Television in the Age of Radio

Television in the Age of Radio: Modernity, Imagination, and the Making of a Medium

PHILIP W. SEWELL
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5hjdxc
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  • Book Info
    Television in the Age of Radio
    Book Description:

    Television existed for a long time before it became commonplace in American homes. Even as cars, jazz, film, and radio heralded the modern age, television haunted the modern imagination. During the 1920s and 1930s, U.S. television was a topic of conversation and speculation. Was it technically feasible? Could it be commercially viable? What would it look like? How might it serve the public interest? And what was its place in the modern future? These questions were not just asked by the American public, but also posed by the people intimately involved in television's creation. Their answers may have been self-serving, but they were also statements of aspiration. Idealistic imaginations of the medium and its impact on social relations became a de facto plan for moving beyond film and radio into a new era.InTelevision in the Age of Radio, Philip W. Sewell offers a unique account of how television came to be-not just from technical innovations or institutional struggles, but from cultural concerns that were central to the rise of industrial modernity. This book provides sustained investigations of the values of early television amateurs and enthusiasts, the fervors and worries about competing technologies, and the ambitions for programming that together helped mold the medium.Sewell presents a major revision of the history of television, telling us about the nature of new media and how hopes for the future pull together diverse perspectives that shape technologies, industries, and audiences.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-6271-1
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: The Substance of Things Hoped For
    (pp. 1-15)

    Pulp publishing mogul Hugo Gernsback kicked off the June 1927 issue ofRadio Newswith an editorial proclaiming, “With the official recognition of Television by the Radio Commission, as well as the actual successful demonstration early in April by the American Telegraph and Telephone Co., it may be said that television has finally arrived.”¹ This was not television’s first moment of arrival, and it was far from the last. Gernsback’s pronouncement and the editorial that followed do, however, point to some significant matters. First, that the United States’ most widely read radio magazine and its editor-in-chief were heralding television’s arrival...

  5. 1 Questions of Definition
    (pp. 16-50)

    By the early 1930s, “high-definition” electronically scanned television was said to be “just around the corner,” but mass consumer investment in the technology did not pick up until after World War II. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, public discourse on television was haunted by the twin ghosts of satisfaction and obsolescence. In the case of the former, the fear was that audiences/buyers would be satisfied with technologies that did not meet state or corporate standards, thereby frustrating the institutional designs of manufacturers, programmers, and regulators. In the case of the latter, the threat was that audiences/buyers would not be satisfied...

  6. 2 Engendering Expertise and Enthusiasm
    (pp. 51-92)

    The era of mechanical television was not just a moment of setting standards and definitions that conformed to the sociocultural order. At the same time that the medium’s technical identity was being pinned down, television became an important front in attempts to stabilize the relations among institutions, enthusiasts, and the public—particularly the radio public—by means of several interrelated systems of authority. Significantly, early television presented a paradoxical problem in which social and technical change was, on the one hand, a more or less welcome harbinger of modernity and, on the other, a destabilizing threat to a coalescing cultural...

  7. 3 Programming the System for Quality
    (pp. 93-127)

    As television’s supposed technical nature came to be defined along increasingly narrow lines by the mid-1930s and hierarchies of authority concretized into a few sites of institutional power, the evaluation of television’s content—particularly as organized around notions of quality—became a key area of struggle in debating the US television system. Continuing a tradition from sound broadcasting, public discussions of quality programming were most often inverted arguments about the identities and capacities of audiences and the methods for funding and regulating broadcasting without the direct involvement of the audience. Rather than lay out the boundaries of what constituted quality,...

  8. 4 Seeing Around Corners
    (pp. 128-159)

    Throughout the 1930s, television programming in the United States was largely an adjunct to experimental work. We saw some of the consequences of this situation in the prior chapter, which investigated the ways in which arguments about program quality were used to support the consolidating regulatory and economic regimes of American broadcasting. This chapter examines another facet of television’s slow unveiling. As television programming was imagined and realized largely outside public view, early television practitioners and critics founded their evaluative frameworks on essentialist claims on human nature and the nature of television and its programs.¹ Although such appeals to essentialism...

  9. Conclusions: Why Not Quantity Television?
    (pp. 160-166)

    The realization of television—its authorities and audiences, its textual forms and technical articulation—was presented not on a “blank canvas” but amid an existing panorama of contending institutions and expectations.¹ Made manifest in a vacuum tube but not in a vacuum, the medium’s relationship with the Arnoldian vision of culture as “a study of perfection” has been conflicted, with discourses of perfection, excellence, and quality both indulged and confounded by the compulsion to standardize, rationalize, and secure.² Evaluative discourse has also often included gestures of contingency, a claim of perfection not made, that has inscribed television in more local...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 167-200)
  11. SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 201-208)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 209-220)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 221-222)