Radio's America: The Great Depression and the Rise of Modern Mass Culture

Paperback | July 1, 2007

byBruce Lenthall

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Orson Welles’s greatest breakthrough into the popular consciousness occurred in 1938, three years before Citizen Kane, when his War of the Worlds radio broadcast succeeded so spectacularly that terrified listeners believed they were hearing a genuine report of an alien invasion—a landmark in the history of radio’s powerful relationship with its audience. In Radio’s America, Bruce Lenthall documents the enormous impact radio had on the lives of Depression-era Americans and charts the formative years of our modern mass culture.

Many Americans became alienated from their government and economy in the twentieth century, and Lenthall explains that radio’s appeal came from its capability to personalize an increasingly impersonal public arena. His depictions of such figures as proto-Fascist Charles Coughlin and medical quack John Brinkley offer penetrating insight into radio’s use as a persuasive tool, and Lenthall’s book is unique in its exploration of how ordinary Americans made radio a part of their lives. Television inherited radio’s cultural role, and as the voting tallies for American Idol attest, broadcasting continues to occupy a powerfully intimate place in American life. Radio’s America reveals how the connections between power and mass media began.

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From the Publisher

Orson Welles’s greatest breakthrough into the popular consciousness occurred in 1938, three years before Citizen Kane, when his War of the Worlds radio broadcast succeeded so spectacularly that terrified listeners believed they were hearing a genuine report of an alien invasion—a landmark in the history of radio’s powerful relationship...

Bruce Lenthall is director of the Center for Teaching and Learning and adjunct assistant professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania.
Format:PaperbackDimensions:288 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.8 inPublished:July 1, 2007Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0226471926

ISBN - 13:9780226471921

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: “The Story of the Century” 1

1 Radio’s Challenges

 Public Intellectuals and the Problem of Mass Culture
 William Orton and the Mass-Consumption Critique 
 James Rorty and the Mass-Production Critique 
 African American Intellectuals and the Mass-Production Critique in Action 
 Related Solutions 
 Defenders of the Faith 

2 Radio’s Listeners

 Personalizing Mass Culture 
 The Mass Audience Listens 
 Consumer Bargaining 
 “When You Can’t Find a Friend, You’ve Still Got the Radio” 

3 Radio’s Democracy

 The Politics of the Fireside 
 Roosevelt on the Radio 
 Radio Democracy: The Politics of Intimacy 
 Radio Democracy: The Politics of Information 
 Once and Future Ideals? 

4 Radio’s Champions
 
Strange Gods? 
 Radio Stars 
 Voices of the People 
 Power . . . Corrupts? 
 Limited Amplitude 

5 Radio’s Students

 Media Studies and the Possibilities of Mass Communication 
 Paul Lazarsfeld and Social Pragmatism’s Hope 
 Herman Hettinger and Commercial Pragmatism’s Faith 
 Theodor Adorno’s Critical Theory: A Considerably Less Charitable View 

6 Radio’s Writers

 A Public Voice in the Modern World 
 Art of the Air 
 Public Speech, Public Art, and Mass Communication 
 Modernism on the Air 
 Muffled Voices 

Conclusion 
Notes 
Index 

Editorial Reviews

"Lenthall ably demonstrates how radio embodied contradictory elements of 1930s life and served as a screen on which larger social and cultural dynamics were projected. Combined with a highly readable prose style, this would serve a useful viewpoint in courses in U.S. social and cultural history. . . . A solid and highly readable discussion of the relationship of radio to mass culture."