Christmas Eve commercial radio celebrated it’s 100th anniversary.
On December 24th in 1906, Reginald Fessenden switched on his transmitter and broadcast a short program of music and talk.
The American RadioWorks documentary series has an excellent program on how music fueled the growth and development of the medium. (A shorter excerpt is available from NPR’s Marketplace.)
One interesting piece from the podcast, there was this story of the early growth.
From 1920 to 1922, the number of radio stations went from nothing to 600, with almost all of them run by individuals who programmed exactly what they wanted to hear.
The mom and pop stations were usually playing the songs that were popular in the neighborhood, the bands that were playing in the local dance halls. The incomprehensible singing of one of the new ethnic groups swelling the tenements of the Lower East Side.
By the end of the decade, however, big corporations like GE and RCA had convinced the federal government to regulate the airways. To their advantage, of course.
In 1927, Washington wrote the first real broadcast regulations. And they were worried about the same things that politicians worry about today, including decency and guarding sensitive ears.
The big corporations were more than happy to corner the high-brow market. And, like today, the government was more than happy to stack the deck in their favor. The time when radio was wide-open to small entrepreneurs was over. And the era of corporate control of the airwaves had begun.
A little lesson from history for those who believe there’s nothing wrong with letting the big telecom companies control the web.
It’s interesting to consider how these ideas could be used in the classroom. Perhaps students could be asked to develop their own podcast networks. But, they have to imagine that they are adults who need to support a family. If their primary job is to run a podcast how will they make money? Will advertisers support any kind of music or only certain types of music? Which types? Why? You might also ask students if podcasts have changed the nature of audio communication. Have big corporations lost the power that they wielded in the past? Is there any way for them to regain the power? How? Has the government lost some of its authority?
Just some thoughts.
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