THE GREAT AMERICAN BROADCAST by Leonard Maltin

THE GREAT AMERICAN BROADCAST

A Celebration of Radio's Golden Age
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

 A broad and glossy, but thoroughly entertaining tour of old- time radio. Though radio is becoming an increasingly segmented stopgap to fill the silences television cannot reach, there was a time when it was a unifying agent, as powerful a mass-cultural force as perhaps America has ever seen. This period, from the early 1920s to the mid-1950s, truly was the ``golden age'' of radio. Film authority Maltin, a regular on Entertainment Tonight, has a sharp eye for telling details, revealing anecdotes--and is never in such a hurry he can't stop for an amusing digression or aside. While his subject is enormous, he provides enough range and breadth of information to make any reader sound knowledgeable at a cocktail party (although he doesn't discuss the advent of FM radio). Actors, directors, sponsors, musicians, sound effects, and more all get their own tidbit-filled chapters. Radio began as a substitute for telegraphy, a way, most notably, for ships at sea to communicate with shore. But others began tuning in, the price of sets came down, and soon the idea of creating regular programming took hold. Maltin ably captures the excitement and seat-of-the-pants style of early radio, when almost everything was live, leaving little room for mistakes. Though there was enormous room for creativity and innovation, sponsors quickly came to exert substantial influence over the shows aired under their aegis (no mention allowed, for example, of the word ``lucky'' on shows sponsored by a tobacco brand other than Lucky Strikes). After WW II, as television--and its unremitting literalism--became an increasingly serious challenge, live shows were replaced by tape, more stars were trotted out, and audience segmentation increased, but nothing could stem radio's slide from the popular consciousness into background noise. A warm, engaging valentine to a bygone art form and era. (130 b&w photos)

Pub Date: Oct. 20th, 1997
ISBN: 0-525-94183-5
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Dutton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1997