What Was The Radio's Cultural Impact?

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The radio was pioneered in the late 1800s, but it did not reach the peak of popularity until the 1930s. Between the 1920s and 1950s, gathering around the radio in the evenings was as common to Americans as watching television is today. People across the country, regardless of geography and class, tuned in for news and entertainment. They listened to broadcasts of baseball games and other sports as well as comedy and variety shows, dramas, live music programs, and political addresses. During the 1930s President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945) used the radio as a way to speak directly to the American public to try and help them cope with the realities of the Great Depression (1929–39; a period of widespread economic hardship). His "fireside chats" from the White House represented a cultural breakthrough in communication and were extremely popular. Radio was a vital link to information at the time and therefore had the power to influence people's opinions and morale in a new way.

As the radio became increasingly popular, advertisers and corporations eagerly seized the opportunity to speak directly to people in their own homes. This would forever change the nature of consumer marketing and create a direct link between entertainment, information, and product consumption. In the 1950s the role of the radio was gradually displaced by the advent of the television, which enjoyed even greater popularity because of its visual impact. The radio lost most of its audience to the television, so programmers turned their attention to playing rock music, managing to keep a hold on a large audience that was for the most part much younger. In the decades since then radio programming has became increasingly music oriented while also broadcasting talk shows and news programming.

Further Information: Lewis, Thomas S. W. Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio. New York: E. Burlingame Books, 1991; Passman, Arnold. The Deejays. New York: Macmillan, 1971.