Radio, Listening to the Past

Note: there’s no journal due the week after Spring Break, although if you want to write one I can use it to make up for one you may have missed in previous weeks.

Our reading for Tuesday 3/22 is a chapter from Susan Douglas’s book Listening In: Radio and the American Imagination, titled “Radio Comedy and Linguistic Slapstick.”

Read not only for content (in this case, her chapter is about radio comedy and some of its notable programs and stars), but also for method: HOW is she writing about sound? HOW is she using radio programs as historical evidence? How does she construct an argument using evidence which she cannot “show” us as text or illustrations, but must describe for us–since we cannot hear it along with her? In one sense, Douglas must translate the shows into a written text, just as the shows themselves must translate physical comedy and “sight gags” into linguistic/aural comedy and “sound gags.”

For Thursday 3/24, you’ll have an assignment to listen to at least an hour of old-time radio and we’ll have an in-class workshop on using radio broadcasts as historical evidence. I will have some audiotapes, CDs and other media formats which you can borrow, or you can chase down old radio through some of these links: – Old Time Radio Network – this is the best old-time radio website, but it’s by subscription only. You can get a 3-day trial for $2.95 which will work for this week, their library is vast.

America in the 1930s (a UVA Project) has very good resources, including a “Day on Radio,” with all the programming from one representative day in 1939 for one station.

All the programs of Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater of the Air are online, including the 1938 Halloween “War of the Worlds” broadcast that so terrified the East Coast (More on that here and here).

Thomas Edison’s Attic is an archived radio program and podcast that replays old recordings (wax cylinder, phonograph and other now-extinct exotic formats) from the Edison National Historic Site’s collection – lots of interesting old American sounds from 1888-1929

Rand’s Esoteric OTR is a blog & podcast of the author’s gigantic collection of transcription disks (records of radio shows meant for later playback), many of them from Armed Forces Radio during WW2. A great source for high-quality web broadcasts of old radio programming.

Vintage Radio Scripts can be found here

National Archives Guide to the Records of the Federal Communications Commission (known as the Federal Radio Commission from 1927-1934)

Learn about the Library of Congress Recorded Sound Division

Other resources, museums and archives for radio history:

Old Time Radio Researchers Group

Paley Center for Media; Museum of Television and Radio (NY & CA)

Museum of Broadcasting (St. Louis, MN)

Museum of Broadcast Communications (Chicago)

American Museum of Radio and Electricity
(Bellingham, WA)

National Museum of Broadcasting (in development, Pittsburgh PA)

Image credit: K. G. Photos, used under Creative Commons license