Broadcast history from many perspectives.

Author:McGuire, John

Winn, J. E., & Brinson, S. L. (Eds.). (2005). Transmitting the past: Historical and cultural perspectives on broadcasting. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press. 252 pages.

Roman, J. (2005). From daytime to primetime: The history of American television programs. Westport, CT: Greenwood. 345 pages.

Transmitting the Past: Historical and Cultural Perspectives on Broadcasting is a collection of essays examining selected periods in American broadcast history. Edited by J. Emmett Winn and Susan L. Brinson, the book covers historical topics that are both significant (Fritz Messere's chapter on the Federal Radio Commission) and obscure (George Plasketes's critical analysis arguing why Cop Rock should be recognized for expanding television's crime drama genre).

Brinson identifies the book's goal in her introductory chapter as "understanding the complex relationships among radio, television, and American culture" (pp. 14-15). Many of the chapters in this book support Brinson's premise that American broadcast history has been shaped through the convergence of "technology, industry, government and the public" (p. 6). The authors achieve this goal while using multiple approaches (from objective history to cultural studies) in developing and presenting their research.

Technology and Its Role in Broadcast History

Interest in technology among broadcast historians is demonstrated in several chapters. Brown's essay about Guglielmo Marconi notes how advances made by American scientists eclipsed the Italian inventor's public stature in the 1920s. Brown writes that Marconi's reputation may already have been impacted by newspaper reports that the inventor had picked up radio waves sent from Mars (a claim Marconi never actually made). Progress in point-to-multipoint communication in the United States, however, still played a role in reshaping the public's perception of Marconi and his role in the radio industry. In his chapter, Ferguson summarizes the film colorization-for-television debate from the 1980s and how it can serve as context for current controversies involving media technology and how it may be used to manipulate existing creative content. Killmeier highlights technology's impact on the broadcast industry by focusing on the rise of the automobile radio in the 1950s, helping launch the age of "mobile media."

Early regulation in the broadcast industry is addressed in Messere's outstanding chapter on external pressures facing the Federal Radio Commission (FRC) in the period between 1927 and 1933. Messere provides readers with an extensive commentary about how politicians and corporate interests (e.g., the Radio Trust and the National Association of Broadcasters) applied pressure to commissioners trying to do their work. Messere focuses his discussion on the FRC's response to the Davis Amendment of 1928, which demanded equality in radio broadcast service throughout the country. Messere notes that the Institute of Radio Engineers (an industry-supported group) provided the basis for the plan eventually adopted, even over criticism from some commission members.

Going beyond a basic account of that critical time for the radio industry, Messere uses Lowi's model of capture theory as the basis for analyzing why the FRC eventually acted the way it did to satisfy conditions of the Davis Amendment. Messere's use of a theory outside of typical communication approaches is a good example of taking an alternative track to analyzing broadcasting's...

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