RADIO BEFORE ROCK AND ROLL
How did radio influence American life in the years before the birth of Rock and Roll?
From its birth in 1920 to the rise of television in the early 1950s, commercial radio played a central role in American life. For much of this era, the radio itself held an honored place in the center of the home. Entire families would gather around it to hear important news events, listen to live music, or catch the latest installment of a hit drama or comedy series such as The Lone Ranger or Amos ‘n Andy.
But by the early 1950s, technological shifts—most notably the introduction of television into the family living room—heralded significant changes in the American people’s relationship with radio. The rise of smaller, portable radios meant that individuals could now listen virtually any time or place. The growing popularity of television rendered radio drama and comedy series nearly obsolete; listeners were less satisfied with merely listening to stories on radio when they could see them unfold before their eyes on television.
But far from disappearing from American life, as some predicted, radio instead reinvented itself in the early 1950s. Recorded popular music would come to play an increasingly central role in radio programming over the next two decades, as opposed to the live performances that dominated the airwaves in the decades prior. As the major networks, such as NBC and CBS, shifted their attention from radio to television, radio stations came more and more under local control, allowing for greater experimentation and creativity in programming. One such local owner, Todd Storz of WKOH in Omaha, Nebraska, pioneered a new format in which listeners could hear recordings of their favorite songs over and over again, paving the way for what would soon become known as “Top 40” radio. Some stations began playing a broader range of recorded music, including some that emphasized Rhythm and Blues performed by African-American artists. These changes set the stage for radio to play a central role in the Rock and Roll explosion of the late 1950s.
Video pages: Earl Burtnett and his Biltmore Hotel Orchestra - (1928) | Franklin D. Roosevelt - "Day Of Infamy" Speech (1941) | The Jam Handy Organization - Back of the Mike (1938) | Elmore James - Dust My Broom (1951) | Franklin D. Roosevelt - Fireside Chat (1933) | Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll - Kiss Your Little Baby Goodnight (1926) | Edward R. Murrow - Murrow In London (1940) | Various - The Lone Ranger - Radio and TV Opening Sequences | The Mercury Theatre on the Air - War of the Worlds (1938) | United States Office of War Information - You Can't Do Business with Hitler (1942)
Upon completion of this lesson, students will:
Ask students to interview a family member or neighbor over the age of 65 about his or her memories of radio as s/he was growing up. Students should ask the following questions and record answers in their notebooks:
Describe the impact of radio on American society from 1920 to the early 1950s. Cite specific evidence from this lesson and address the following:
College and Career Readiness Reading Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 for Literature and Informational Text
College and Career Readiness Writing Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 in English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects
College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening for Grades 6-12:
Core Music Standard: Responding
Select: Choose music appropriate for a specific purpose or context.
Analyze: Analyze how the structure and context of varied musical works inform the response.
Interpret: Support interpretations of musical works that reflect creators' and/or performers' expressive intent.
Evaluate: Support evaluations of musical works and performances based on analysis, interpretation, and established criteria.
Core Music Standard: Connecting
Connecting 11: Relate musical ideas and works to varied contexts and daily life to deepen understanding.