chapter  1
16 Pages

Chaos and Control

During the years of World War I and the prosperous though brief peace that ensued, radio technology developed from a medium of Morse code transmitted over increasing distances to a medium of analogue sound transmission. The technologies that permitted this new avenue of culture and communication emerged in various places around the globe, growing out of the telephone and telegraph that had preceded them. Yet their institutionalization and transformation into cultural forms was affected by the models set by the two Western nations first to perceive their value in national terms: the United States and Great Britain. This is not to assert that other nations did not initiate broadcasting, either in the public or the private sector, in the years immediately following the war. But nowhere did it develop with more global impact than in the Great Britain and the United States. In the US, radio experimentation was not interrupted by war as it was in Europe, so radio broadcasting proliferated and diversified quickly as a local, popular, relatively uncontrolled medium. Britain, though slower to achieve wide circulation as a popular medium, created in the British Broadcasting Company in 1922 a national structure for radio that accelerated radio’s growth above most other European nations. Finally, the global dominance of each of these two nations in the interwar years meant that the institutional structures, policies, technological and creative practices, and decisions as to the social function of radio broadcasting hammered out between 1919 and 1926 would serve as models for much of the rest of the world.