Blog 5

11 May

As sound production technology progressed, the radio was introduced to the public and became part of the daily household culture. This allowed for the public and private domestic spheres to merge in ways that were strange and unfamiliar to society. Over the radio, residents at home could hear news broadcasted across the nation. However, the popularization of the radio did not keep the problem of disembodied voices from prevailing. When the Hinderburg disaster occurred, Herb Morrison made a recorded broadcast that was not meant to be broadcasted to the public until the very next day. As he saw the airship crash and burn, he had to keep on broadcasting amidst the smoke and panic. Over the recording, the audience could hear the heart broken voice of Morrison as he frantically reports, saying, “Oh the Humanity!”

However, because this was a recording and not a live broadcast, the public could not hear Morrison’s account of the disaster until the next day. This caused the public to feel a strange feeling of depersonalization with the time lag. Although the public panicked along with Morrison, they also knew that it was irrational for them to panic at that moment, the disaster was already over, and they already knew the outcome- how many died, how many lived, what became of the airship. Despite the uncanny feeling that Morrison’s broadcast produced amongst the public, it was still a wonder what the radio provided the public in the first place. The public was able to hear an actual account of what had happened across the nation while sitting in their living rooms.

Another account of where the disembodied voices provided a problem to the public, was when Orson Welles broadcasted a live version of “War of the Worlds.” The broadcast even included breaks and such that were staged to integrate into the theme of the “War of the Worlds”. The broadcast was also formatted to sound like news bulletins. However, because the audience were not aware that everything was staged, and still not used to the ideas of the radio and its uses for entertainment, there was a widespread panic across the nation for everyone believed that the Germans had invaded America. Mixed with a high anxiety regarding the likely invasion from the Germans, the newly popularized radio, and Orson Welles somewhat realistic reading of “War of the Worlds,” the panic that the broadcast produced was a disaster. It was likely that many listeners did not tune in until after the beginning and so unaware that it was a drama, took the news bulletins seriously- a problem of the disembodied voice and how the public’s trust and strange feelings towards it. Because of the panic that this radio drama created, the golden age of the radio rapidly followed.

Morrison’s lagged account, although extremely professional and became part of radio history due to his professionalism during a tragedy, and Welles staged radio drama are both examples of how the disembodied voices that became of problem of sound production technologies still prevailed even as these technologies became more and more prevalent in society.

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One Response to “Blog 5”

  1. karakasirah 18 May 2012 at 10:42 am #

    For me the Hindenburg recording is a brilliant example of the way sound recording acts as a time capsule that can capture the emotions and excitement and terror of the moment and preserve it for all eternity. I agree that at the time the experience was certainly uncanny, I don’t think that this was necessarily a problem. I’d argue that while they were listening they felt they were there, that the disaster was happening right at that moment and the emotions is Morison’s voice and the chaotic noise in the background makes it feel real in a way previously impossible. The recording has the ability to shake your nerves and bring tears to your eyes, even listening to it more than half a century later. This is part of the wonder of sound recording technology, it captures history. I think that the chilling recording was as uncanny as it was terrible and thrilling for the audience of that time.
    I would definitely agree that Orson Welles’ broadcast of “War of the World” was a shock but also the spark of a new radio awareness. You use this incident to show the problem with disembodied voices but I think here the real problem of the time is that lack of training. It is easy for us to translate a hoax from real news today because we have had years of training in how to listen to the radio. For the audience of Welles’ time they were still being trained how to listen and I think that the broadcasters in American and elsewhere were also experimenting in the many ways this new media could be manipulated. One has to wonder if the BBC would have ever let Welles get away with this? In any case, though Welles scared the wits out of American listeners this instance was incredibly important for the future of the radio, it certainly would leave a lasting impression and perhaps revealed to the world the power and deception of the radio. It was a learning lesson for the world.

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