commercial media.
This change in the broadcasting radio material became noticeable with the development of television in the 1950s, which sometimes was contrasted to the traditional motion picture industry. “The opposition between film’s “feel of the past” and the immediacy of live television created different putative audience paradigms for film and live programs, in which viewers of life performance were seen as more highly involved than those of film programs” (Boddy 81). As a result, the radio became more local and music-oriented.
By the 1950s, Hollywood realized the potential of TV, and many studios started selling their films to television. This affected film formats and the way films looked. Many innovations such as cinemas, technicolor, and 3D took place. A great number of Hollywood playwrights were involved in the TV industry, and that led to the creation of a new profession. “The title ‘artist-playwright’ attached to the work of the writer in live television drama suggests the importance and prestige frequently associated with the new craft” (Boddy 87).
At last, 1930-60 was a period when radio, television, and Hollywood confirmed their positions in the American mass media and got closer to their present state. Moreover, all three industries faced the importance of information and resource exchange and integration although the more significant changes were yet to proceed.
Nowadays, violence on television, either in hot news reports or in a newly-created Hollywood blockbuster, has become a common practice. The part of the audience which suffers most is small children who are unable to distinguish wrong from right. Their parents who are unaware of the problem usually make a huge mistake relying on TV editors. Violence on TV may have an entertaining function, but some of the viewers tend to repeat what was shown on the screen in their real lives, so people just act violently.
This tendency is a result of consumer-choice entertainment where the main aim is to attract more viewers. That fact occurred clearly in the late 1980s, precisely “on a Friday, September 8, 1989, edition of ABC’s nightly news”, where “erudite anchor Peter Jennings bemoaned the advent of what he called ‘trash television’” (Caldwell 37). According to Caldwell, that was “the new and ugly genre” about to “premiere” shortly (37).
The problem of violence on television is closely connected with the power media has on the minds of people. Results and features of the television effect on the human living environment are almost unexplored or explored very little. At the same time, there are various concerns about such an influence. For example, John T. Caldwell mentions a so-called “glance theory”, which suggests that “television viewers are by nature distracted and inattentive” (25).
On the other hand, the influence of television violence is rather a contradictory point as there is no less violence on some books, for example, or other “older” sources of information. Moreover, there was not any significant wave of crimes with the invention and development of television. Therefore, it could be suggested that violent scenes shown on television were not something newly-invented. A newly-created industry just incorporated some old “inspiration factors” for violence, which had existed long before. Nevertheless, nowadays it is the television which is criticized by society and media.
Probably, the explanation is in the integrity of TV screens and media in general in our lives, and still, there is not that much choice in media content.
Henry Jenkins believes that media convergence would be, on the contrary, a solution to a modern consumer-oriented, violent TV. He suggests that “many parents complain that the media floodgates have opened into their living rooms and that they are no longer able to exercise meaningful choices about what media should enter their homes” (38). The media process has always been trying to follow the tastes of the broadest possible audience. Self-regulation is the only means to be sure that the content was suitable for a family with small children, for example. However, now, things are about to change, and “consumers are expected to play a much more active role in determining what content is appropriate for their families” (Jenkins, 38).
The attitude towards the problem of violence on television should be changed. In many ways, violence is a part of consumer-oriented or, better to say, the profit-oriented policy of film-makers. There is a constant demand for it among TV-viewers, and the only way to remove violent scenes from screens is to reduce the general demand for them. As there is no such tendency, violence on screens is still required. From the other point of view, it is better to see some savage episodes on the screen than in a real-life, especially in cases when the grievous results of such actions are shown.
Moreover, there is a serious concern about the removal of insulting or violent scenes from some non-fiction or news programs. To some extent, such a limitation would infringe freedom of broadcasting and information in general.
Therefore, there is no universal cure. The only reasonable suggestion, in this case, would be to provide more choice for the audience in order to avoid negative reactions and oblige parents to be more responsible in choosing the material they provide their children with. All other restrictions would be ineffective on a modern stage of media development.