Tag Archives: Blog 6

Blog 6: Culture in Sound

18 May

In his article, “Audible Citizenship and Audiomobility: Race , Technology and CB Radio,” Art M. Blake reveals the functions of sound as cultural identifier and impetus for development of  connectedness within ethnic groups, specifically Whites and African American societies in America. During the post-war period, racial segregation not only prevented African Americans from being benefitted for attending war but also segregated them from the mainstream of the airwaves. The situation grew worse with the rise of Ku Klux Klan and their terroristic plan to harm African Americans. One thing I found very interesting from this article is that sound cannot be dominated by certain power. Sound waves seem very influential and pervasive because of its lack of physicality or tangibility. Once the sound is transmitted anyone whether one is an intended or unintended audience, gets to learn the information.  Overlooking this feature of sound, Ku Klux Klan’s plan fails due to Black CBers who heard the plan and communicated to African American communities through minor CB channels.  Just because White Americans had dominated the airwaves, it did not meant that they also has control over the audience who would listen to their messages.

White American hegemonic control over citizen band causes unexpected outcomes: “[A]s a result of racism on CB channels, increasing numbers of black CBers simply opted to gather two underused channels in the CB range…” (blake 537). As the control over airwaves get divided into public, Whites, and counter public, Black,  Citizen band in twentieth century, as Blake explains, has imposingly enhanced the sound culture in the African American community and has built foundation for African American styles of music such as hip-hop and raps because of its feature of audio mobility.  Most importantly, ” black CB use first developed in direct response to the racial politics of the postwar period, in particular, the years of struggle for meaningful desegregation and citizenship” (Blake 531). The major factor which enabled the establishment of unique African American sound culture is the ethnic demarcation created by their accent, vocabulary, and speech styles.  Before the emergence of Black CBers, African American could not feel sense of bonding through white hegemonic mainstream. However, rise of channel 6, Super Bowl, and increases of black CBer actually strengthened the sense of ethnic pride and connectedness between individual African Americans and provided an excellent source of communication between communities. By gaining public voices, Black CBers created humors and slangs, cheered people during the era of depression and racial segregation, and eventually gathered voices for their civil right movements.

These evidence proves that signifiers and signified  are not just mere sound waves and language but also contains cultural and social significance that actually affects human society in everyday life. CB radio was able to be developed with cultural meanings and influences that people assign according to their experience and beliefs. Although White Americans restricted Black Americans’ freedom on airwaves and also in society, Black Americans adapted themselves to the difficult situation of being minority and fought against White hegemony in order to diversify the audio culture in American, and as a result, they were able to establish solid music and verbal culture they have even until today.



18 May

            The CB radio might seem to many people something of an antique, and while it is still in use today and by hobbyists, it is probably something the average person has never encountered because other, more convenient forms of communication are available. However CB radio culture, as it is discussed in “Audio Citizenship” is actually similar to what happens on the internet today, something almost everyone should be familiar with. However it should be important to note that the specific aspects of the internet to be discussed are forums, chatrooms, and so forth, rather than the more popular social networking sites. It is important because of the anonymity provided by the former as opposed to the complete openness of the latter.

            Blake discusses “strangerhood,” a term used he applies the sense of community that is formed by being able to talk to other people through CB radio despite not knowing anything about them (547). A person is able to know that they are part of a group despite not knowing others personally. Where CB radio communication helped strengthen the African American community in the 1960s and 70s, the internet similarly allowed for the banding together of socially marginalized individuals. The internet served as a kind of refuge for “nerds” and “geeks” who may be bullied at school and became a means through which they could communicate with others like them in online message boards and chatrooms behind anonymous virtual identities. The “It Gets Better” project, which is actually a video rather than text, essentially a broadcast out into the wider world hoping to reach whoever may be tuning in, is a modern example of what was accomplished with CB radio broadcasts; despite a viewer knowing absolutely nothing about the people in the video, it helps to know that there are other people out there.

            Of course while there are similarities there are also differences. The main difference is the means of communication – sound vs. type. While message boards and forums on the internet offer complete anonymity, because of the nature of CB radio communication, an element of the user’s identity will always be revealed, the voice. Blake describes how race, the quality that marginalized African Americans in the first place, is discernible in the voice (546). Rather than hide it, the anonymity of the CB radio provided protection. Users of CB radio are allowed to “be black” without fear of repercussions, whether it be from whites or upper class black citizens who shun working class black dialect. Broadcasting served as a way for black linguistic culture to flourish, spread and evolve into other, presently visible forms like modern hip hop. Comparably the internet because it hides identity so completely does not enhance existing culture but creates a new one. Elements of modern internet culture like memes and emoticons develop because of the medium rather than through it.

            Now obviously this is not necessarily a discussion of sound culture specifically but by making this comparison with similar modern mediums, it becomes easier to understand the nature of an old one, especially when the uses are similar.

Blog 6 – Mobility and Audibility – Olivia Miller

18 May

Art M. Blake’s piece “Audible Citizenship” discusses the ways in which CB radio helped provide African Americans in the 1960s access to both mobility in terms of how many people and how far away they could communicate to, but also audibility in terms of being heard in their own communities and how this eventually turned into forms of radio still around today. Blake also discusses how CB radio allowed a more tangible kind of resistance, in which CBers could directly communicate about KKK attacks and threats. I’d like to return to my first blog of the quarter, in which I pondered how recording technologies gave freedom to resistant listeners and allowed them to ascribe their own meanings to audio texts because of the removal aspects of media. Now I would like to address the flip side of that original concept: resistant listening communities not just as receivers of cultural productions, but also as cultural producers themselves.

To backtrack a little, resistant listening is the process by which a listener of a minority community creates alternate readings of usually books or movies, but in this case, audio heard on the radio or from other recording devices, by consuming it through a queer context. For instance, an example of resistant listening would be changing the gender of the singer so that a love song becomes a same-sex love song. This is a survival technique to adapt to mainstream media that often does not accommodate minority communities.

Resistant listening is most necessary when minorities have no access to the means of cultural production (in this case recording or broadcasting equipment). Blake’s article demonstrates an example of an oppressed community finding a way to co-opt the means of production. Shortly after radio’s inception as a technology, monopolistic corporations finagled the government into restricting access to broadcasting. As Blake says, in the early days of radio (between 1906 and 1917) broadcasting showcased a wide variety of chatter from many civilian broadcasters. First World War I introduced a civilian broadcasting suspension, then big businesses induced the FCC into restricting civilian broadcasts to certain stations. However, those civilian broadcast (CB) stations were not accessible or easily usable until 1958, which is when African American CBers first started up. Blake maintains that Black CBers created a significant different in CB overall because they introduced the “sound” of blackness, or a “blaccent” into the airwaves. Blake relates an interview he had with a CBer who emphasized the importance of the first time he heard another recognizably African American voice on a CB channel. That recognition aspect helped create an airwave community between people desperate to reach out.

Blake mentions many concrete applications of Black CB communities- they were able to organize civil rights efforts and warn each other of KKK movements. Furthermore, this phenomenon of African American voices broadcast across America also created a specific lingo and form of cultural communication that translated into cultural productions still around today. The “superbowl” channel that Black CBers created for themselves showcased verbal competitions were participants practiced cleverly “dissing” each other with outrageous metaphors and rhyming lingo that eventually found its way into the inception of hip hop and rap that still exists today. Although resistant listening can still be performed, it is important to note how it can lead to active co-opting of cultural production – from Blacks listening for other Blacks on CB radio to Rap and Hip-Hop radio stations today.

Blog 6

18 May

As stated in one of the discussion questions from the presentation group, African Americans used CB radio in order to form a unique “counterpublic”, distant from the “public” white sphere. The presentation group asked why African American CB users and broadcasters would use humor as a way of communicating and dominating the radio. I think that by using “humorous verbal warfare”, African American CB users created one of many ways of clearly identifying their own demographic within radio. More importantly, I believe that specifically this idea of “talking black” emerged because of the CB radio. I think that this use of language is important because it serves as a key tool to creating this kind of “counterpublic.”

The Superbowl provides the perfect point of reference on how African Americans constructed a community based on elements of culture such as speech itself. Blake writes that the winners of Superbowl competitions are “determined not only through a technical contest to get one’s signal heard but also through verbal dominance, and the ability to tease or insult the other operator(s) so effectively that they drop out of the exchange” (Blake 535). Therefore, the way in which one speaks directly influences your importance or dominance in the radio sphere, creating clear losers and winners. Black listeners could hear their favorite characters like Jack the Rapper, using verbal harassment to create entertainment in a light and enjoyable way.

In addition, the idea of how one speaks “black” is a direct form of solidarity building for many African Americans during the invention and rise in popularity of CB radio. It is important to note how “through the 1960s the emergence of black nationalism and the assertion of ‘black pride’ provided encouragement for African Americans to deploy more overtly and publically the type of black speech that had, until then, mostly remained spoken and heard only within black communities” (Blake 538). This is extremely significant because the quote shows how the CB radio was a medium that introduced “black speech” into a public sphere, which through processes like “shooting skip”, could reach black communities all over the nation.

Furthermore, in order to create a complete idea of what the “counterpublic” was on CB radio, black DJs not only popularized new slang and “black speech” but did so using a foundation rooted in black cultural history. Blake explains that “black DJs used ‘rhyming’ and ‘signifying’ traditions of black oral performative culture” (Blake 540). These kinds of devices can also be found in black literature. By using these tools, black DJs were creating an all-encompassing identity of the “counterpublic” which is rooted in black culture from literature to “‘oral tradition.”

Ultimately, the construction of language and ideas regarding “black speech” led to an understanding of who the “counterpublic” on CB radio was. Black broadcasters used black vernacular as a means of creating light and fun entertainment, rather than using CB radio to criticize white broadcasters with racist threats which the latter often did. Moreover, “black speech” also emerged on CB radio complementing the civil rights movement and the growth of Black Nationalism. Through the more popular use of “black speech” on the CB radio, a sense of Black Nationalism continued to reach more and more black communities across the US. Lastly, in order to establish a complete identity of “counterpublic”, black DJs used traditional black ways of speaking from both literature and an old “oral tradition.” Therefore, CB radio used traditional ways of black speech to establish new, solidarity building ways of speech on the radio.

Ethics of Radio in Britain and America

18 May

Is it possible to develop a technology that is impervious to the manipulation of human ideology? If technology is a body of tools that humankind has created for our own convenience, it seems it cannot serve a purpose without being driven by someone that has a particular idea of how it is best exercised. If technology is to be used on a huge scale, such as radio, should it be accessible by the common people or should it be a standard to be looked up to? These questions emerge from the articles we’ve read this week by Todd Avery and Art M. Blake. Who has the right to decide what is best to go on the radio? America and British show the starkly contrasted effects regarding the ethics of radio.

A radio channel projects a voice or sound over a massive space with the implication that someone, somewhere will hear it. To sound off one’s voice (potentially) across the country gives a certain amount of authority to the voice that is speaking. This voice could be used to serve a multitude of motives. We’ve learned this week the long and short-term effects of manipulating technologies in American and British radio beginning with the CB.  The invention of CB promoted the transmission of anyone who owned it. This suggested that the technology would be more accessible to the everyman, a technology that could be used freely through the classes. “CB radio could be used and operated by anyone—one did not need the tuning skills of the ham radio aficionados, and ready-to-use CB radio sets, for installation in one’s vehicle or home, rapidly became available in electronics stores across the nation.” Once highways were built from more metropolitan areas, many suburban families presumed that the highways brought blacks to suburban areas, increasing the crime rate. This instilled the notion that there needed to be a quicker form of communication between communities. Art M. Blake articulates that in response “CB operated not as a rebel’s weapon but as a technology of white rescue.” The suburban family members applied the technology to what they believed was a safety concern. Members of the Ku Klux Klan also took advantage of the technology to carry out their propaganda. Because it relayed information that was harmful and targeted a specific group, this seems like the worst kind of technological manipulation. The publicity of the KKK broadcasts (if uncoded) also could have created a massive sense of instability and unrest in the minds of the black community. The radio may have been a successful form of spreading information, but once the information results in violence, the restrictions become tightened.

The American use of CB greatly contrasts the attitudes of the BBC post World War II. Americans did not primarily promote classic American art or literature, nor Christian ethics. Despite this amoral position on the CB, there was a cultural growth that has not been forgotten or faded since. The availability blacks had to the CB created a space that was undefined and open to the public of African American communities. “So when, in the 1970s, Dixon and other gatekeepers of black middle-class identity heard the sounds of black CB radio, they heard the sounds of another migration- an unchecked migration of working-class black voices across the city, in and out of class bound neighborhoods and cliques, and spreading out across state lines via the relatively free public airwaves.” The seemingly endless space of the CB conveyed that there were African Americans that were now acknowledged and able to claim the “radioland” with as much personality and pride as they wanted. The structure of the technology of radio encouraged and improved the sense of cultural space that blacks communities felt that they now were apart of. “The coincidence of the availability of the CB radio service, the mass production and marketing of the technology, and the rise of the civil rights and later black power movements led to the rapid adoption of the technology by citizen groups on both sides of the desegregation and civil rights debates.” Similarly, many other groups used this availability of the CB to fulfill their agendas such as the BBC, namely John Reith.

Reith realized that he was in a position of power, and advocated a strict guideline of conduct that mirrored the US manipulation of radio and the destruction of CB radio: “U.S. legislative acts privatized and commodified the public spectrum and squeezed out all but a very few opportunities for the American public to have access to the public airwaves as users; the vast majority of the public lost that access and were consigned to the passive role of “listeners,” consumers of the commercial broadcasters’ advertising-based product.” Reith repackaged his belief in “common sense Christian ethics” by communicating them in BBC programs. Because the monarchy had long since been a state familiar with Christianity, the propaganda might have been harder to comb out. Although it may have been a familiar motive, comfortable for the British, Reith’s personal political beliefs mirrored the dangerous extreme ideas contemporary to his time: “…he set himself the simultaneously spiritual and utilitarian goal of creating an institution whose political, social, cultural, and moral purpose would be to place the largest possible population into instantaneous contact with a carefully governed version of the best expressions of British and international thought.” This raises the question: if humans cannot be separated from their ideologies, are they somehow mediated through the use of technology (in this case, the radio)? Are Reith’s ideologies mitigated as he chooses pieces that are oriented with the same beliefs? “From Reith’s vantage, those entrusted with the public utility service of radio had a moral obligation to exert a strong centripetal force on national culture.” It appears that Reith’s intentions in radio influence were benign, despite his discomfiting diary entries confirming his aversive opinions. The BBC beginning of radio marks a medium that was highly concerned with culture and broadcasting family morals. While it may have been less dirty, the BBC housed a regressive focus on history rather than forging a new (initially problematic) path such as that of American radio.

The lack of a “critical mind” behind the broadcastings on CB were not viewed favorably by British broadcasters: “‘The history of broadcasting in Britain,’ he writes, ‘has been in marked contrast to that of the United States…the American media catered to the masses on their misunderstood and underestimated’”. The lack of infrastructure on the CB permitted some taxing problems between social communities with the racist profiling of blacks and the use the KKK exercised. However, during the primitive years of radio in America, the lack of a strict model enabled the freedom for African American societies to develop community free from the “critical mind” that was deemed proper and necessary in BBC radio. The BBC approach celebrated the pride in European artists and culture, but the motives behind the radio rulers such as John Reith, reflect regressive ideals: “Reith’s desire for social unification is predicated also on a simultaneously utilitarian and utopian belief in the unity of humanity.” While Reiths’ concern post World War may have been regenerating national pride for a country that was severely devastated by the war, they hearken the same ideas of structure, uniformity, and sameness, which were threaded throughout the war.

-Courtney Prather

For Friday, May 18th

14 May

Due by 5:

  • Bloggers I-Q: post new blogs. (You’ve had several in a row, I realize, but this is your last one — make it count!) Please tag your post “Blog 6.”
  • Bloggers R-Z: reply to last week’s blogs by going to the post and leaving a comment.

You have pretty much free rein for this blog; you may want to consider how, for example, both Avery and Blake, albeit in very different ways, are interested in how the radio creates or complicates a national ethos or a public (counterpublic?) sphere of communication. (This will be an issue of some importance with Under Milk Wood.)

You could also, if you like, look at how a primary document (the BBC Listener insert; the sound files auxiliary to Blake’s article) helps us to rethink Blake’s/Avery’s/Reith’s claims or ambitions.