Topics in the News
Ascap versus Bmi
Performance and Payment.
By the 1940s, years of dispute had divided broadcasters and American songwriters. At the heart of their controversy was compensation for music played over the radio. Most radio broadcasts were live, and the musicians and composers were paid for a single performance, but to musicians and composers payment for a single performance alone did not seem fair when that one performance was being received by millions of listeners. Had those millions been packed into one concert hall, the musicians's share of the receipts would presumably have been huge. Broadcasters argued that it was impossible to pay licensing fees based on how many listeners tuned in, because no one knew what that number was. Besides, it was the technology of radio that made such enormous audiences possible. From the broadcasters' standpoint, it was enough to pay the musician and the songwriter for the single performance. In the 1930s, broadcasters, organized into the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), compromised with composers and songwriters, who had been organized since 1914 into the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). Radio stations paid ASCAP a variable royalty of between 3 and 5 percent of the station's gross revenue from advertising sales. This compromise satisfied no one. Broadcasters turned to drama, news, and special events to avoid paying the songwriters, and...
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Blacklisting was the practice whereby broadcasters agreed not to hire someone whose political opinions were "controversial." The blacklist was a destructive social phenomenon that swept through the broadcasting industry in the late 1940s and continued until the early 1960s. Often associated with the more directly political phenomenon of McCarthyism, blacklisting meant economic devastation to thousands whose political sympathies were left of center. The broadcasting industry, like many other sectors in American society, was seized by an anti-Communist hysteria. Unable to find work in film, radio, or television, many actors, screenwriters, and directors saw their careers ruined; some left the country in order to find work abroad; a despairing few committed suicide. In most cases little more than the mere suspicion of associating with Communists landed an individual on the blacklist, which included an estimated seventeen hundred individuals during its term of influence. Leftist political activities (especially during World War II when the Soviet Union was a U.S. ally) landed one on the blacklist automatically. The blacklist had a chilling effect on political activism among members of the broadcasting industry; more important, it robbed the industry of many talented people unwilling to cut their opinions to fit anti-Communist models.
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Part of American Culture.
The growth of an American middle class with leisure time and money to spend, starting in the late nineteenth century, culminated in the development of a commercial popular culture in the early twentieth century that was unparalleled in its inventiveness and success. By 1940 these media included radio shows, pulp magazines, and comic books, as well as the forerunner of the comic book, comic strips, which had existed since the 1890s.
As in radio the comic strips of the 1940s were largely a continuation of the successes of the previous decade. While there were many humor strips that gave the funnies their name—among them Al Capp's Vil Abner and Crockett Johnson's Barnaby—both decades saw a proliferation of narrative strips with continuing characters. Two types dominated: adventure strips such as Milton Caniff's Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon, Will Eisner's The Spirit, Lee Falk's The Phantom and Mandrake the Magician, Harold Foster's Prince Valiant, Chester Gould's Dick Tracy, and Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon; and soap-opera strips such as Allen Saunders and Dale Connor's Mary Worth, Dale Messick's Brenda Starr, and Nicholas Dallis's Rex Morgan, M.D.. Many of these continued for decades....
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Educational Broadcasting Returns
A Neglected Idea.
Since the establishment of nationwide commercial broadcasting in the 1920s, media critics had argued that the full potential of mass-communications technology such as radio was not being realized. They found the absence of educational broadcasting especially troubling. Commercial radio, driven by advertising dollars, focused on entertainment and rarely presented the public with in depth news analysis, fine arts, or complex informational programming. Critics argued that radio could become a formidable tool for in depth information and education and pressured the networks and the government to require such broadcasting. They were ineffective before World War II, but during the war the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which supervised American broadcasting, began a sweeping reconsideration of broadcasting's public responsibility. Because the new technologies of frequency modulation (FM) radio and television promised to open new broadcasting horizons, the FCC revised established restrictions. For the first time, they set aside certain bandwidths of the electromagnetic spectrum for educational broadcasting. Educational television and educational radio were born.
A Shaky Start.
Ardently opposed by commercial interests, educational broadcasting got off to a difficult start. The FCC, responding to commercial pressure,...
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From the Pulps to the Paperbacks
The End of an Era.
Few periods in history are static, but the 1940s was particularly a period of transition for the United States, with its victory in World War II and its emergence from the conflict as a world economic and military superpower. Changes were also evident in American popular culture: radio enjoyed the last years of its heyday as the most successful broadcast medium before television claimed dominance, and one medium that had enjoyed extreme popularity since the 1920s, the pulp magazine, succumbed to the dual challenge of comic books for younger readers and paperback books for adults. In addition the magazines and radio often shared the same audience and even characters, such as the Shadow, but like radio the magazines lost potential readers to the exciting new medium of television.
The Heyday of the Pulps
With roots in the late nineteenth century, the pulps—sensational magazines ranging widely in quality, with gaudy covers and cheap pulp-wood pages—were looked down upon by the guardians of high culture but were extremely popular, their extravagant tales encompassing such popular genres as adventure, romance, crime, horror, science fiction, and the Western. Characters such as the Shadow and Doc Savage were among the popular heroes of the age; writers such as H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard (the creator of Conan)...
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The Golden Age of Comic Books
The Golden Decade.
By 1940 the comic book, a medium created in the United States, had existed for exactly seven years. The first comic books were reprintings of newspaper comic strips, but they quickly turned to publishing original stories considerably longer than the strips. Historians have labeled the 1930s and 1940s, the first two decades of U.S. comic books, the golden age, and the comic book was at its height during the 1940s, which established the medium as part of American culture.
Something for Everyone.
The first few years were a period of experimenting with what readers, mostly children and adolescents but also adults, appreciated. In imitation of the popular pulp magazines, which influenced most comic-book writers and artists along with movies and radio shows, stories in different genres soon became the norm, including adventure, crime, fantasy and science fiction, horror, romance, war, and Westerns. Another popular subgenre was about teenagers, a term that gained widespread use starting in the 1940s, and chief among these humor comics were those featuring Archie and his friends. Created by Bob Montana, the Archie characters first appeared in 1941 and soon became the most popular nonheroic characters in comic-book history. Comic books also developed a few genres of their own, including "funny animal" stones (no doubt...
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Peak of Influence.
The military press reached its historic high in numbers and influence during World War II. From the beginning of U.S. involvement in the war, thousands of publications sprang up in training camps, battlefronts, and strategic locations around the world to report the news of home and the war, keep up morale, and propagandize the war effort.
Many newspapers were printed in small, out of the way places. Many of these were mimeographed. The Adakian was one of these small papers, edited and printed at the army base in Adak, Alaska, under the leadership of Cpl. Dashiell Hammett. Hammett, a novelist well known for his detective stories, saw the first issue published on 19 January 1944. Among the staff members who worked on the paper during its nearly two-year run was Bernard Kalb, who later became a well-known print and television journalist.
Stars and Stripes.
The biggest and best-known of the miltary newspapers was Stars and Stripes, a paper which first appeared in several forms during the Civil War. During World War I only one edition of the paper, datelined Paris, was published; in World War II nearly thirty editions appeared at one time or another. The first World War II edition was published 18 April 1942 in London, and the weekly was...
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Monopoly and the Airwaves.
Since the introduction of mass-communication technologies, U.S. politicians and businessmen had been concerned about the relationship between communication and business monopoly. Most mass-communication technologies were naturally monopolistic: telephone and telegraph signals, in order to be effective, travel over a single set of lines and cables; radio broadcasts must be assigned specific frequencies on the electromagnetic spectrum in order to be heard clearly. Politicians, responding to public concerns (and to the concerns of businessmen dependent upon mass communications), monitored and regulated mass communications to ensure equality in fees charged to the public and to maintain fair political use of the airwaves. Government oversight of mass communications was increased following the creation of the FCC in 1934. Empowered to license and oversee broadcast activities, during the 1930s the FCC focused its attention primarily on investigating activities it felt violated the public trust—false radio advertising, for example. In 1938, transferring the investigation of ad claims to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the FCC established a commission to investigate "chain broadcasting"—the practice whereby the major broadcasting networks, such as CBS and NBC, owned and operated chains of radio stations (affiliates) around the country. On 2 May 1941 the FCC issued...
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Propaganda and the News
When, in 1934, Nazis seized the government of Austria, their first act was to occupy not a government building but a radio station. The act symbolized the new importance the control and dissemination of information had in modern political life. News control and propaganda were central to the success of authoritarian states. By 1940 many members of the U.S. media were expressing deep concern about the control of the news and the effectiveness of propaganda, which was commonly defined as the manipulation of news and information for political purposes. Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany used the new technology of cinema to rally the masses; the Fascist governments of Italy and Germany used the even newer technology of radio to garner broad support for their policies; everywhere in war-torn Europe censors imposed themselves on journalism. How propaganda worked was the subject of great discussion, and media analysts argued pointedly about the relationship between propaganda and unbiased news. It was not an abstract debate. Radio rabble-rousers, such as conservative commentator Fr. Charles Coughlin, already enjoyed large audiences in the Midwest; critics of the Roosevelt administration hinted that FDR's successful fireside chats over radio, as well as the industry regulation of the FCC, were signs of impending dictatorship.
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Radio: The End of the Golden Age
The Once and Former King.
After a "pioneer period" from the first successful experiments in the 1890s to the 1920s, radio entered a golden age in the 1930s. Before the first truly successful television broadcasts early in the 1940s, radio was the only broadcast medium, and its popularity in the United States during the time rivaled that of television since the late 1940s. For two decades radio was king.
The nature of the golden age of radio was established in the 1930s, and radio programming remained basically unchanged during the 1940s. Comedy-variety shows featuring popular actors and musicians, soap operas, adventure programs such as The Shadow and The Lone Rangen and news dominated the airwaves. The only substantial difference between the decades was the amount of news on the radio, which increased substantially when the United States entered World War II in 1941.
In Television's Shadow.
Ironically, the successes of radio provided the foundations for its own decline in the face of television. Its successive improvements in broadcast technology provided the nuts and bolts for television, and its evolution from local broadcasting to national networks such as NBC, CBS, and ABC created corporate entities that would employ this technology for greater...
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Television is Born
Although the basic components of television were developed as early as the 1870s, the technology was not sophisticated enough to broadcast an image until the 1920s. Even then television was too crude for widespread use. There were eighteen experimental television stations in the United States in 1931, but opposition to the new medium by radio broadcasters and a lack of funding during the Depression left these promising starts wanting. Nonetheless, technical innovations by inventors such as Vladimir Zworykin and Philo Farnsworth refined and improved television, and RCA was ready to introduce widespread commercial manufacture of television sets by 1938. RCA's competitors opposed the deployment of a national broadcast system based on RCA technology and moved to block the licensing of commercial broadcasting by the FCC. In 1940 a government panel concluded that RCA was attempting to establish industry broadcasting standards on terms disadvantageous to its competitors, and it reviewed and revised television broadcasting standards. On 3 May 1941 the FCC established guidelines more equitable for a variety of television manufacturers, opening the way for widespread commercial television broadcasting in the United States. On 1 July 1941 CBS and NBC switched their New York stations from experimental to commercial status, broadcasting about fifteen hours of programming a week....
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Bourke-White, Margaret 1906-1971
In an era which acclaimed the war journalist, none was more renowned than Margaret Bourke-White. Her photographs for Life magazine brought World War II home with clarity and sensitivity for millions of Americans; her courage on the battlefront became legendary. Bourke-White set many firsts for women during the war—the first woman to fly on bombing missions, for instance—and her work was superior to that of most U.S. photographers, male or female. When U.S. troops liberated the Nazi death camps, Bourke-White was there, documenting the tragedy of the camps and relaying unforgettable images of the atrocities to the public.
Daughter of an engineer-inventor and a strong-willed, independent housewife, Bourke-White was raised in a household that embraced female equality and ambition. Her father, holding several machine patents, instilled in Bourke-White a fascination and awe for machines that would later advance her career considerably. He was...
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Campbell, John W., Jr. 1910-1971
SCIENCE-FICTION WRITER AND MAGAZINE EDITOR
The term golden age is used with great frequency to refer to popular culture of the 1930s and 1940s, whether referring to radio, comic books, or science fiction. Rarely, however, can such a golden age be as closely identified with the work of one person as the science-fiction golden age can with John W. Campbell, Jr. During the late 1930s and throughout the 1940s he was the most influential editor in the field, discovering impressive new talents and pushing the genre to a level more sophisticated than that of most previous American science fiction, which relied heavily on adventure formulas and gadgetry.
From Writer to Editor.
Campbell began writing science fiction while in his teens and published his first stories before completing his studies in physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Duke University. He built a name for himself as a writer during the 1930s, at first with space opera, then under the pseudonym Don A. Stuart, with moody, atmospheric stones such as "Twilight" (1934) and "Who Goes There?" (1938). In the second half of the decade he became increasingly associated with Astounding Science-Fiction, edited by F. Orlin Tremaine. In 1937 he became its next editor, a position he retained until his death....
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Eisner, Will 1917-
COMIC-BOOK WRITER AND ARTIST
A Man of Many Talents.
Will Eisner was one of the most innovative and talented comic-book writers, artists, and editors of the late 1930s and the 1940s. Best known for writing and drawing The Spirit, he was also prominent in the industry for creating several memorable characters, among them Blackhawk and Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. In the case of The Spirit, he was also one of the few comic-book figures from this period to retain control over his creation.
An Early Start.
Born in Brooklyn, Eisner entered the new field of comic books in 1936 while still a teenager. With Jerry Iger he formed a company that produced comics for different publishers, including Fiction House, Fox, and Quality. (One artist for the Eisner-Iger partnership, Bob Kane, soon went on to create Batman.) During this period he and Iger created Sheena, drawn by Mort Meskin, and Dollman, drawn by Lou Fine. The company prospered, but Eisner wanted to do more than mass-produce formulaic comic books for kids. Consequently, when the Chicago Tribune decided to create a comic-book magazine in the spring of 1940 in order to compete with the wildly successful comic-book industry, Eisner jumped at the offer to write and draw a weekly, sixteen-page comic that would be distributed in a newspaper rather than...
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Johnson, John H. 1918-
John H. Johnson entered publishing at age twenty-four, when, after white bankers refused to loan him money, he used his mother's furniture as collateral for a five-hundred-dollar loan in order to send out twenty thousand letters promoting a new magazine, to be called Negro Digest. By the 1990s Johnson, a multimillionaire, was the most influential and prosperous African American businessman in the country. In the intervening fifty years his magazines, particularly Ebony, had become an integral part of American culture.
Johnson was born to a poor family in Arkansas City, Arkansas. When he was six his father died in a sawmill accident. Because Arkansas City had no high school for blacks, he and his mother moved to Chicago when he was in his teens on money she earned as a cook. The move paid off: Johnson excelled in high school in academics and leadership, and he edited the school news-paper and served as business manager of its yearbook. Influenced by his mother, he saw hard work and determination as essential to succeeding in a society in which blacks were afforded little opportunity for success. He graduated from high school with honors and received a tuition-only scholarship to the University of Chicago; he was able to accept it thanks to Harry H. Pace,...
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Luce, Henry R. 1898-1967
PUBLISHER, TIME, LIFE, AND FORTUNE MAGAZINES
The American Publisher.
Henry R. Luce was one of the most influential magazine publishers in the United States in the twentieth century. The magazines he began, Time, Life, and Fortune, had a profound impact on U.S. publishing and American public opinion. Time defined the modern newsmagazine, and Life established photo-documentary journalism. Moreover, the phenomenal success of these magazines gave Luce a platform from which to promote deeply held political and social ambitions. Wendell Willkie's internationalism was to some extent a product of Luce's influence, and the 1940 Republican candidate for president owed much of his popularity to Luce and his magazines. Luce championed U.S. assistance to China, intervention in World War II, and the escalation of the Cold War long before these issues became popular. His instincts both anticipated and seemed perfectly keyed to public...
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Mauldin, Bill 1921-
Bill Mauldin became one of the best-known cartoonists of the 1940s on the strength of his World War II series Up Front. Syndicated in addition to their publication in his division newspaper and later the Stars and Stripes, his cartoons about army life were a favorite of enlisted men and civilians alike. In 1945 he received the Pulitzer Prize, at age twenty-four the youngest person to do so.
Civilian Life. Mauldin was born in Mountain Park, New Mexico, and by the time he was a teenager he was drawing posters for local merchants. At his Phoenix high school he worked on the school newspaper. He studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts with money borrowed from his grandparents. He had no trouble securing work as a freelance cartoonist, but during the Depression he found it difficult to support himself, so in 1940 he joined the National Guard. Almost immediately his unit was activated as part of the U.S. army, with Mauldin serving first in a truck unit and then in the infantry. He began submitting cartoons to his division's newspaper, in the process creating his two most memorable characters.
An Unsentimental View of War.
Willie and Joe, Mauldin's everyman GIs, allowed him to explore the humorous as well as darker aspects of war; they also...
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Pearson, Drew 1896-1969
Drew Pearson served as one of Washington's premier muckraking journalists for over thirty years, writing the syndicated column "Washington Merry-Go-Round," first with Robert S. Allen and later with Jack Anderson.
Pearson was born in Evanston, Illinois, to a Quaker professor who served as governor of the Virgin Islands. After graduating from Swarthmore College in 1919, Pearson traveled to post—World War I Europe to learn about diplomacy but instead became the director of relief in the Balkans for the British Red Cross. In 1921 he returned to the United States. In 1922 he began a self-financed world journey, signing on as seaman on the merchant vessel S.S. President Madison for a journey to the Far East. He jumped ship in Yokahama, Japan, and traveled for two years in Japan, the Soviet Union, China, the Phillipines, Australia, New Zealand, and India.
During his travels Pearson began publishing his impressions in Australian newspapers. In 1923 he continued his travels into Europe and gained a newspaper syndicate contract. His most important work from this period was his interview series Europe's Twelve Greatest Men. In 1925, after a trip to Japan and China, he married, and the next...
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Pyle, Ernie 1900-1945
The Regular American.
Ernie Pyle was the most famous war correspondent the United States ever produced. A Midwesterner who quit college after three years, Pyle was the eyes and voice of the regular American, able to describe the experience of individuals at war in the language of the readers at home.
First Newspaper Job.
Pyle missed World War I when his parents ordered him to graduate from high school and refused to allow him to enlist. As a senior at Indiana University in January 1923, Pyle quit to accept a job as a reporter on the La Porte (Ind.) Heraid. In just a few months he was offered a job as a reporter on the Washington Daily News.
Traveling the Country.
In July 1925 he married Géraldine "Jerry" Seibolds, an intelligent but troubled civil-service worker. Calling themselves bohemians, the couple did not allow their friends to know of their marriage for many years. In summer 1926 the Pyles quit their jobs and traveled around the United States. After nine thousand miles in ten weeks, the Pyles ended up in New York, where Ernie took a job on the copy desk at the Evening World. In December 1927 Pyle returned to Washington, D.C., and the Washington Daily News, where he began the first aviation column in...
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People in the News
In February 1940 American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) president Gene Buck was arrested in Phoenix, Arizona, on extortion charges. The charges, stemming from a licensing dispute between ASCAP and a radio station, were dropped when Arizona governor R. T. Jones refused extradition to New York.
Early in 1942 Rep. Eugene E. Cox of Georgia began a House investigation of FCC chairman Lawrence Fly and the FCC, which was dropped when it was revealed that Cox had taken kickbacks from a Georgia radio station.
On 6 June 1945 six people connected to the foreign-policy journal Amerasia, including publisher Philip Jaffe, were arrested and charged with espionage when they were found to have had substantial classified State Department files passed to them by disgruntled officials critical of U.S. support for Chiang Kai-shek's Chinese Nationalists. There was little evidence to support the charge, and the cases against the six were dropped, fueling suspicions on the far Right that a Communist conspiracy was at work within the State Department.
In June 1940 James Caesar Petrillo was elected president of the American Federation of Musicians. During the next few years, he would lead a struggle for royalty payments to musicians from radio broadcasters.
In 1942 former newsman Byron...
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PULITZER PRIZES FOR JOURNALISM
Public Service: Water bury (Conn.) Republican-American
Reporting (General): S. Burton Heath, New York World-Telegram
Correspondence: Otto D. Tolischus, The New York Times
Editorial Writing: Bart Howard, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Editorial Cartoons: Edmund Duffy, Baltimore Sun
Public Service: St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Reporting (General): Westbrook Pegler, New York World-Telegram
Correspondence: Group award to American war correspondents
Editorial Writing: Reuben Maury, New York Daily News
Editorial Cartoons: Jacob Burck, Chicago Times
Special Citation: The New York Times foreign news report
Public Service: Los Angeles Times
Reporting (General): Stanton Delaplane, San Francisco Chronicle
Telegraphic Reporting (National): Louis Stark, The New York Times
Telegraphic Reporting (International): Laurence Edmund Allen, Associated Press...
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Nicholas Afonsky, 51, artist for Sunday Little Orphan Annie strip, 16 June 1943.
Carl Anderson, 83, creator of the Henry comic strip, 4 November 1948.
Harold MacDonald Anderson, 64, editorial writer on the staff of the New York Sun; author of the famous editorial "Lindbergh Flies Alone," which appeared when Charles A. Lindbergh was making his solo flight to France in 1927, 26 December 1940.
Millard V. Atwood, 55, newspaper editor, 3 November 1941.
Ray Stanard Baker, 76, prolific author and magazine editor, awarded the 1940 Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Woodrow Wilson, 12 July 1946.
Stuart Ballantine, 47, radio engineer, 7 May 1944.
Ralph W. Barnes, 41, foreign correspondent of the New York Herald Tribune, 19 November 1940.
Nat A. Barrows, 44, journalist and correspondent for the Boston Globe, famous for his series on submarines, 12 July 1949.
George Barton, 74, journalist and writer of mystery stories, 17 March 1940.
Edward Price Bell, 74, newspaperman, 23 September 1943.
James O'Donnell Bennett, 69, retired member of the staff of the Chicago Tribune and one of...
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Francis Chase, Jr., Sound and Fury: An Informal History of Broadcasting (New York: Harper, 1942);
Federal Communications Commission, Report on Chain Broadcasting (Washington: Federal Communications Commission, 1941);
Thomas H. Hutchinson, Here is Television: Your Window on the World (New York: Hastings House, 1946);
Theodore F. Koop, Weapon of Silence (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1946);
Paul F. Lazarsfeld and Harry Field, The People Look at Radio (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1946);
Lazarsfeld and Patricia L. Kendall, Radio Listening in America: The People Look at Radio—Again (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1948);
Edward R. Murrow, This is London (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1941);
Office of War Information, When Radio Writes for War: A Digest of Practical Suggestions on Wartime Radio Scripts (Washington: Office of War Information, 1943);
Wilber Schramm, Communications in Modern Society (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1948);
Eric Sevareid, Not So Wild A Dream (New York: Knopf, 1946);
Martin Sheridan, Comics and Their Creators (Boston: Hale, Cushman &...
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Important Events in the Media, 1940–1949
- On January 5, Edwin H. Armstrong demonstrates high-fidelity radio, broadcast in frequency modulation (FM), over station WIMOJ in Worcester, Massachusetts.
- In February, Whiz Comics, introducing C.C. Beck's Captain Marvel, is published.
- On February 12, the radio show Superman begins, providing the source for such lines as "Up, up, and away!" and "This looks like a job for Superman!"
- In spring, the first issue of Batman is published.
- On March 20, Radio Corporation of America (RCA) begins a publicity campaign for broadcasts of the visual technology, television, which it hopes to begin September 1, 1940.
- On April 8, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) begins hearings to determine whether RCA has a monopoly on television technology and manufacturing. On May 28, it condemns RCA's monopolistic practices.
- On May 20, the FCC authorizes commercial FM radio stations to begin broadcasting January 1, 1941.
- In June, Will Eisner's The Spirit debuts as a weekly comic book distributed in newspapers.
- On September 4, the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) demonstrates color television transmission over its New York station, W2XAB.
- On November 5, election returns are...
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