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secured their medium’s larger cultural identity. In exploring the contributions of these mediamakers, “Making Radio” proposes a new, aesthetic turn—a third wave of scholarship that moves to the spaces of the studio and writer’s room to explore the pioneering programming forms, production practices, and performance styles through which an emerging group of sound workers struggled to define their professional identities and that of radio itself. While most sound historians have focused on the expansion of the commercial network system in the 1930s as the formative moment in radio’s development, I argue that the network era did not so much innovate as consolidate programming and production practices that had already achieved institutional inertia in the prenetwork period of the 1920s. New stations proliferated during this decade, rising from only 20 in 1921 to a peak of almost 700 in 1927, then stabilizing around 600 by decade’s end. Sales of receiving sets underwent similarly dramatic growth, with revenues swelling from $60 million in 1922 to over $842 million by 1929, while the number of radio households grew with equal rapidity and by 1930 included almost half of the homes in the country. Most important for present purposes, however, are the new forms of cultural labor to which this expanding industry gave rise. The prenetwork period spawned new groups of programmers, writers, directors, engineers, and on-air talent, who worked to develop best practices for broadcasting and win cultural recognition for themselves and their medium. As “Making Radio” shows, the programming forms, production practices, and performance styles they innovated were often highly contested, developing through a process of extensive experimentation and debate. However, by the mid to late 1920s this process had achieved provisional closure, resulting in standards of practice that continued to inform subsequent network-era productions. These included influential structures of broadcast flow developed in response to demands for live, continuous programming streams and techniques for managing

listener attention that shaped dominant modes of engagement with that programming. As producers and critics pushed for more conscious cultivation of the medium’s aesthetic properties, ideas of radiogénie helped to legitimate emerging sound genres and instill a soundmindedness in mediamakers and audiences alike. In addition, this decade spawned foundational studio techniques for radio broadcasting, including standard microphone setups and mixing methods for musical presentations; narrational strategies for radio drama; and performance styles for radio music, drama, and talk, all carefully tailored to the perceived demands of radio’s aural mode of address and new instruments of electric sound reproduction. The programming forms, production practices, and performance styles that radio workers developed during this period had both centripetal and centrifugal effects. Programmers, producers, and performers negotiated a series of industry-specific pressures, including top-down pressures from federal regulators, corporate station owners, and early sponsors, as well as bottom-up pressures from expanding audiences and professional critics. Within this context, radio workers strove to shore up the boundaries of their fledgling industry, define their professional identities, and win public acceptance for their medium. However, the standards they adopted also had much broader ramifications for an evolving twentieth-century sound culture. Radio workers developed novel solutions to the technical and aesthetic challenges of electric sound production that were soon echoed in techniques pursued by film and music producers, while retooling public listening sensibilities for a new type of sound that quickly spread across a series of related sound media. As the following chapters show, radio was not merely a symptom but rather a key contributor to these larger transformations in the nation’s sound culture, forming a vital but often neglected link in the twentieth century’s transition from acoustic-era production to a new culture of electric sound.

While most sound historians have focused on the expansion of the commercial network system in the 1930s as the formative moment in radio’s development, I argue that the network era did not so much innovate as consolidate programming and production practices that had already achieved institutional inertia in the prenetwork period of the 1920s.

Shawn VanCour is assistant professor of Media Archival Studies in UCLA’s Department of Information Studies. His research includes work on history of media technologies, media industries and labor practices, media archiving and preservation, and music and sound studies.

UCLA Ed&IS SPRING 2019 19

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UCLA Ed&IS Magazine Spring 2019  

The UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies’ magazine highlights the public scholarship of our faculty. The cover of this...

UCLA Ed&IS Magazine Spring 2019  

The UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies’ magazine highlights the public scholarship of our faculty. The cover of this...

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