Radio After the Golden Age: The Evolution of American Broadcasting Since 1960


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Much has transpired in the past fifty-plus years: a proliferation of disc jockeys, narrowcasting, the FM band, satellites, automation, talk, ethnicity, media empires, Internet streaming and gadgets galore Deregulation, payola, HD radio, pirate radio, the fall of transcontinental networks, the rise of local stations, conglomerate ownership, and radio's future landscape are examined in detail.

Radio has lost a bit of influence yet it continues to inspire stunning innovations. About the Author Jim Cox, a leading radio historian, is an award-winning author of numerous books on the subject. A retired college professor, he lives in Louisville, Kentucky.

John Brinkley started station XERF in Del Rio, Mexico, after being forced to shut down his station in Nebraska, and he used the border station in part to promote a dubious goat gland operation that supposedly cured sexual impotence Dash, Besides the goat gland promotion, the station and others like it often carried music, like country and western, that could not be heard on regular network radio.

Later border station disc jockeys, such as Wolfman Jack, were instrumental in bringing rock and roll music to a wider audience Rudel, This changed in the late s and early s as television became popular. A poll of people who had seen television found that almost half of them believed that radio was doomed Gallup, Television sets had come on the market by the late s, and by , more Americans were watching television during prime time than ever Bradley.

However, these respected radio dramas were the last of their kind Cox, Although radio was far from doomed by television, its Golden Age was. As radio networks abandoned the dramas and variety shows that had previously sustained their formats, the soundscape was left to what radio could still do better than any other mass medium: play music.

With advertising dollars down and the emergence of better recording formats, it made good business sense for radio to focus on shows that played prerecorded music. As strictly music stations began to rise, new innovations to increase their profitability appeared. Robert Storz and Gordon McLendon began adapting existing radio stations to fit this new format with great success.

In , the creation of limited playlists further refined the format by providing about 50 songs that disc jockeys played repeatedly every day. By the early s, many stations had developed limited playlists of only 30 songs Walker, Another musically fruitful innovation came with the increase of Black disc jockeys and programs created for Black audiences. Because its advertisers had nowhere to go in a media market dominated by White performers, Black radio became more common on the AM dial.

Early Black disc jockeys even began improvising rhymes over the music, pioneering techniques that later became rap and hip-hop. This new personality-driven style helped bring early rock and roll to new audiences Walker, As music came to rule the airwaves, FM radio drew in new listeners because of its high-fidelity sound capabilities.

When radio had primarily featured dramas and other talk-oriented formats, sound quality had simply not mattered to many people, and the purchase of an FM receiver did not compete with the purchase of a new television in terms of entertainment value.


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  • As FM receivers decreased in price and stereo recording technology became more popular, however, the high-fidelity trend created a market for FM stations. Mostly affluent consumers began purchasing component stereos with the goal of getting the highest sound quality possible out of their recordings Douglas, Although this audience often preferred classical and jazz stations to Top 40 radio, they were tolerant of new music and ideas Douglas, Both the high-fidelity market and the growing youth counterculture of the s had similar goals for the FM spectrum.

    Both groups eschewed AM radio because of the predictable programming, poor sound quality, and over-commercialization. Both groups wanted to treat music as an important experience rather than as just a trendy pastime or a means to make money. Many adherents to the youth counterculture of the s came from affluent, middle-class families, and their tastes came to define a new era of consumer culture. The goals and market potential of both the high-fidelity lovers and the youth counterculture created an atmosphere on the FM dial that had never before occurred Douglas, Between the years and , the number of households capable of receiving FM transmissions grew from about 6.

    Before this regulation, many AM stations had other stations on the FM spectrum that simply duplicated the AM programming.

    More by Jim Cox

    The nonduplication rule forced FM stations to create their own fresh programming, opening up the spectrum for established networks to develop new stations Douglas, The late s saw new disc jockeys taking greater liberties with established practices; these liberties included playing several songs in a row before going to a commercial break or airing album tracks that exceeded 10 minutes in length.

    University stations and other nonprofit ventures to which the FCC had given frequencies during the late s popularized this format, and, in time, commercial stations tried to duplicate their success by playing fewer commercials and by allowing their disc jockeys to have a say in their playlists. Although this made for popular listening formats, FM stations struggled to make the kinds of profits that the AM spectrum drew Douglas, In , FM radio accounted for one-third of all radio listening but only 14 percent of radio profits Douglas, Large network stations and advertisers began to market heavily to the FM audience in an attempt to correct this imbalance.

    Stations began tightening their playlists and narrowing their formats to please advertisers and to generate greater revenues. By the end of the s, radio stations were beginning to play specific formats, and the progressive radio of the previous decade had become difficult to find Douglas, After the Golden Age of Radio came to an end, most listeners tuned in to radio stations to hear music. The variety shows and talk-based programs that had sustained radio in early years could no longer draw enough listeners to make them a successful business proposition. One divergent path from this general trend, however, was the growth of public radio.

    Groups such as the Ford Foundation had funded public media sources during the early s.

    When the foundation decided to withdraw its funding in the middle of the decade, the federal government stepped in with the Public Broadcasting Act of This act created the Corporation for Public Broadcasting CPB and charged it with generating funding for public television and radio outlets. In the mids, NPR attracted Washington-based journalists such as Cokie Roberts and Linda Wertheimer to its ranks, giving the coverage a more professional, hard-reporting edge Schardt, However, in , public radio was pushed to the brink of financial collapse.

    A Prairie Home Companion , hosted by Garrison Keillor pictured here , is a long-standing public radio tradition that hearkens back to the early days of radio variety shows. Having weathered the financial storm intact, NPR continued its progression as a respected news provider. During the first Gulf War, NPR sent out correspondents for the first time to provide in-depth coverage of unfolding events. Although some have accused NPR of presenting the news with a liberal bias, its listenership in was 28 percent conservative, 32 percent liberal, and 29 percent moderate. With more than 26 million weekly listeners and member stations in , NPR has become a leading radio news source Kamenetz, Public radio distributors such as Public Radio International PRI and local public radio stations such as WBEZ in Chicago have also created a number of cultural and entertainment programs, including quiz shows, cooking shows, and a host of local public forum programs.

    This variety of popular public radio programming has shifted radio from a music-dominated medium to one that is again exploring its vast potential. During the early s, many radio stations suffered the effects of an economic recession. Some stations initiated local marketing agreements LMAs to share facilities and resources amid this economic decline.

    LMAs led to consolidation in the industry as radio stations bought other stations to create new hubs for the same programming. The Telecommunications Act of further increased consolidation by eliminating a duopoly rule prohibiting dual station ownership in the same market and by lifting the numerical limits on station ownership by a single entity. As large corporations such as Clear Channel Communications bought up stations around the country, they reformatted stations that had once competed against one another so that each focused on a different format.

    Ultimately, although the industry consolidation of the s made radio profitable, it reduced local coverage and diversity of programming. Because stations around the country served as outlets for a single network, the radio landscape became more uniform and predictable Keith, Much as with chain restaurants and stores, some people enjoy this type of predictability, while others prefer a more localized, unique experience Keith, Please respond to the following short-answer writing prompts.

    Each response should be a minimum of one paragraph. Bradley, Becky. Brinson, Susan. Brown, Robert. Cashman, Sean. Clift, Nick. Coe, Lewis. Cox, Jim. Dash, Mike.

    The Invention of Radio

    Douglas, Susan. Gallup, George. Grant, John. Hilmes, Michele. Horten, Gerd. Kamenetz, Anya. Keith, Michael. Longley, Lawrence D. McChesney, Robert W. McLeod, Elizabeth. Mitchell, Jack. Rudel, Anthony.

    Evolution of Radio Broadcasting

    Hello, Everybody! Schardt, Sue. New York: Routledge, , Walker, Jesse. White, Thomas. All Rights Reserved. Skip to content 11 5. Describe the effects of networks and conglomerates on radio programming and culture.

    Radio After the Golden Age: The Evolution of American Broadcasting Since 1960

    The Invention of Radio Guglielmo Marconi is often credited as the inventor of radio. Figure 7. Broadcasting Arrives The technology needed to build a radio transmitter and receiver was relatively simple, and the knowledge to build such devices soon reached the public. Instant News By the late s, the popularity of radio news broadcasts had surpassed that of newspapers. Transition to Top 40 As radio networks abandoned the dramas and variety shows that had previously sustained their formats, the soundscape was left to what radio could still do better than any other mass medium: play music. FM: The High-Fidelity Counterculture As music came to rule the airwaves, FM radio drew in new listeners because of its high-fidelity sound capabilities.

    Conglomerates During the early s, many radio stations suffered the effects of an economic recession. Top 40 radio arose after most nonmusic programming moved to television. This format used short playlists of popular hits and gained a great deal of commercial success during the s and s.

    Radio After the Golden Age: The Evolution of American Broadcasting Since 1960 Radio After the Golden Age: The Evolution of American Broadcasting Since 1960
    Radio After the Golden Age: The Evolution of American Broadcasting Since 1960 Radio After the Golden Age: The Evolution of American Broadcasting Since 1960
    Radio After the Golden Age: The Evolution of American Broadcasting Since 1960 Radio After the Golden Age: The Evolution of American Broadcasting Since 1960
    Radio After the Golden Age: The Evolution of American Broadcasting Since 1960 Radio After the Golden Age: The Evolution of American Broadcasting Since 1960
    Radio After the Golden Age: The Evolution of American Broadcasting Since 1960 Radio After the Golden Age: The Evolution of American Broadcasting Since 1960
    Radio After the Golden Age: The Evolution of American Broadcasting Since 1960 Radio After the Golden Age: The Evolution of American Broadcasting Since 1960

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