Explain the importance of innovation in pushing technological growth and thus, certain changes in American culture and society. Question: How can the radio be considered a perfect example of...

Explain the importance of innovation in pushing technological growth and thus, certain changes in American culture and society.

Question: How can the radio be considered a perfect example of innovation and how would one rank the radio in terms of its impact on American culture and society, and how did it lay the groundwork for what would later become prime-time (as in televisions) families.

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Karyth Cara eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Prime-Time Families

The term "prime-times families" was originated by sociologist Ella Taylor in her book Prime-Time Families: Television Culture in Post-War America. Taylor works as a film and television critic writing for LA Weekly, NPR, Village Voice Media and the New York Times (B.A., Sociology,  London School of Economics; M.A. Sociology of Mass Communications, Leicester University; Ph.D., Sociology, Brandeis University). The term refers to the television portrayal of families in home or work settings, or combined setting, that provided the fictional imagery of the American family and that changed as society's culture changed while depicting those changes and simultaneously driving further changes.

Technology Innovation Models, Push and Pull

Innovation drives the economy from two directions; the economic theory being implemented or through which analysis is being made determines which direction is discussed. The earliest theory of innovation, the linear model of innovation, states that research and development (R&D) innovates a product that is introduced to the public and then pushes the economy by forcing--or inspiring--consumers to adopt the technology (think of the introduction of cam-corders in the 1980s that cost hundreds of dollars yet were readily purchased by the top 3 percent, the innovators, of the marketplace). Thus innovation pushes the economy because R&D presents consumers with unexpected opportunities. In this technology push model, attributed to Joseph Schumpeter, the phases of innovation are new science from research, application of new science to develop technology from the science, development of the technology, prototype manufacturing and then sales of the final product. This technology push model (linear model) specifies a new product from new science; this model does not consider the possibility of innovation of new processes for producing existing products as a source for pushing economic and social advancements and changes.

The opposing theoretical model of innovation, attributed to Jacob Schmookler, states that market-pull, or demand pull, force innovations in R&D to supply a product that is being demanded. For an example of demand pull, think of the market demand for biodegradable water bottles and the way several companies have responding by innovating first-generation biodegradable water bottles made of corn starch PLA by Natureworks PLA and Care2 PET plastic with added biodegradable organic compound. These reportedly do not live up to expectations (or hopes) yet do illustrate demand pull perfectly well since innovation in response to market demand starts with an urgent first-generation response that will be followed by deeper development and process innovation.


The radio was a monumental innovation that had profound social, cultural and economic impacts; it led to further technological innovations and innovations in telecommunications as it introduced communication to mass audiences across vast distances. The unprecedented communication reach of the radio made it an instrument of social cohesion in a way never before experienced; millions could gather, separated by vast distances, and listen at the same moment to the same communications. A good illustration for the power of this is to think of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's radio message of December 7, 1941 when all of the United States heard, at the same moment, his announcement declaring war against Japan. All social and economic classes of people, with diverse backgrounds and experience, all had the same emotional and life changing communication at one and the same moment, like a Special News Announcement on network television when a serious event is announced today, such as the Russian blockade of Ukraine airports or their invasion of the Ukrainian parliament.

Radio impacted American culture and society in regards to news events, displaying the voice of culture, defining entertainment, and developing cohesiveness. As the illustrations above show, news events became more immediate in their nature since they could be broadcast concurrently with the action of events (we now say in real time). Some radio programs developed a person-on-the-street interview format in which passersby were asked various questions to show what they knew, for example, "What are the rights in the Bill of Rights?" This and similar interview formats took private lives and opened them up to a public forum. Similarly, on-the-spot interviews at catastrophe sites, like that of the 1937 Ohio and Mississippi rivers floods, opened the door to Americans experiencing national events with the same emotions by broadcasting the voices of those who were suffering [this type of publicizing personal experience has reached extraordinary levels in contemporary culture and is the subject of much contention and debate; think of the furor over the media pursuit of Princess Diana and the implication of photographers, who wanted to publicize her voice or face of suffering, in her tragic death during a high speed paparazzi chase].

Radio Innovation: Pushing Technological Growth and Social and Cultural Change Traceable to Prime-Time Families

One of the cultural changes brought about by radio was universally broadcast music: anyone who had a radio had music. If the voices of flood sufferers in the Mississippi Valley were heard because of radio in 1937, so were the musical tones and voices of Benny Goodman, Dick Haymes, Arty Shaw, Helen O'Connel, Glenn Miller, Bob and Ray Eberle, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Ray Brown, Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Kay Kaiser, Peggy Lee and Kenny Baker performing songs like "Chattanooga Choo-Choo," "Begin the Beguine" and  "Sentimental Journey." This innovation pushed technological growth right up to 2014 to Internet radio, like GrooveShark.com, and MP3 downloads for your latest smartphones and Amazon's newly released Amazon Fire TV that allows you to view entertainment, including music videos, on your HDTV.

The social and cultural changes can be traced right up to Taylor's prime-time families because situational episodic serials, which prime-time TV families dominate, were first introduced on radio. With their probable inspiration in the silent film era serials shown in movie theaters and the few post-talkie serial film successes like Flash Gordon, radio programming offered a new program every 15 minutes:

There is no doubt about it, many radio programs aren't what they ought to be .... Every day, at least 18 hours a day, radio puts on a different show almost every 15 minutes. (Kenneth G. Bartlett. "Social Impact of the Radio" (1947) on JSTOR)

The most successful of these silent era movie serials featured young women who were wrenched form their homes and who faced deadly perils away from the safety of home and hearth in serial form week after week. This is the precursor to the convention--introduced to TV so well by such as George and Gracie Allen, Lucy and Dezzy, and Ozzie and Harriet--of episodic TV serials featuring families at home or at work, as in George and Gracie at home and Our Miss Brooks (Eve Arden) at work. The convention, most likely borrowed from film serials, began with radio, spread to early TV and developed into the sometimes controversial prime-time families of TV's situational episodic serials that Taylor has made the subject of sociological investigation.