Electric Sounds brings to vivid life an era when
innovations in the production, recording, and transmission of sound
revolutionized a number of different media, especially the radio,
the phonograph, and the cinema.
The 1920s and 1930s marked some of the most important
developments in the history of the American mass media: the film
industry's conversion to synchronous sound, the rise of radio
networks and advertising-supported broadcasting, the establishment
of a federal regulatory framework on which U.S. communications
policy continues to be based, the development of several powerful
media conglomerates, and the birth of a new acoustic commodity in
which a single story, song, or other product was made available to
consumers in multiple media forms and formats.
But what role would this new media play in society? Celebrants
saw an opportunity for educational and cultural uplift; critics
feared the degradation of the standards of public taste. Some
believed acoustic media would fulfill the promise of participatory
democracy by better informing the public, while others saw an
opportunity for manipulation. The innovations of this period
prompted not only a restructuring and consolidation of corporate
mass media interests and a shift in the conventions and patterns of
media consumption but also a renegotiation of the social functions
assigned to mass media forms.
Steve J. Wurtzler's impeccably researched history adds a new
dimension to the study of sound media, proving that the ultimate
form technology takes is never predetermined. Rather, it is shaped
by conflicting visions of technological possibility in economic,
cultural, and political realms. Electric Sounds also
illustrates the process through which technologies become media and
the ways in which media are integrated into American life.
Subjects: Film Studies, Technology
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