Tag Archives: Blog 5

Brenna’s blog post: “A Collective Lens”

12 May

Benjamin offers a black and white argument that criticizes sound and art reproduction yet fails to see the advances that reproduction allows. Benjamin argues that when you make copies of an original, you are detracting from the “aura” of the single work and the uniqueness will deteriorate with reproduction. Mechanical reproduction is especially problematic for Benjamin because the replicas are exact and offer no distinction. Benjamin argues that the antidote to this phenomenon of reproduction is “cult” art, or art that is unseen. The opposite of cult art, in Benjamin’s definition, is cinema because cinema is produced specifically for the masses.
I found Benjamin’s argument to be extremely black and white and, therefore, appreciate Adorno’s criticism of it. Adorno thinks Benjamin underestimates the value of exhibition art and overestimates the value of art for art’s sake. I agree with Adorno’s criticism of Benjamin. While I see Benjamin’s argument that copies detract from an original’s value, the alternative would be unseen art. This seems like an oxymoron to me, as the benefits of art is that others can be exposed to it.
The Adorno/Benjamin dichotomy brings Katz to mind as well, since it poses the argument of democratizing art (in Katz’s case, music) versus commodifying it. The shortfall of Benjamin’s argument is that he fails to see the possibility of a middle ground. While Katz addresses the positives of sound production (accessibility) and negatives (less value on live performance), Benjamin’s “cult art” concept is too limiting because it leaves no room for the possibility of art to be seen. Still, both Katz and Benjamin argue that copied art lacks the presence of “space and time”. Their arguments of the value of this element are understandable and plausible.
In relation to Katz, Adorno’s claims also parallel those in “Capturing Sound” regarding tangibility. Both are concerned with making the intangible tangible and the consumer implications of this. In “Form of the Phonograph”, Adorno argues that records and phonographs become possessions. Tangibility, thus, replaces musical functionality. The phonograph records music that would otherwise be lost. While this is valuable, the downfall is that music (an intangible art form) is now a commodity. Live performance is no longer needed to hear music. This marks a huge shift, both in technology and culture. Sterne’s argument, for example, addresses the cultural implications of sound technology becoming “crystallized” into our everyday lives. Still, the shortcomings of phonographs include the lack of variance in sound. Though music is available to all, the nuances do not exist. Adorno discusses the phonograph’s difficulty with recording pitch. If pitch is varied, the phonograph has trouble picking it up. This limits the type of sounds that can be recorded and narrows the range and genre of music.
The phonograph had huge implications on daily lives of people in every class, as it was found in many homes and brought people of different statuses together in terms of phonograph parlors and the music they were now all exposed to. Reading the works of all these theorists is important to understand the overall development of the technology. While all are similar, each draws on different examples and alternatives to the problem that comes when you attempt to mass produce what is unique.

Brenna Bozigian

11 May

With the widespread advent of the radio by the 1920s, the era of the machine was seriously picking up speed. This unprecedented medium allowed one-way communication with the outside world, as opposed to previous communication technologies such as the telegraph and telephone. Now, radio announcers become celebrities, of a kind, that would appear in one’s home and deliver content that was new and live, never before heard. Radio broadcasts quickly hinged on the difference between live recording performances, ephemeral material performed for that specific purpose, and recorded content, created for potentially altogether different ends. James Petrillo, head of the American Federation of Musicians, was instrumental (obviously) in spearheading “ a complete ban on the broadcast of any type of recording on radio, arguing that records took jobs away from musicians” (Morton 88), while network heads “saw little role for records in all this” (84). The distinction was so crucial that “both transcription discs and regular phonograph recordings now had to be identified as such by an announcer each time they were played” (87). Clearly, it was the sheer immediacy of the radio that was its main appeal, and, ultimately (in addition to a one-time only investment of the machine itself), its advantage over recording.

Along with this immediacy, which must have given listeners a sense of worldliness and sophistication, this collapsing of space wherein radio triumphed over records for music and newspapers for news, comes a sort of invasiveness that had hitherto not existed. Indeed, as Morton notes, the reason that radio was not used for interpersonal communication was its “lack of privacy,” which radio pioneers turned “to their advantage” (82). Instant broadcasts, with all of their real-time quirks and imperfections, were now entering your home straight from the mouths of complete strangers, which also included unwanted and vastly irritating “recorded ads […] which were played frequently between songs or other material,” for which purpose the “jingle” was invented by someone who we can only hope perished less than peacefully (86). The thought of invisible, inaudible voices travelling up to light speed (!!), whizzing through the air around one, must have also been slightly disorienting (as anyone who has ever suddenly and inadvertently picked up radio transmissions through their guitar pickups knows).

The concept of these signals being owned and regulated was also completely unexplored territory, with perhaps the exception of printed materials: intangible ownership; the rights to something that quickly becomes nothing. In addition to radio companies having to pay for the rate at which their radio waves move, record companies, again led by Petrillo, fought for “a revision of the copyright laws which [would enable] the collection of royalties for the playing of records” (88). The rights of the creator to their own intellectual property was, according, put to a real test with the absence of actual property, especially as the opposing argument, that once having purchased a record, one may play it for any purpose, including to lots of people at once, was so convincing.

The quick establishment of governmental regulations on this new medium indicated a palpable uncertainty as to the full ramifications of such an invention. Even today, the more modern medium of web exchange of music and podcasts through, for example, bit torrents,  demonstrate a complex and often troubled relationship with new media. With the advent of offshoot technologies such as satellite and television signals, this relationship would only become more challenged.


Sarah Higginbotham

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.

Sound Technology and the power of the Individual

11 May

The period between the early 1930s and mid 1940s saw important changes in sound technology that gave more power to the individual, and shaped future technologies. The revival of home recording in the early 1930s made recording technology a personal tool that anyone could use. Also around this time, the introduction of the jukebox, as a technology shaped today’s record industry, laying foundations for a singles-based radio market. The innovation of this period certainly laid a foundation for future markets by empowering individuals and structuring industry based on technology.

The revival of home recording technology and the introduction of the tape recorder empowered individuals by allowing to keep their own personal recordings for entertainment, business, or personal matters. People now had expanded options when it came to sound technology. The fact that “inexpensive phonograph-recorders” were available meant that many people had access to this kind of technology (Morton, 98). By putting this kind of technology in the hands of many individuals, the future of communication was shaped. Today, technologies like Skype allow us to communicate face to face with anyone around the world who has computer and internet access. Though the technology that makes the communication of Skype possible is far more advanced than a phonograph-recorder, the earlier technologies cheapness and availability set a precedent for other communication technologies, such as Skype, which is a free program.

The Jukebox revolutionized the music market, and set a precedent for the future of the industry. It helped the music industry become a technology-based industry, and a singles-based pop market. Because this technology required the user to pay once for one song, it set a precedent for consuming single songs over albums. Also, here the consumption of this music hinges on the technology, the jukebox, that is completely in charge of the transaction. Not only did the jukebox shape the way that consumers viewed the market, but it also “helped to bring customers back to the record stores”, giving the record industry a much needed boost (Morton, 100). Today, the power and money of the music industry lies in the record business. This is because they thrive in an industry that relies heavily on sound technology, a precedent set by the jukebox and phonograph. The industry depends heavily on the radio, another sound technology, for distribution and ultimately success.

Overall, home recording technology and the jukebox both laid foundations for the future of communication and the record industry. The enhanced technological power in the hands of the individual set a precedent for future technology that it should be cheap and widely available. Home recording technologies improved interpersonal communication, record keeping, and entertainment. Journalism was improved greatly due to these technologies, reinforcing the power of the individual, and making more information more available to more people at all times. The jukebox shaped the way we perceive  the music industry, and the way we consume recordings. It is apparent that technology itself is vital when it comes to shaping an industry, and that we must use and today’s technology with an eye to the future, speculating how it will determine future markets.

-Andrew Crockett

Society & Technological Advancement

11 May

As society changes, technology advances to keep up with the new demands of the people. As times are changing, people demand products that supply instant gratification to their needs. Technology is then designed so the people are not kept waiting. Advanced technology is sweeping the nation as it is used for military purposes, high budget films, and production. The nation was not always this technical savvy due to the fluctuation of the economy across history, starting with the great depression.

Record sales during the 1930’s great depression saw a decline. According to Morton, “In 1929 it has been about $75 million, and fell to just $6 million by 1932” (p.91).  During this time, people did not have the funds to buy records because they barely had enough money to put food on their tables. The demand for records was low and the era was certainly not one where everyone was jolly and listening to music. Record companies came up with a new way to entice buyers, and that was by turning to the classical music market. Record sales increased after the first record changer was introduced. The record changer allowed people to listen to multiple songs for hours because it was able to drop and place records on to the turntable without human effort. These record players started at $600, which was very expensive at the time. Therefore, only high class societies were able purchase the product. Adorno would agree that the record player had become a “piece of musical furniture” to the bourgeoisie.

During the prohibition, record sales declined as well because there were less and less people showing up at bars and spending their coins in the juke box. Once again, here there was less demand for music because society did not allow drinking at the bars. After the prohibition law was repealed, record stores and high end music saw an increase in sales. This demonstrates how the changes of society majorly affect technological advances.

World War II was another major event that affected recording technology. Technology was used during this time as for of entertainment and journalism to the world. The media utilized recording technology in order to deliver news to the people about the incidents of war. Government agency and the office of war information used broadcast journalism to keep the public updated, but also as a form of war propaganda. Through broadcast journalism, people were provided public news but at the same time became influenced by media. Once again, this elucidates how the media and technology changed to fit the needs of society.

Currently, technology is taking a new flight with the introduction of the iPhone and other technological advancements. As mentioned earlier, people are demanding more instant gratification methods and technology is trying to keep up. After the debut of the Tupac hologram at Coachella 2012, it is actually sort of frightening, yet exciting, to see where technology takes our society.

Blog 5: Welles and Radio Panic

11 May

The Night of Panicked Americans

On October 30th of 1938, Orson Welles performed a radio-play based on H.G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds,” a sci-fi account of aliens attacking earth. The result of Welles’ broadcast caused widespread fear and panic across America. The original New York Times article, published the next day (Halloween 1938) confirmed that hundreds of people responded to the broadcast as a truthful announcement, proving that the radio was capable of wide-spread information dissemination. Because of the way radio media is structured, the only opportunities to have announced the radio-play as Welles’ performance were at the beginning and throughout the show during commercial pauses. However, it is feasible and even expected that a listener at 8pm would have been switching the dial from station to station and happened to have stumbled upon “The War of the Worlds” after the disclaiming introduction. Unlike later television, where artifice can be visually observed, knowing the truth from radio is an ambiguous process. It is interesting to me that Welles’ radio-play was intentionally realistic in its attempt to mimic a variety show. Sound “doesn’t lie,” or rather, it is harder to differentiate between contrived and natural sound than between real and altered photos, thus the Wellesian audience members (those not dedicated enough to hear the introduction) were convinced that these “news flashes” were legitimate. It is important to remember that the way in which people “mediated themselves,” meaning digested the information transmitted to them, was much different in the days when the radio was the common intake of news. Welles was a weird guy (weird has also been called genius in his case) and one cannot help but to wonder whether he could have predicted the ensuing panic caused by his radio broadcast. The resulting fear of the public may have been influenced by the contemporary political drama, but in reality, this radio-play seems to have been meant in good fun. The listener response to the broadcast was also very telling in that many people sought to verify these reports by calling in to the police or newspapers. Without the visual confirmation of the events described, Welles’ passionate announcements corresponded to the way in which this information would have actually been announced had the Germans or aliens or whatever threat been attacking the American space. Overall, the public response, in retrospect, could have been assumed since no one had previously attempted to dramatize a fiction so realistically. The medium of radio contributed to the ambiguity of real or play seeing as no visual accounts could be confirmed. Besides the resulting panic, public broadcasting was altered by Welles in that the audience now had to be fully aware of the fictional nature of the information they were letting themselves hear. The American public learned that they would have to pre-analyze any broadcast for legitimacy, even when it is already a difficult process to distinguish whether the sounds or speeches broadcast have validity.

Blog 5: Radio and Capitalistic Exploitation

11 May

The emergence of the radio in the early 20th century marked a time when the globalization of the world was becoming more apparent and the distances for communication were becoming ever more diminished. It marked a time when the public and the private spheres could be merged and the information of the outside world entered into the domestic at ease. In its early stages the radio was generally a free service that was not regulated by the government but rather was run by “amateurs and private enterprise” (Morton 83), but by 1920 the federal government began licensing broadcasters and the possible uses of the radio became more apparent. The radio became a sensible tool for advertisement since people would tune in to listen to radio programs and musical recordings. Initially, there was wide opposition to records being played over the radio since “records took jobs away from musicians” (88), yet recording companies realized that the radio was the perfect advertising tool for their musicians as it became clear “that these shows helped stimulate consumers to buy the music they heard.” (98)

As a result, broadcasters began to gain sponsors and used them in order to win over the competition of independent radio stations, eventually monopolizing and creating large radio networks. This was evidently driven by the capitalistic notion of free enterprise and the end resulted in three major radio networks running most of the radio airwaves. With few radio stations competing, radio networks acquired large audiences and the prospect of advertising to the masses entailed much economic interest. Radio networks could both advertise their associated musicians and their sponsors products and services. Thus, besides being a source of entertainment and news, the radio became a space for capitalistic gain and we can argue, as Walter Benjamin states, of “capitalistic exploitation.” (Benjamin 7) In order to listen to the music the consumer paid the price of being fed advertisements encouraging them to buy sponsors products. Furthermore, the music itself became self-advertising since a radio tuner could listen to a song on the radio and as a result, be encouraged to purchase the music record. This entailed the consumer to give up some power in their selections of music and transferred this power to the radio networks that gained complete authorization to feed the consumer the music of their selection. Consequently, the masses became spectators seeking distraction, as Benjamin states, and their aesthetic preference widely diminished. Like the film, “the capitalistic exploitation” (7) of the radio has in a sense diminished the aura of the already diminished musical reproduction by placing the power of aesthetic selection in a few hands rather than in the hands of the masses.

In our own present time, the capitalistic influences still affecting the radio have had some similar consequences. The radio networks have somewhat complete authority over the music they play and the advertisements they release to the public and the listener has little influence over what they hear. The few options the consumer has of acquiring some agency are to listen to an alternative radio station or to purchase the music recording of their choice. With the major radio networks that exist today there is ever more limited power of the consumer. The listener of a major radio network usually hears repetitions of a single song throughout the day making it easy for the distracted listener on their way to work to ingrain the songs in their head without realizing that the repeatability has masked their own aesthetic preferences. However, the Internet and its free source basis has somewhat retracted communication media as it existed before the monopoly of radio networks. The consumer is no longer reliant on a single network to provide them with music or media. It allows the consumer to actively search for their music as a concentrated spectator without the distractions of advertisements. Yet even this free source has been under attack lately by the forces of capitalism.

-Andres Garcia

Don’t Trust the Radio

11 May

            When considering the audio recording of the Hindenburg disaster, one cannot help but think of the context: World War II was about to blow into existence and there was anxiety regarding the power Germany was acquiring in Europe. The Hindenburg, a German commercial airship, or blimp, burst into flames in New Jersey with Herbert Morrison recording the events as they transpired. However, due to the nature of the radio, being that it was still a fairly new technology which did not have the capability to easily broadcast live news events such as the landing of Hindenburg, this recording was not heard for some time across the United States. People became aware of this tragedy, but not in real time. I imagine this could make one listening to the news particularly uncomfortable. In modern times, we are accustomed to getting our news immediately due to the internet, television, radio, cell phones, etc. Things can go across the world instantly-if a bomb explodes in Iraq, U.S. citizens can see a live video broadcast of the events that transpire afterwards. The delay associated with the Hindenburg was most likely not an isolated event: it is most likely that many news events were heard some time after they actually happened.

            When considering that things were reported in the media (radio, newspaper, etc.) after they happened as opposed to when they happened in the time leading up the World War II, one can see how it can be problematic. News is no longer new. It is simply a report of history, really. Although this problem is now solved due to advanced technology in this information age of 2012, it was a big deal in the 20’s/30’s, etc. One can understand the reaction to Orson Welles’ radio play The War of the Worlds when considering the delay associated with the delivery of news. With no intro leading into it and broadcasted as a faux newscast, a panic was created in which people thought that the Germans had invaded the United States. This led people to panic, some to even kill themselves, allegedly. The people listening to this broadcast could assume that the news they were hearing, while being broadcasted live, was most likely received at a slightly later time than when it took place. That meant to them, everything that was being broadcasted has happened and things probably were already even worse. Germans had already touched American soil, such as with the Hindenburg, so it was not irrational to think that they were there again, this time invading, especially considering the fact that World War II was just beginning at the time of this broadcast.

            When considering that the radio and the phonograph were not remarkably popular in the beginning of the 1930’s only to increase in popularity throughout the decade, (Morton, 91-101) one can hypothesize that there was a large belief in radio once it became relevant again. Citizens listened to their elected president, Franklin Roosevelt, live on the radio for his Fireside Chats very often, instilling a sense of security and confidence in the population. However, where there is security there is trust. People will trust what they hear on the radio if they continually hear things they should trust. That is another reason Welles’ broadcast was taken so seriously-there was no reason for people not to trust it unless they heard previously that it was going to be a radio play. The radio was a reliable source for news as well as a source for entertainment, but the two were easily distinguishable. The news was the news-it had a serious tone and delivered real world events, like the recording of the Hindenburg disaster. Entertainment was hit music that increased record sales, like in the 20’s (Morton, 86-87) or radio plays that were explicitly radio plays-The Lone Ranger or the like. Welles’ broadcast was revolutionary and caused a stir, changing the way media was to be perceived after that for good. People were likely to question their news sources after hearing Welles’ broadcast due to the fact that Welles’ broadcast was one of the first times people could not actually trust what they were hearing. Orson Welles was not Franklin Roosevelt. 

Technology’s Relation to Society

11 May

It is interesting to watch how technological advances reflect societal changes. The concept of supply and demand is very much at play here. In other words a market sets the price of goods by settling somewhere between the demand from the consumers and the supply by the producers. We see technology find a place in private homes, public places, for journalistic purposes, and military uses. In essence technological history coincides with the events of American and even World history. Economy fluctuations, government laws and war have effected the advancement and changes in technology.

The economy took a downturn in the early 1930’s in a time known as the Great Depression. In conjunction with this economy decline came a drop in sales of records, “in 1929 it had been about $75 million, fell to just $6 million by 1932” (Morton 91). We see here that when the going it good technology and innovation thrive, yet economic turmoil spoils the demand of a product. So record companies had to concentrate on a market in which they could sell, and that turned out to be the classical music market, or “high brow music.” It is interesting to see that when the market is down, inventors need to become much more innovative to create a product that will sell and succeed. Which could be argued forces inventors to create better products. The classical music market brought about the first record changer, which allowed for hours of listening as the machines internal mechanism dropped and placed a series of records onto the turntable. This first model sold for $600, so it is evident that the record company found a market in “highbrow” classical listening societies despite the depression and weak economy.

Even government laws and restrictions had an effect on sound technologies. In the 1890’s coin- operated phonographs (aka Juke Box) were created but their popularity plummeted with the Prohibition Act in the 1920’s. So with drinking considered a crime, less people went out to the clubs or bar where the juke box would be playing. Yet it became a hit once again when the Prohibition Act was repealed in 1933. Its popularity skyrocketed and it inspired people to go to record stores and buy the popular music or record that was playing in the juke box. Again we see how changes or restrictions in society affect how successful sound recording technologies are.

Another significant event that affected recording technology was in WWII. “Sound recording played a role in providing entertainment, an recording was related to journalism.” (Morton 101). A government agency, Office of War Information (OWI), instrumentally used broadcasting as a news form and for war propaganda. This organization used shortwave broadcast networks, then began recording on transcription recordings. We see how technology plays an integral role in the war effort. It provides the public news information on the war as well as influence public attitudes on the war front. As for the entertainment purposes the records were given to soldiers to listen to music and keep them amused with something other than the war. Media and technology have adjusted to the needs of society, providing consumers with new innovations that make life a bit easier.

Even today, technological history is being made before our eyes as new innovations arise. As we enter the age of computers, various technologies or mediums are created in order to disseminate information. We see the demand has changed, so producers need to adjust to supply. For instance, journalism is turning away from newspapers and towards the internet, podcasts, blogging. The progression of media and technology relies on the societal changes and demands.

-Morgan Beard

The advent of 20th century sound technology, and its distribution of power

9 May

As the development of new technology progressed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, so did the distinction of control over those mediums. There appears to be a couple of correlations taking place during this time period: first, a positive correlation between the accessibility of technology and its subjugation to authority, i.e. the government, where greater availability to the general public results in a higher level of governmental regulation; secondly, a negative correlation where higher public exposure equals lower individual privacy.

Consider letter writing, the most primitive form of communicative technology employed in Stoker’s “Dracula.” The ensured privacy of the postal system infrastructure was one of the primary appeals of the practice; people could seal their letters with wax to prevent them from being opened, rely on a periodic dispatch, and claim ownership to a specific address. The act of letter writing was also one that thrived off of its authenticity. An individual’s idiosyncrasies, handwriting, and personality in general could be perceived through the words penned in a letter. Throughout the first part of “Dracula,” the reader is privileged to peek into the personal relationship between Mina and Lucy through their letters, absorbing the essence of each woman and the connection between the two. The comfort each woman feels about their secrets being kept via letter is what persuades them to disclose private information to each other, such as Lucy’s apprehensions regarding her suitors and Mina’s concerns about Jonathon.

These characteristics are ones that may not be as easily said about later communicative forms, such as the telegraph or phonograph. The telegram sends brief, typed words that would not be identifiable of a specific person unless indicated by their name; the phonograph captures an individual’s essence, but sacrifices some of the privacy that letters provide. In “Form of the Phonograph,” Adorno asserts that “The phonograph record is an object of that “daily need” which is the very antithesis of the humane and the artistic, since the latter can not be repeated and turned on at will but remain tied to their place and time” (“Form of the Phonograph,” p. 58). Although he speaks about art specifically, the same principle can be applied to letter writing as compared to the phonograph; the drying ink used to write them forever seals them into a moment of time. In this case, there is a loss of power for the individual correspondents—the phonograph gives more power to those who are competent at operating it, to those who may be next to or within proximity of the person who originally was meant to hear the recording. Public authority, then, seems to take precedence over individual authority.

Enter the radio, wire recorder, and other sound technologies of the early 20th century, which made waves in the world of communicative technology literally and figuratively. In reference to the two correlations I mentioned at the exposition of this entry, these mediums define both of them. Although listeners all across America suddenly had the opportunity to hear the same broadcasts, David Morton noted that they were at the mercy of “the broadcasters, who became sources of information, style-setters, and opinion-shapers” (“Sound Recording,” p. 81), the radio companies, who monopolized the industry for their capitalistic gain, and even more so to the government, who “took a more active role in determining radio content in direct or indirect ways” (“Sound Recording, p. 84) circa 1922. In terms of the content being released, the concept of privacy and the control of the listener over the messages was next to null.

However, it is certainly arguable that there was still a sense of power held by the general public: the power of consumerism. As Edward Bernays (the nephew of Sigmund Freud and the pioneer of public relations) demonstrated through his manipulation of Freud’s ideas to control the masses, the “all-consuming self” (Adam Curtis, The Century of the Self) that is supposedly inherent in each person feeds on suppressed, yet instinctual impulses that ultimately are what cause us to buy things on irrational grounds. His tactics revolved around the idea of selling to emotion rather than intellect, and it paid off—he became renowned for his work and ability to market practically anything. It so happens that the early 20th century was when Bernays’ research reached the peak of its popularity, which encouraged radio and record companies to push for high consumerism. One example is how “a few manufacturers of radios or phonographs began using the phrase ‘high fidelity’ to refer to the way their equipment sounded. It offered, they claimed, absolutely perfect reproduction of whatever was on a record, or whatever was being broadcast” (“Sound Recording,” p. 94). The invention of the jukebox also “not only consumed records but also helped to bring customers back to record stores” (“Sound Recording,” p. 100). Companies even used World War II as a jumping point: “At the end of the war, the foundation moved quickly to reintroduce the consumer version of the wire recorder, hoping to capitalize on the publicity the military recorders had received during the war” (“Sound Recording,” p. 111), Morton says, offering further evidence of how consumerism impacted the sound technologies of the era. The ones at the top of the chain were putting out these products at their discretion, but in the end their success depended on the buying habits of the common people.

It’s fairly evident, then, that while the advent of more advanced technology wielded the government and profit-mongering companies more power, a lesser-acknowledged but still pervasive power ultimately remained in the hands of the general population.

-Elysia Cook