Thursday, February 7, 2013

Blog post (from readings) #7: (Due Monday, February 11) 
Ch. 2 and 4 in The Master Switch; Campbell, W. Joseph. “Fright Beyond Measure? The Myth of The War of the Worlds.” These should be posted to ELMS; if not, they will be sent via email. Post thoughts or questions about the reading to the class blog for discussion. What struck you as interesting? What did you learn that you think you might remember five years from now?


  1. As a huge movie junkie, I found chapter 4 to be a very interesting read. First, I did not know that Paris was once the film capital of the world, though this should not have been surprising. Something I found very surprising was the concept of the Film Trust and the Edison Company. The Trust had complete control over what films could be shown in the United States. And if one man, Adolph Zukor, had given up trying to change things, Hollywood as we know it would likely have never existed.

    I found it very interesting that non-Trust members like Laemmle, Fox and Hodkinson who formed the Independents were the most successful. It is the companies formed by the Independents that dominate film today: Universal, Paramount, Twentieth Century-Fox and Warner Bros. It was also interesting that Hollywood – something people associate with glamour and fame – was created for the sake of competition. It was not initially the elite institution it is today. It’s funny to think that Hollywood was once second-tier in the film industry.

    As for chapter 2, I was very surprised it took someone so long to come up with the idea of sportscasting. If broadcasting had been around since 1912, it interested me that sports broadcasting did not happen until 1921. I also thought it was funny that the equipment exploded after the fight. That is one thing I will probably not forget about radio.

  2. After watching the documentary and reading the assigned chapters, I have mixed feelings about the inventors, or the “big guys” who ran the show for the radio business. I feel that while all deserve much credit for their innovations in the industry, their attitudes were just childish. They have mostly been defined as being very selfish, and very open about their dissatisfaction with not receiving what they feel the proper adequate amount of fame should be. Lee De Forest, for example, spent majority of his entire life creating his own popularity contest to purposely get his own name into the media. He dubbed himself the “father of radio,” and the “grandfather” of television, although no one bothered to consider him neither. Like De Forest, John Reith also went through a long period of self-loathing. When the queen knighted him for his work with BBC, he considered “an ordinary knighthood to be an insult.” (pg.43) In my opinion, it seems that these characters sought to develop the radio not to better the world we live in, but for their own selfish pursuits.

    As I was reading, I also noticed that Tim Wu constantly brings up the idea of the Kronos Effect, and I think he has a well-ridden point with it. As we have seen throughout the course of history, we can practically list on our hands the major top innovators who have changed the course of media throughout the past century. These innovators, such as Vail or Sarnoff, tried the best to control every aspect of their business, regardless of the money or consequences at stake. There was simply no room for competition. These characters were much different than those inventors like Armstrong or De Forest. These inventors were fascinated with the idea of fame, and being the “first” one to create or do something. Vail and Sarnoff did not seek fame, they sought power. That’s one of the main reasons why Sarnoff is considered a success story following the “American Dream.”

  3. I was interested by the fact that the first mass broadcast was a sporting event - a boxing match, no less - although that makes sense due to the period and the medium. I was, however, surprised that it took the people who invented radio so long to discover its true potential. Along the same lines, while I knew the internet was first invented in the 1960s, for whatever reason I had not considered their communications "e-mails", so I was surprised at first to read that this is when the first e-mails were sent.

    No matter how many texts we read or interviews we see of people talking about the radio as a hobby, that's not something I can easily wrap my head around either. The fact that people (especially children) would sit around all day playing with the knobs, hoping to communicate with another person sounds like a bizarre past-time.

    The part of the reading that most fascinated me was the committee that included Rudyard Kipling, George Bernard Shaw and Robert Bridges, who met together to save "the Queen's English" and eliminated words that we want to use but know we can't, like broadcasted and "listen in".

  4. Of all the readings due for class, what struck me as incredibly interesting was the history of feature film in the United States. It's almost impossible now to think of a nonexistent Hollywood, or even to think of a time when America was not the determined film capital of the world.

    I also found Adolph Zukor, the small-time theater owner who would eventually become an industry giant as the future head of Paramount Pictures, to be a captivating character. It seems that in many of these stories about the industrialists who revolutionize entertainment mediums the dominant characters often start off small-time (i.e. David Sarnoff, etc.), and through a vision greater than any of their contemporaries eventually grow to be giants in the industry. I will also take with me the fact that at one point Paris dominated the film market and there wasn't really such a thing as feature films -- the fact that Jeremiah Kennedy, the head of one of the Film Trust cartel's firms, ignored Zukor because he deemed the time to not be "ripe" for feature films is simply perplexing (why would any capitalist not want to take an already popular medium and expand on it?).

  5. I was struck by just how awkward and difficult it was to broadcast a boxing match. J. Andrew White held a telephone that was connected with a long wire that ran out of the stadium and to Hoboken, N.J. That wire met with a transmitter that was attached to an antenna, which was strung between a clock tower and a building. That seems like it was a lot of work to do. When I heard this I couldn’t help but to think of how it easy it is to hear a sports broadcast today. I listen to ESPN radio on my phone, not even by touching a button anymore, but just by touching the touchpad screen on my iPhone. I can imagine people huddled around their radios to listen to the clunky signal that was distributed in 1921. But I can hear crystal-clear radio anywhere I go, anytime I want. I also liked how Wu said that not only were those instruments necessary for radio back in the ‘20s, but also “a bit of luck.” When I read of the amount of work that had to be put in to the radio signal, I couldn’t help but to think of just how many things could have easily gone wrong.

  6. Chapter 2 of “The Master Switch” really put in perspective the idealism around the radio. It was interesting to note that while it was already invented, it was not widely distributed to the nation yet. There were a lot of radio programs in the air and anyone could start up a station if they wanted. Those who were interested in radio since its infancy “imagine that radio, which had exited primarily as a means of two-way communication, could be applied to a more social form of networking” (35). There was also the hope that radio would transform politics where the president would go from “what is almost a political abstraction, a personification of the republic’s dignity and power, into a kindly father, talking to his children (37).” Despite the regulations, these things still came to pass and it had a huge effect on the nation (like Roosevelt’s “fireside” chats which were talked about in the documentary we saw).

    It was also interesting to see how wrong the Edison Motion Picture Patents Company was about films. It was their rigidness and insufficient understanding of the film industry that gave rise to dissenters, like Adolph Zukor, who would go on create the major Hollywood studio companies still known today. Meanwhile the Edison Motion Picture Patents Company has faded into obscurity for the most part. I also thought it was an interesting parallel with AT&T, where AT&T relied on financial power while the Edison Motion Picture Patents Company relied on its “prices, the patent law, and lawyers.” They were too slow to realize that it was about the business, not the technicians (71). I think this parallel stood out the most for me.

  7. Naturally I have to talk about the discovery and subsequent idea of sports broadcasting, particuarly over the radio. Obviously everything has an origin and it comes as no surprise to me that it was a daunting task to accomplish for the first time. Of course, I use "first time" loosely since it's always hard to point one's finger on the exact first time of anything. Assuming this was the case though, it appeared from the reading that the boxing match broadcast went well and sparked an onset of creative radio broadcasts and subject areas to cover. What did surprise me was how pure and honest everyone at the time was concerning radio and wireless technology. After reading about the mad dash to the patent office last week to get the telephone credited to Bell, this was a pleasant change as people genuinely wanted to experiment for hobby and for play. Nowadays, our society is focused on getting profit and credit for everything, myself included. It's refreshing to see there was a time where that wasn't the case and people did what they loved because they loved it. The impact this boxing match had on me is profound because I want to enter the sportscasting field in some capacity. It's a bit startling to me to think where I would be had that broadcast not gone well and perhaps delayed the sportscasting process - meaning the technology I have access to today could not be in existence.

  8. The fact that a sporting event was the first event to be mass broadcast is both surprising and not surprising at the same time. It is surprising to me because I figured maybe a political address by the President would be an event people would want to tune into and broadcast nationally. Its also not surprising because of the time period. The 1920s was a time when paying attention to sports was becoming very popular and boxing was one of the most popular sports of its time. I found it funny that Wu said they were lucky to have the fight end early because the equipment was so experimental that it blew up after the fight ended. I could never imagine a broadcast being happy that an event ended early because of the recognition the broadcasts receive when they are on for a longer time.

  9. Like with the last reading, I enjoyed gaining another perspective to layer on top of what I learned in class. For example, chapter 2 mentions David Sarnoff has a tendency to flaunt other peoples' ideas as his own and doesn't say a thing about doubts that Lee De Forest legitimately invented anything he claimed to invent.

    I definitely liked this chapter. I wonder what it would have been like to be in the radio halls. I also wonder if any women were allowed, and whether early radio opened doors to women by letting them participate in these remote social events or if radio was just another game they couldn't get in on.

    Another question I had was, when did radio move away from the concept of something that would make society more sophisticated and cultural? In many ways, broadcasting does bring culture to peoples' fingertips, but there are countless programs today that have arguably not a whole lot to do with refining peoples' tastes or actions. So, what were the first programs that challenged the idea of radio's sophistication?

  10. These chapters really changed my preconceived notion of film and opened my eyes to the invention of radio.

    Chapter two has great application to today’s world, focused on an expanding Internet and growth of mobile applications and access. I thought it was interesting how Wu cites examples of how amateurs could create their own radio stations. This is very similar to the Internet where anyone who can connect to the Internet with a computer can build and host a webpage. I also think the idealist vision of radio has reemerged with the Internet. As Wu says, “Better communication, it is believed, lead to better mutual understanding, perhaps a recognition of a shared humanity and the avoidance of needless disaster.” This is certainly the core belief behind projects on the Internet like Google books and Wikipedia. Though some of these endeavors make billions of dollars, they are still, at least on the surface, committed to bettering society through improved and increased communication. As BBC was founded on the principle that it would create a, “more enlightening and intelligent electorate,” so too it seems has the internet evolved.

    Chapter four reminds me more of the mobile platform. Film began as a cartel-like trust based in New York; similarly, a select few companies in Silicon Valley dominate mobile applications and the methods for accessing them. However, independent filmmakers and business owners, such as Carl Laemmle and William Fox and began a rebellion against the film trust, refusing to pay their fees and moving the film industry to Los Angeles.

    It's interesting to anticipate how small, independent, mobile pioneers will to fight the major technology companies and service providers. Will they build apps that provide access for all, even without paying fees to AT&T, Verizon or Sprint? Will they find ways to side step Apple and Google? These are all things to look for in the coming years.

  11. I was surprised and found it humorous that the only reason L.A. became the American capital for the rich and famous was its proximity to the Mexican border. I've never really thought about it before, but the area wasn't exactly hospitable, being practically a desert and so far away from the bustling east coast, where most American culture was still centralized. I also thought it was funny that in film's earliest days, the Trust wanted to prevent the emergence of celebrities because they could be costly, when now producers want big, popular celebrities to draw more of an audience, and therefore, more money. I also found it fun to read about the ongoing battle between the Trust and the "little guy," a narrative so familiar in American culture and cinema.

  12. In chapter two of "The Master Switch" by Tim Wu, I was struck by one sentence in particular: "What is so interesting about the Dempsey broadcast is that it revealed an emerging medium to be essentially up for grabs." While I realize that referred to the radio, I also thought it was applicable to YouTube--which, like radio, developed from relative obscurity to become a tour de force in later years. (TIME magazine even named "you" as its Person of the Year in 2006, largely due to the influence of the Internet). Dozens of celebrities came from the radio, just as web personalities are growing in popularity. Later in the chapter, Wu writes, "the barriers to entry were low." Again, just like YouTube--all one needs is a webcam and an Internet connection. It was certainly an idealized medium, but that didn't surprise me much; since it was new, it seemed natural that the possibilities seemed endless.

    Chapter four was interesting because I learned about the people behind names still relevant today--Fox and Kodak, mostly--and their impact on the history of film and broadcasting. It was also cool to read about how historical events (and not just gradual, natural sequences) impacted the industry; Paris losing its place as movie capital of the world, for example, was due to World War I. The Edison Trust's downfall was also interesting to read about, since I had never known about their huge role in the development of feature films (and the tension between them and the Independents).

    Both of these readings made it clear the background of different broadcasting mediums is not as clear as I previously thought, and it was truly a series of events, a conglomeration of various individuals with distinct personalities and perspectives, and even a bit of happenstance that allowed radio and film to develop into what they are today.

  13. What I found interesting is "The Original West Coast-East Coast Feud." Like someone mentioned, I never knew the history of how and maybe why Los Angeles was the city for the rich and famous until now. It's funny that L.A. was chosen because "it was only a hop-skip-and-jump to the Mexican border and escape from injunctions and subpoenas.

    What I found interesting from chapter two and it's relationship to class' lectures is that there is never no one inventor. There's always someone who has done, as describing radio. there are amateur pioneer, but there is aways a leader as well.

  14. I was interested but not surprised by the fact that the radio broadcast that caught the ears of the public was a sports cast. The boxing match broadcast from New Jersey capturing America's radio listeners and opening up the idea of mass broadcasts shows the power of sports. A power that has been evident through multiple mediums since then, with sporting events driving Television ratings and too many sports websites to count. I was not surprised that it was a boxing match that set the trend because boxing was such a huge sport in the early 1900's and it is an ideal sport for radio.

    Also, from chapter 2 of The Master Switch I like how they talked about amateurs pioneering broadcasting. I will remember for a long time about how it was young people who showed the real potential of radio and how much that innovation by a youth movement makes me see parallels to the youth movement in todays internet age where countless amateurs are expanding the digital world every day.

  15. There were a few things that stood out to me in this week’s readings.

    We all know that radio was huge innovation that linked communities together from around the nation and world. However, I found it very interesting when “Scientific American’s” editor Waldemar Kaempffert talked about the intimacy that radio provided. Radio didn’t only provide a link to other communities, but rather a relationship between the speaker and the listener. For instance, the President of the United States could deliver important messages with a warmth and closeness, instead of an impersonal and cold feeling.

    I also found it funny that innovators such as Lee deForest encouraged everyone to get involved with radio as it was so easy to get involved with. We know this does not hold to be true in today’s standards, but it is amazing to see how much value radio had been given. It was noted for inspiring hope in mankind and creating teams of thinkers and scientists around the world.

    Another curious finding in the reading was that motion feature films were not initially a hit in the United States. While they were popular in Europe, Americans were still interested in theater and vaudeville. I think this idea can be linked to what I said in a previous blog post about Americans wanting to be in the moment, in the present. They don’t want to watch something recorded, they want to witness the live performance and experience the acting firsthand.

  16. A quote that resonates with me from Chapter 2 is that of Waldemar Kaempffert's in 1924 when he said, "..the President of the United States delivers important messages in every home, not in cold, impersonal type, but in living speech; he is transformed from what is almost a political abstraction...into a kindly father, talking to his children." As soon as I read this, I thought about Obama's speech after the Sandy Hook tragedy. It's interesting to think about hearing a speech like that, relying just on his voice through the radio. America feels like it knows Obama because of our 24/7 access to him. He obviously appeals to our emotions through his voice intonation, facial expressions, body movements, etc. It's fascinating to think that there was a time when we didn't have access to the President like we do now, and how radio was truly the catalyst for a total transformation in political campaigning and president-to-nation interaction.

    As a Jewish New Yorker who aspires to be in film, I absolutely loved reading the history of all the Jewish immigrant independent film executives. It's fascinating to think of their history, and their progression from poor European immigrants into powerful film figures. I would love to read the book "An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood", and am thinking of maybe choosing this topic for my final project.

  17. Chapters two and four of The Master Switch help illustrate the misconceptions early industry pioneers have about the future use of an industry. Early radio broadcasters were idealists. It’s fun to look back and see primary documents about how radio would start something of a cultural and economic revolution. Excitement over information technology is so often associated with this generation; it’s easy to forget that at one point in time radio was revolutionary. I loved the opening story about Andrew White and the big fight. Wu’s anecdote does a nice job illustrating the ability of people to recognize the power of a medium and attempt to use it, even before perfecting the model.

    Another interesting bit from the chapters was Wu’s focus on the difference between American and British broadcasts, a distinction that is still present to date. Early American radio was kind of a free for all and hyper-local. Sermons, school concerts, talk shows, if someone could broadcast and someone would listen, it made the cut. Reith and the BBC introduced a completely different system. The UK’s “dignified business” of radio placed emphasis on educational programming and non-partisan views (despite Reith’s problems with Churchill) and was directed at an educated, national audience. The BBC has since grown more approachable and local U.S. affiliates have boosted program quality. Nevertheless the remnants of the original British and American systems are still apparent.

    Chapter four in particular highlighted the inability of early film industrialists to recognize the potential for film in the U.S. I loved the excerpt that described the U.S. as cinematic backwater. It’s crazy to imagine the current industry without deferring to Hollywood. Unlike the American radio “free for all” I was surprised that film started as a closed industry with a small number of cartels dictating its direction. One has to wonder what it would have been like today if the independents had not fled to Hollywood and partnered with international companies and if WWI had not overturned the French industry. As with previous technological cycles, the outsider was able to recognize potential industry leaders could not and changed the industry in doing so.

  18. Fright Beyond Measure? The Myth of the War of the Worlds

    I was surprised to learn that the War of the Worlds program did not cause mass panic. I can’t say I’m shocked that newspapers took a flimsy story and pumped it up to try and sell papers. Tabloids are still quite good at that. But clearly papers should not have relied so heavily on second and third hand reports from wire stories. This was not good news judgement, but hey, maybe their editor was pressuring them and they were on deadline and had a nagging cold. You never know.

    I like the ending line much more: “Inaccurate reporting gave rise to a misleading historical narrative and produced a savory and resilient media-driven myth.”

    Chapter 2

    I enjoyed reading about the first sports broadcast. Boxing was a popular sport in both the US and Europe and that contributed to the match between Dempsey and Carpentier, the Frenchmen. The line, “The French war hero was obviously the crowd favorite,” made me laugh.

    I liked the way the Wu ended the chapter: “In either setting, the medium would never be more hopeful or high-minded.” Quite true.

    Chapter 4

    The reason the Trust was so destructive, Wu writes, was because “their rules not just controlled the costs, but the very nature of what film, as a creative medium, could be.”

    It served as a censoring governing body until the courts ruled against it 1915.

    I also would like to read, "An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood."