Books by Susan Smulyan

Released: March 31, 1994

A drab, ax-grinding account of the broadcast industry's formative years in the US. Drawing on a variety of archival sources, including trade magazines, Smulyan (American Civilization/Brown) tracks the history of radio from the post-WW I period (when skilled hobbyists called hams began talking to each other over great distances) through passage of the Federal Communications Act of 1934. Along the way, she examines not only the factors that resulted in wired networks becoming the technology of choice to provide national service but also the corporations jockeying for monopoly position in the new field (AT&T, GE, RCA, etc.) and the complaisant role government played in its development. The author goes on to offer a pejorative assessment of how the issue of what means would be used to pay for countrywide radio was resolved in favor of advertising. Disputing any notion that the fledgling medium's for-profit destiny was inevitable, Smulyan reviews the efforts of educational institutions and other interest groups to resist radio's commercialization (which, she concludes, set the stage for TV). Informed by at least a latent hostility toward capitalism, the author complains that sponsors obliged pioneering broadcasters to appeal to mass audiences and to air rigidly formatted programs that proved less responsive than possible alternatives to the presumptive desires of listeners. While she cites the BBC, Smulyan never comes to grips with what sort of enterprise or arrangement might have represented an improvement over the shape the radio business actually took. Nor does the author provide any perspectives on the domestic Depression-era population whose cultural as well as socioeconomic needs she implies were shortchanged by the original sins of money- grubbing broadcasters and venal legislators. Largely ignored as well is any indication of competition, healthy or otherwise, within the radio industry itself. A pedantic, one-dimensional exercise that in another day would have produced demands for equal time. (More than two-dozen illustrations—not seen.) Read full book review >