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ACC2013 New Media. Week 6 Communicating into Thin Air: Early Radio, Consumption and Missed Opportunities. 1. Lecture Overview. Case Study: Telephone as Radio? Broadcasting Radio becomes domestic. Gender, consumption and technology.

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acc2013 new media

ACC2013New Media

Week 6

Communicating into Thin Air:

Early Radio, Consumption and Missed Opportunities


lecture overview
Lecture Overview

Case Study: Telephone as Radio?


Radio becomes domestic.

Gender, consumption and technology.

Re-imagining radio for interactive, two-way communication.


week six communicating into thin air early radio consumption and missed opportunities

The telegraph shrunk time and space but it remained a point-to-point medium. The ability to send signals wirelessly, over the air, opened the possibility for broadcasting. This integrated new cultural practices into people’s homes, as well as modes of consumption. We will pay special attention to the commercial broadcasting model and its integration of media and capital. We will contrast this with more radical notions of a radio that might have but never did happen; that is, as a two-way medium.


Analysis and discussion of the impact of early radio. How did it alter cultural practices at home? Was it inevitable that radio would become primarily a commercial medium? What does Brecht mean by the radical possibilities for radio?

Essential Reading:

Brecht, B 1979, ‘Radio as a Means of Communication’, Screen, vol. 20, no. 3-4, pp. 24-28. Available at

Boddy, W 2004, ‘Wireless Nation: Defining Radio as a Domestic Technology’ in New Media and Popular Imagination, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 16-43.

Hartley, J 2002, ‘Broadcasting’, in Communication, Cultural and Media Studies: The Key Concepts, Routledge, London, pp. 25-6.

Further Reading:

Johnson, L 1981, ‘Radio and Everyday Life: The Early Years of Broadcasting in Australia, 1922-1945’, Media, Culture & Society vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 167-178. (Available as PDF on Unit Blog)

Week SixCommunicating Into Thin Air: Early Radio, Consumption, and Missed Opportunities



course details announcements
Course Details / Announcements

Essay Discussion Today

Unit Reader – Bring to Tutorials

Available now from book shop.

Coordinator/Tutor: Jonathan Yu


Unit Blog:


St Albans:

10:00-11:00am – Room 3N24

Footscray Park:

1:00-2:00pm – Room C226

4:00-5:00pm – Room E319



“Despite ubiquitous claims for the revolutionary nature of the changes associated with the current transition from analogue to digital moving-image media, there is little doubt that the public's first experiences with wireless communication 100 years ago represent a period of more traumatic uncertainty and improvisation than our own.”

    • William Boddy
  • “The telegraph and telephone have been called "space annihilators" in their day. Space annihilation indeed! We never really knew what the term meant until the time came when thousands listened at the same time to the voice broadcast through the ether just as if they were all in the same room.”
    • Waldemar Kaempffert
  • “[R]adio is one-sided when it should be two. It is purely an apparatus for distribution, for mere sharing out.”
    • Bertolt Brecht


case study telephone as radio
Case Study: Telephone as Radio?
  • Commercial radio via broadcasting commenced in 1920.
  • ‘Proto-broadcasting’ in Budapest at turn of century.
  • Telefon-Hirmondo was part newspaper and part radio delivered by telephone.
    • Established in 1893.
    • Called ‘telephone broadcasting’ by its inventor Tividar Puskas.
    • Own dedicated wires into homes.
    • Subscribers leased receivers, headsets and speakers for the system.
case study telephone as radio1
Case Study: Telephone as Radio?
  • “We are very apt to claim pre-eminence for America in the matter of inventions and of novel mechanical applications. But the Hungarians have had for eight years in actual working operation a development of the telephone of which few people in the United States know anything, even by report: the telephone newspaper, or Telefon-Hirmondo as it is called, of Budapest.”
  • “For a quarter of a century one of the favorite dreams of the modern prophets has pictured the home equipped with apparatus by means of which one can hear concerts or listen to the latest news, while sitting comfortably by his own fireside. This dream is a fact to-day in Budapest. Music, telegraphic news ‘hot’ from the wires, literary criticism, stock quotations…the whole flood of matter that fills the columns of our newspapers may be had for the mere lifting of a telephone receiver.”
    • World's Work (April, 1901)
case study telephone as radio2
Case Study: Telephone as Radio?

Typical day’s broadcast from Telefon-Hirmondo

  • 9:00 AM Exact astronomical time
  • 9:30AM 10:00 AM Reading of programme of Vienna and foreign news and of chief contents of the official press.
  • 10:30 AM Local exchange quotations.
  • 10:30 AM 11:00 AM Chief contents of local daily press.
  • 11:00 AM 11:15 AM General news and finance.
  • 11:15 AM 11:30 AM Local, theatrical, and sporting news.
  • 11:30 AM 11:45 AM Vienna exchange news.
  • 11:45 AM 12:00 AM Parliamentary, provincial, and foreign news.
  • 12:00 PM Exact astronomical time.
  • 12:00 PM 12:30 PM Latest parliamentary, court, political, military & general news.
  • 12:30 PM 1:00 PM Midday exchange quotations.
  • 1:00 PM 2:00 PM Repetition of the half-day's most interesting news.
  • 2:00 PM 2:30 PM Foreign telegrams and latest general news.
  • 2:30 PM 3:00 PM Parliamentary and local news.
  • 3:00 PM 3:15 PM Latest exchange reports.
  • 3:15 PM 4:00 PM Weather, parliamentary, legal, theatrical, fashion & sporting news.
  • 4:00 PM 4:30 PM Latest exchange reports and general news.
  • 4:30 PM 6:30 PM Regimental bands.
  • 7:00 PM 8:15 PM Opera.
  • 8:15 PM Exchange news from New York, Frankfurt, Paris, London, etc.
  • 8:30 9:30 PM Opera.
case study telephone as radio3
Case Study: Telephone as Radio?
  • Government suspicious of Telefon-Hirmondo and its potential power.
    • Had to deliver to the central police station the news copy they would read over the air.
  • Similar systems were set up in Paris (Theatrephone), London (Electrophone), New York (Telephone Herald) and elsewhere.
  • When radio technology was more fully developed, it quickly superceded the telephone model.
  • Telefon-Hirmondo ceased operating after WWII, as most of its wires were destroyed during the heavy bombing of Budapest.
  • Telefon-Hirmondo or the Telephone Newspaper
what is broadcasting
What is ‘broadcasting’?
  • Original usage of broadcasting was as an agricultural term:
    • Sowing seeds by hand in wide circles.
  • Distribution to a wide area from a central point.
  • Signals are emitted from a central transmitter.
  • Implicit within the broadcasting model are power relations:
    • Centre as all-powerful (source of signal).
    • Periphery as distant recipient of centralized content.
radio and modernity
Radio and Modernity
  • Telegraph as original electric medium.
    • Radio as a the next step in the information communication technology of modernity.
  • “It is seen as an instrument with the capacity to organise and to commodify which is based in large, centralised industry structures.”
    • John Hartley
  • Assembly Line = Mass Production
    • More products, higher wages.
  • Radio = Mass Consumption
    • Advertising and mass audience.
electric modernity
‘Electric Modernity’
  • ‘Wireless technology’ as part of ‘electric modernity’.
  • ‘Electric modernity’ as the technological advances of the 19th C.
    • Western world on the verge of complete individual mastery of nature.
  • Colonialism and Western Superiority.
    • ‘Wireless technology’ as proof of the developed West’s ‘social destiny’ to ‘civilize’ the rest of the world.
    • “It is the civilized and Christian nations, who, though weak comparatively in numbers, are by these means of communication made more than a match for the hordes of barbarism.” (H.L Wayland, 1858)
  • Radio making English as the language of the world.
  • Radio as force of social cohesion.
    • Presidential Speech
early radio enthusiasts
Early Radio Enthusiasts
  • Before radio became a ‘modern’ technology for passive reception and consumption, it was first an interactive cultural and technological practice.
  • The radio amateur:
    • Mostly young white, middle class men.
    • Bought radio kits and assembled.
    • Wore headphones.
    • Had to be licensed.
    • Typically had radio set up in attic.
    • Communicate with other radio operators
    • Tune into distant stations
  • Active consumption/hobby and masculinity.
  • After World War One (1918), ‘radio clubs’ began to emerge.
early radio enthusiasts1
Early Radio Enthusiasts
  • Palliative for new stresses of contemporary American industrial and urban life.
    • Creative outlet.
  • Suitable hobby in contrast to other contemporary leisure innovations:
    • Automobile, motion pictures.
  • “If you’re up against the problem of keeping boys in at nights, keeping them off the streets, just get a radio set as one for your home.”
    • High School Teacher (1922)
  • But also a ‘corrupting’ force as seen by some.
  • “I believe the boy will die of under nourishment and lack of sleep… I do not believe he has seen the sunlight in three months.”
    • Concerned Father (1924)
radio becomes domestic gender consumption and technology
Radio Becomes Domestic: Gender, Consumption and Technology
  • Commercial radio develops in the early 1920s:
    • RCA (Radio Corporation of America) controlled major US patents in radio receivers.
  • Also a deeper context to clarify in the emergence of commercial radio:
    • Gender and consumption.
  • This is evidenced in the domestic deployment of the radio:
    • Selling radio to the housewife.
    • The struggle to bring radio out of the attic and into the living room.
  • Efforts by manufacturers and state regulators to diminish radio as technology for the amateur hobbyist, and instead to promote it as a new mass consumer product.
radio becomes domestic gender consumption and technology1
Radio Becomes Domestic: Gender, Consumption and Technology

When commercial radio began in 1920, there was the need to develop an entirely new audience and new cultural practices:

Sell complete sets: Radio tuner with loudspeaker in cabinet.

Housed radio in the living room.

Model of housewife as passive listener.

Housewife as distracted or passive listener compared with active male hobbyists.


re imagining radio for interactive two way communication
Re-imagining Radio for Interactive, Two-way Communication

Key Thinker: Bertolt Brecht

Marxist German playwright.

Believed culture and politics were deeply intertwined.

Viewed culture and media technology as means for racial social, political and economic transformation

Highly critical of the commercialisation of radio.

Radio as a Means of Communication


re imagining radio for interactive two way communication1
Re-imagining Radio for Interactive, Two-way Communication
  • “Radio should be converted from a distribution system to a communication system. Radio could be the most wonderful public communication system imaginable, a gigantic system of channels—could be, that is, if it were capable not only of transmitting but of receiving, of making the listener not only hear but also speak, not of isolating him but of connecting him.”
  • Commercial radio as:
    • “Prettifying public life.”
    • “Bringing back coziness to the home and making family life bearable again.”
  • Felt that radio was capable of being a very different social and cultural force.
    • Robust political and cultural force.
    • A new interactive means of communication.
re imagining radio for interactive two way communication2
Re-imagining Radio for Interactive, Two-way Communication
  • He envisioned radio as:
  • i) Circulating information critical to public and political life
    • Radio as Wikileaks?
    • Radio must make this exchange possible.
  • ii) New forms of culture (Epic theatre)
    • The audience is always aware that it is watching play.
    • Actors step out of character and directly address the audience (‘breaking the fourth wall’).
    • Usually with overt political content
    • Epic theatre as collaborative, interactive culture
    • Imagined direct collaboration between performances in the theatre and on the radio could also be organised.
  • In short, Brecht imagines a resolutely non-commercial radio.
lecture summary
Lecture Summary

Telephone as Radio?

A case against technological determinism

The broadcasting model

Radio and modernity.

Shift from amateur hobbyist to commercial radio.

Relationship between emergence of commercial radio and:

Gender, consumption and technology.

Brecht and radio as interactive, two-way communication.