Life in the Roaring Twenties Questions and Answers

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What was the impact of the radio in the 1920s on the economy?

The radio's impact on the economy in the 1920s was that it continued the trend toward an economy based on consumer goods. This was because it enabled advertisers to reach potential consumers directly.

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Phillip Holland eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The radio provided an instant source of advertising. In order to be profitable, radio stations had to sell advertising spots since their product was free. Many of the early radio shows had corporate sponsors. Fans of the show were often fans of the product advertised before the show. In many circumstances the advertisements were targeted for a particular audience; for example, a radio soap opera could carry Ivory soap or Martha White flour as a sponsor because housewives would be the presumed audience of the show.

Radio advertisements also made the advertising world more scientific. Many radio shows were popularized nationwidenot only did this create the largest possible market for products, but it also created large sample sizes for surveys concerning the effectiveness of advertising. Advertising agencies could now adjust their pitch in order to reach the largest possible audience.

Radio was also a constant presence in people's lives. For many people, the radio was a source of entertainment and news, as well as a lovely piece of furniture that no home should be without. Even people without radio could walk down the street and hear other people's radios. By the end of the decade radios were also in cars. The constant presence of advertising led to more impulse buys as well as advertisements targeting young people, who would then pressure their parents into buying things.

Radio, combined with more surplus wealth, boosted the American consumer economy. Pitchmen became famous nationwide by becoming associated with certain shows and products. Radio helped to fuel consumer demand for various goods and thus helped create the notion that the decade was good for everyone economically. Radio was important in making consumerism a major part of American culture.

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Greg Jackson, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Radios became a common feature of homes in the 1920s. This coincided with the rapid rise of the middle class. With more leisure time and disposable income than ever before, the radio represented the changing times. It was the first form of instant media that brought people together in a shared experience. Listeners routinely tuned in to the same sporting events, music, and other entertainment. Syndicated radio programs aired all around the country. For the first time, people from coast to coast had access to the same media at the same time as each other. This allowed culture to be shared by people who otherwise had little, if any, contact with each other.

In this sense, the radio helped to create a broader culture that reached beyond normal divides such as socio-economics, geography, ethnicity, and race. This new form of mass media resulted in the erosion of regional differences in speech, musical preferences, and entertainment preferences. All these changes made it easier for brands to reach a wider audience. Since radio created elements of society and culture that transcended regionalism and other divides, it was possible to market more broadly. This all led to a boom in advertising that fed into the growing consumerist lifestyle that developed during the era.

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Alec Cranford eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The advent of commercial radio in the 1920s was a seminal moment in American history. Thinking about it in economic terms, the radio contributed perhaps more than any other development to the expansion of an economy based on consumer goods. The radio was itself a highly desirable consumer good, and by the late 1920s, as three national radio networks began broadcasting content through affiliate stations, millions of Americans boughtoften on credita radio set. They received news, heard accounts (seldom live) of sporting events, and consumed hours of variety shows, music programs, and religious sermons.

From an economic standpoint, however, what was most significant was that they were exposed to advertising. Many large companies already saturating national and regional print publications with ads turned to radio to market their products. Radio stations quickly realized the potential for profit and started selling air time to companies, who used the latest techniques in advertising to persuade people to buy their products. Many radio shows were "sponsored" by companies ranging from radio manufacturers themselves to food products. Cigarette companies promoted their goods through jingles and celebrity endorsements. In short, the radio helped to expand the consumer economy in the United States. It exposed people across the country to products that had formerly been primarily regional in their appeal. In the process, it contributed to a mass culture in the United States.

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Commercial radio came on the scene in 1920 in the United States and had significant effects on the economy. First, it started a whole new industry. Although radios were expensive for that time period, people wanted them, and according to one estimate sales of radios rose from $60 million in 1923 to more than $840 million in 1929. This led to job growth, as people had to be hired to build, package, and ship the radios, and to create the advertising involved in selling all these radios. Further, some people started careers as radio announcers, radio station owners and writers of radio programs, in addition to all the other jobs that supported radio programming.

A second effect on the economy was radio advertising, which helped raise people's desire for consumer goods, and helped the U.S. grow as a consumer economy as the 1920s economic boom roared away. In 1926, the first national radio network, NBC, was born, bringing standardized programming and advertising to the entire country. This helped developed national, rather than regional, economic markets.

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larrygates eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The major impact of radio on the economy was that it brought advertising into American homes. In a time before television, the radio was the greatest invention prior to the advent of the internet. It provided a source of entertainment which reached millions of American homes within three years. Although radio programs were entertaining, they had to be paid for; and this brought about the commercial. Everything from aspirin, toothpaste, soft drinks, etc. were advertised on radio. The commercials were a huge success and businesses saw sales of their brand names boom. Thus the effect on the economy of the radio was immense.

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