Redeeming the Dial: Radio, Religion, and Popular Culture in America.

Author:Oldfield, Duane M.
Position:Book Review
 
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By Tona J. Hangen. Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University of North Carolina Press, 2002. 232 pp. $18.95.

Tona Hangen's study provides a major contribution to scholarship on twentieth-century evangelism and the mass media. Focusing on radio's heyday between the 1920s through the 1950s, Hangen chronicles the emergence of radio evangelism and the constant struggles of its practitioners to remain solvent and on the air. She centers her analysis on studies of three radio ministries, those of Paul Rader, Aimee Scruple McPherson, and Charles Fuller. Her concern is not just with these ministries, but also with the uses listeners made of them. Nicely linking the specifics of radio evangelism to larger cultural changes of the period, Redeeming the Dial is an important work for those interested in the period that it focuses upon as well as for those who are interested in the roots of contemporary evangelicalism and the Christian right.

Struggles over access to the airwaves involving radio evangelists, the Federal (later National) Council of Churches, national radio networks, and federal regulators, are central to Hangen's account. These struggles were of great importance to religious radio and two of the book's six chapters are devoted to them. What Redeeming the Dial also makes clear is the broader importance of these struggles. The battle to gain access to the airwaves brought together a variety of participants, helping to forge a potent evangelical community out of a wide array of fractious conservative Protestants and, in the form of groups such as the American Council of Churches of Christ, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the National Religious Broadcasters, to give that community institutional embodiment. At the same time that these struggles were bringing conservative Protestants together, they heightened conflict between evangelicals and "mainline" Protestants represented by National Council of Churches (NCC). The NCC fought hard for network and federal regulatory policies that limited religious radio to...

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