NOVEMBER 1, 2008
Books About the Golden Age of Radio
The golden age of radio glows again in these exceptional books, says Anthony Rudel
1. Sound and Fury
By Francis Chase Jr.
Francis Chase Jr. wrote his "informal history of broadcasting" at a time when broadcasting meant one thing: radio. With our lives now bombarded by television, satellite radio, the Internet and cellphones, it is difficult to imagine the technological breakthrough that radio represented and how it transfixed listeners. "Sound and Fury" beautifully captures the significance of radio's arrival and conveys a deep appreciation for the creative geniuses -- Fred Allen, Jack Benny and countless others -- whose radio shows were a watershed of American entertainment. Chase is astute in his appraisals of the earliest radio pioneers, and he wisely perceives that President Roosevelt's "fireside chats" in the 1930s heralded a serious new role for a medium that had once been thought strictly meant for diversion. The people Chase writes about, many of whom have been forgotten, and the conversational narrative style of the book, almost make it seem that you are listening to a great radio show.
2. A Tower in Babel
By Erik Barnouw
The first of the three volumes in Erik Barnouw's towering "A History of Broadcasting in the United States" takes the reader back to the late-19th century, when scientists experimented with technology that would allow them to send sound electrically through the air. His descriptions of the earliest efforts of Guglielmo Marconi, Reginald Fessenden and other inventors bring those brilliant men to life and clearly explain the complex science involved. Though it has been used as a textbook, "A Tower in Babel" is also a model of historical storytelling and provides a fine underpinning of modern broadcasting.
3. Raised on Radio
By Gerald Nachman
Gerald Nachman was hooked on radio from an early age, and his love of the medium comes through on every page of "Raised on Radio." He describes the book as "a kind of memoir in that many of the shows within these pages were more real to me than my own life." Each chapter is devoted to a particular type of show -- the chapter called "Saddle Sore" discusses western dramas like "The Lone Ranger," while "Nesting Instincts" deals with domestic comedies. "Fibber McGee and Molly," he tells us, "seamlessly blended vaudeville high jinks with radio's cozier atmospherics." In addition to conjuring what it was like to sit at home and feel riveted by the stories emanating from the big box that dominated the living room, Nachman interviews many of the old radio writers and performers, who only enhance the sense that there was a certain magic in that vanished time.
By Rusty McClure
Crosley is a highly recognized name in Cincinnati, not just because the Reds baseball team used to play at Crosley Field but also because two brothers, Powel and Lewis Crosley, built a radio business that helped spawn an entire national industry. Powel was the inventor, Lewis the businessman; together they made fortunes early in the 20th century selling auto parts and manufacturing radios. In the 1920s, the Crosleys started a small radio station, WLW, in Cincinnati -- and that's when the story turns fascinating. The book relates how a single company, and a city not located on either coast, could play a central role in radio's development. In 1934, calculating that if stations had stronger signals, then the Crosleys could build radios that were less expensive but still received broadcasts, the brothers were temporarily given permission to turn WLW into a 500,000-watt powerhouse. Author Rusty McClure, writing with David Stern and Michael A. Banks, excels in placing the brothers' pioneering accomplishments within the context of U.S. society in the 1920s and '30s, and the book sheds welcome light on the lives of two important but underappreciated figures of American business.
5. On the Air
By John Dunning
John Dunning's "encyclopedia of old-time radio" is an invaluable resource about the performers, shows, sponsors, history and influence of the medium. We start alphabetically with "The A&P Gypsies" ("exotic music with a nomadic motif; one of radio's earliest, most distinctive programs") and end in "Zorro" country, finding along the way engagingly written entries that reflect a savviness about the shows themselves and their significance to audiences at the time. And Dunning is thorough: The entries include vital information about when and where shows were broadcast, who starred in them, who led the orchestra and other details that any radio fanatic will relish. Essays spread throughout this dense volume provide a commanding overview of the complexities of an entire industry at the height of its influence.
Mr. Rudel is the author of "Hello, Everybody! The Dawn of American Radio," just out from Harcourt.
03 novembre 2008
Cinque titoli sulla storia della radio negli USA
Dall'autore di "Hello Everybody! Dawn of American Radio" un testo sugli albori della radio commerciale americana di cui ho riportato tempo fa la recensione, il Wall Street Journal ha pubblicato l'altro giorno cinque schede su altrettanti titoli di storia della radiofonia. Non sono testi recentissimi, anzi, uno risale a sessant'anni fa. Anthony Rudel ha messo insieme una minibibliografia storica citando testi che probabilmente non si trovano nelle biblioteche italiane. L'unica eccezione è "Crosley", un libro uscito nel 2006 dedicato alla stazione di Cincinnati, WLW, che in passato era riuscita ad arrivare a 500 kW di potenza, valore del tutto abnorme rispetto al futuro limite imposto, per le radio in AM, a un decimo di quella soglia. Crosley era il cognome dei due fratelli inventori e imprenditori che fondarono WLW portandola al successo e facendo da apripista all'età dell'oro del broadcasting negli anni trenta.