The Golden Age of Radio is a term that refers to a specific time period in which radio started to become and was an extremely popular mass medium. In the 1920s, weather forecasts, farm reports, and regular radio news analysis began (Campbell, Martin, & Fabos, 2017). The rise of serial situation comedies and the for-profit model of radio were also key components of the time (Campbell, Martin, & Fabos, 2017). Not only did radio serve as a source of information and means of communication, but it served as a form of entertainment and a means to profit. Most Americans had access to a radio and would regularly tune in to hear different programs with their families. Americans, in rural areas that had no electricity, listened to battery powered radio sets or listened with neighbors who had power; during this time, radio was crucial to American culture (Stricklin, 2009). Radio heavily influenced social, economic, and political changes and decisions during this era. The Golden Age of Radio was an important period full of revolutionary growth. This is especially true with regards to communication and media studies. The rise of television and the transition of many shows from radio to T.V. contributed to the end of the Golden Age of Radio.
There was a growing dependency on and popularity of radio during the Golden Age of Radio as it became a mainstream mass medium. Radios were made accessible to a large number of people from various different socio-economic backgrounds.
The Radio Act of 1927 and the Communications Act of 1934, were passed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and led to many changes for radio networks and led to reform for the radio industry overall (Campbell, Martin, & Fabos, 2017). Radio is one of the only mediums licensed and controlled by the federal government. This was done in an effort to serve the public interest (Campbell, Martin, & Fabos, 2017). The regulations set in place by the FCC helped set radio up for its golden age.
During the Golden Age of Radio, a wide range of shows aired such as variety shows, situational comedies, fireside chats, dramatic programs, and studio-audience quiz shows on different stations/networks (Campbell, Martin, & Fabos, 2017). The popularity of these serial shows was a characteristic of this Golden Age of Radio. These shows reflected many of the ideas and beliefs in America at the time. The influence serial radio shows had on society, politics, and the economy was profound. This was because so many people had access to radios at the time. One broadcast that got people to think about the negative and positive effects of radio, was H. G. Wells’s War of the Worlds (Campbell, Martin, & Fabos, 2017). While the effects of this broadcast were grossly exaggerated, it led to strict regulations of broadcasts regarding the warnings provided about a show’s content (Campbell, Martin, & Fabos,2017). These regulations, however, would not decrease the overall popularity of radio shows.
The radio show Lum and Abner was a fictional series aired from 1931 until 1954 (Stricklin, 2009). Lum’s and Abner’s characters were hillbillies; with short scripts and thin plots, the comedy series offered convenient entertainment for many listeners in the South (Stricklin, 2009). This show was released during the Golden Age of Radio which was crucial to its success. Considering the show’s representation of Lum and Abner as Americans, who focus on “good natured fun rather than ridicule,” the series was an escape for many listeners (Stricklin, 2009). Americans were looking to listen to shows at the time and it was much easier for series, like Lum and Abner, to gain followers during the Golden Age of Radio. The show was very successful for a long time, however, it failed to evolve from radio to television which eventually led to its decline. Despite this, the show had a lasting effect on its audience and influenced movies and rural comedies on television for years after its last show aired (Stricklin, 2009).
Campbell, R., Martin, C. R., & Fabos, B (2017). Media & Culture: Mass Communication in a Digital Age 11th Edition. Boston and New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s.
Stricklin, D. (2009). Lum and Abner: Rural America and the Golden Age of Radio by Randal L. Hall. Southwestern Historical Quarterly, 112(3), 311-312. doi:10.1353/swh.2009.0112
Image Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1981-076-29A / CC-BY-SA 3.0
Written by Lisa Hamilton, 2017