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Radio Goes to War

Radio Goes to War: The Cultural Politics of Propaganda during World War II

Gerd Horten
Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: 1
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Radio Goes to War
    Book Description:

    Radio Goes to Waris the first comprehensive and in-depth look at the role of domestic radio in the United States during the Second World War. As this study convincingly demonstrates, radio broadcasting played a crucial role both in government propaganda and within the context of the broader cultural and political transformations of wartime America. Gerd Horten's absorbing narrative argues that no medium merged entertainment, propaganda, and advertising more effectively than radio. As a result, America's wartime radio propaganda emphasized an increasingly corporate and privatized vision of America's future, with important repercussions for the war years and the postwar era. Examining radio news programs, government propaganda shows, advertising, soap operas, and comedy programs, Horten situates radio wartime propaganda in the key shift from a Depression-era resentment of big business to the consumer and corporate culture of the postwar period.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93073-5
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction: Radio and the Privatization of War
    (pp. 1-10)

    Within historical writing, radio is finally beginning to gain the recognition it deserves. “Radio” here refers to old-time radio, the “golden age” of broadcasting of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. As a number of media historians have pointed out, this development is long overdue, since radio established the basic structure of broadcasting within which television is still operating. Moreover, most cultural genres offered on television nowadays were pioneered during the radio age. Americans were acculturated to national broadcasting and around-the-clock commercial programming during this same period. As we are beginning to realize, this increased interest in radio history not only...


    • CHAPTER 1 Radio News, Propaganda, and Politics: From the New Deal to World War II
      (pp. 13-40)

      In the late 1930s, radio was no longer young. Over the previous ten years it had matured into the most popular entertainment medium in the country. The radio networks had expanded into vast organizations, touching every corner of the United States through their affiliations with local stations. Sponsored national radio programs, managed by advertising agencies for their commercial clients, dominated the daytime and nighttime schedules. And radio had forever altered the daily routines and rhythms of most Americans. Yet American broadcasting still lacked one dimension that would eventually define its importance and legacy as much as the entertainment programs: radio...

    • CHAPTER 2 Uneasy Persuasion: Government Radio Propaganda, 1941–1943
      (pp. 41-65)

      FDR and his administration were very much aware of the public’s distaste for propaganda, as well as the suspicions of their political opponents. From 1939 to 1941, Roosevelt and his advisers were forced to walk a very fine line. They went out of their way to assure politicians, the media, and the public that the government was not going to censor information; nor was it going to initiate a large-scale propaganda bureaucracy as long as the United States was not a belligerent. FDR persistently rejected the early demands for a government propaganda agency, which high-ranking cabinet members such as Secretary...

    • CHAPTER 3 Closing Ranks: Propaganda, Politics, and Domestic Foreign-Language Radio
      (pp. 66-86)

      Amid fears of sabotage and fifth columnists in the hectic months after the attack on Pearl Harbor,Varietyopened the radio section of its May 20, 1942, edition with the sensational headline “foreign stations ‘confess.’” The article told of an “amazing recital” of abuses by domestic foreign-language radio stations over the past months and years, which had finally come to light at the annual conference of the National Association of Broadcasters in Cleveland the week before. The story that especially aroused the tempers of the conference participants was the revelation by the manager of the New York City radio station...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)

    • CHAPTER 4 The Rewards of Wartime Radio Advertising
      (pp. 89-115)

      By the end of World War II, radio had even more thoroughly won the hearts of the American people. It had delivered up-to-the-minute news from the war fronts; it had provided information, entertainment, and distraction throughout the nerve-racking years of the war; and it had been a steady, reliable companion. No other medium had endeared itself as much to the American people through the wartime experience, as indicated by the results of an extensive national survey conducted in November 1945. The National Opinion Research Center at the University of Denver, commissioned by the National Association of Broadcasters, interviewed almost three...

    • CHAPTER 5 “Radio Propaganda Must Be Painless”: The Comedians Go to War
      (pp. 116-146)

      For a jittery radio industry concerned about the future of American broadcasting in the early months after the nation’s entry into World War II, William B. Lewis was a godsend. As head of the Domestic Radio Bureau of the Office of Facts and Figures, and later the Radio Division of the Office of War Information, Lewis, a former vice president of CBS, reassured the industry that the commercial structure of American radio would remain unchanged. In his first meeting with network executives and radio sponsors and advertisers in January 1942, he outlined his pragmatic approach to radio’s war effort. As...

    • CHAPTER 6 “Twenty Million Women Can’t Be Wrong”: Wartime Soap Operas
      (pp. 147-176)

      When the United States entered the war in December 1941, daytime radio was dominated by soap operas: between 9:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m., 75 percent of broadcasting consisted of serial drama. The listeners had a choice of sixty-two serials, fifty-six of which ran in the usual fifteen-minute, five-times-a-week format. Every day these programs attracted an overwhelmingly female audience of approximately twenty million listeners, the vast majority of whom were housewives. One-third of total radio revenue in the early 1940s came from the sponsors of daytime serials, and because most sponsors advertised household or cleaning articles, these programs acquired the label...

  8. Epilogue: The Privatization of America
    (pp. 177-184)

    The cultural politics of wartime radio propaganda provided a crucisal link for the strengthening and relegitimation of the privatized culture of consumer capitalism. This privatization discourse employed neither a new language nor a new ideology. It was and is an ongoing historical project that has its roots in the middle to late nineteenth century, when the birth of the mass media combined with a new consumption ethic revolutionized American society and culture. “The democratization of desire,” as William Leach called it, not only eroded the foundation of a Victorian ethic and regional and ethnic differences but also fueled the homogenization...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 185-212)
  10. Index
    (pp. 213-218)