Thursday, February 14, 2013

Blog post (from readings) #9: (Due Monday, Feb 18)
Ch. 5 in The Master Switch; excerpt from Sunday Nights at Seven: The Jack Benny Story.  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. While I was reading this chapter, a few things stuck out to me. First, the idea that advertising is unacceptable is really kind of humorous to me. I know I would probably give a lot not to hear commercials on the radio while I'm driving or see less commercials on television. It's interesting to imagine a world without advertising because I feel like even in the Internet age, we are flooded multiple hours a day with advertisements on every platform of entertainment. Personally, I think we should make moves back to the 20's where advertising was the devil.

    Second, while I was reading about how AT&T was going to start making their own radio sets, I wrote down a note that said, "Just like Communism". As I kept reading, I saw that Tim Wu compared the company to Communism later on. The point he made about how different American culture would be had AT&T had that much control over what everyone listened to, was particularly interesting. What the AT&T company worked it's way into the government. If that happened, we might all be listening to propaganda 24 hours a day through our iPods and while watching TV shows on our computers. It's interesting to think what could have happened if they maintained that much control.

    Third, I think the way David Sarnoff was portrayed in this chapter was a bit more fair. In the documentary we watched in class, he was painted as a control freak who stole ideas from other inventors and was basically a dictator. While that might be true, he did do the American people a huge favor. He stopped AT&T from taking over the minds of everyone. Without Sarnoff and his controlling ways, we'd all be listening to AT&T sponsored programming. He stopped them from distributing radio sets and saved us from what could have been a Communist regime. This seemed to be a more fair depiction of who he was.

    I think this chapter definitely provided insight to who the big boys of radio were and how our beloved NBC was first started.

  2. I found it surprising that “direct advertising in radio broadcasting service [should] be absolutely prohibited,” according to the radio conference. I can’t believe that J.C. McQuiston said that advertisements would ruin the radio industry, rather than enhance it. I personally hate listening to advertisements because it disrupts my enjoyment of the music. When I hear commercials I just turn to another station. But I at least understand the importance of ads and why they are there. As a journalism major, it is the same thing with newspapers. The newspaper has to make their money somehow.
    Going back to radio, advertisements have really changed. Marketers are getting smarter with what they advertise and who they advertise to. For example, I listen to sports talk radio a lot. When the ads come on, they talk about selling jerseys and sports memorabilia. It’s clever, I admit. But it still disrupts my enjoyment of listening to the radio, although I realize the significance of advertisements.

  3. In the readings, I was interested to see the sad idealism of beginning of radio The people in charge of the industry were hopeful that radio could (and would) survive without advertisements, because they thought the people wouldn't stand for it. The people did, and soon AT & T gradually introduced advertisements into radio programming.

    I somehow did not know about Bell's foray into broadcasting, NBS, and the control it had over the early radio market. It makes sense now, obviously, considering the man he was and the influence he had, but I was surprised to learn that I had no idea about such a large company.

    I was interested to hear more about David Sarnoff and his rise to power, because I think Ken Burns's documentary, while good in its own right, got caught too much in personality and lost some of the details that Tim Wu managed to cover. Seeing the original statement that started NBC was especially interesting, giving us a look in to one of the most historic moments in American media history.

  4. I found it very interesting the way that radio ads were developed, in particular, the way ads were originally designed to be educational. It makes sense, but it is still funny to imagine hearing an ad on the radio that is essentially a lecture you’d hear in a classroom. I would not have expected radio ads to originate like that.

    I was also kind of surprised at how AT&T tried to create a monopoly with radio. I was not surprised that they would try to but I was surprised that they were kind of allowed to. Creating radios that only received AT&T broadcast frequencies seems very controversial at a time when radio was just really starting up. I was a little surprised that this was allowed. I probably would not be surprised at this if it happened at a time when radio was already established and other companies were pulling similar tactics.

    It was frightening to think of what the world could have become if AT&T had been successful in sustaining a monopoly on radio. If they had control over every radio and every telephone, they truly would have had a monopoly on communication.

  5. The most interesting anecdote that stood out to me in Ch. 5 of The Master Switch was a simple "what if." The latter half of this chapter talks about AT&T's attempts to design its own radio sets, which would have essentially created a huge monopoly with the telephone company controlling the radio transmission networks, as well as the actual models themselves. The story goes that Sarnoff and RCA took a huge chance, "stak[ing] his company's future" by challenging a previous agreement he had with AT&T under the guise of legal ambiguity. In a secret binding arbitration meeting, Sarnoff came out on top, preserving his company's future as well as ultimately altering the course of American culture and the like.

    The what if brought about in The Master Switch is: "Let us pause to imagine what things might look like if Sarnoff had not been able to find a way to achieve what seemed impossible...Imagine that nearly every radio station and every radio set in America was AT&T's...The power the phone company would have had over American culture and communication is beyond comparison in the annals of democracy" (79-80). Thus, this is what will stick with me and is what I am most likely to retain years down the road -- what the world could have come to if all the forms of instantaneous mass communication during a crucial period in American industry (and history in general, following World War I) were controlled by one corporation.

  6. While reading the chapter I kept trying to imagine how radio would have worked under AT&T's sole control. Would it have evolved the way it did? How would things have been had radio been a free for all? Would it have been as cluttered as the big companies claimed it would be? For the most part I was a little upset that RCA, AT&T and the government created a closed system that stifled freedom of speech in a way. However, Wu makes a good point at the end that it created a broad listenership for quality programming. It also lead to news departments to serve the public good [84].

    Something that struck me in the reading was Sarnoff's luck (or genius?). If he hadn't claimed that AT&T making radio sets were illegal he probably wouldn't have rose to fame as he did and the radio, as we know it, would have been vastly different.

  7. I found the cartoon on page 75 to be an interesting part of this chapter because it characterizes the 1920s sentiment toward radio advertising very well. The cartoon is captioned "Advertising by Radio Cannot Be Done; It Would Ruin the Radio Business, for Nobody Would Stand for It." In the cartoon a radio is playing, but instead of music coming out it is only playing advertisement after advertisement. The group listening to the radio are clearly upset: four men playing cards appear to be yelling and look ready to literally punch the radio; a woman stands shocked in the doorway; and a small child looks like he is upset, sitting behind the radio. The cartoon describes its caption perfectly -- "nobody would stand for [advertising]" -- because, according to Wu, the advertising would ruin the "utopia" of the new technological advancements of radio.

    I found this most interesting because, while they thought in the 1920s that advertising would be the downfall of radio, today we know the opposite to be true: advertising has very much saved radio and made it more accessible to others. Just as with all other forms of news distribution, radio costs money to put on and make available. While newspapers benefit from those who buy the papers, radio stations did not receive any funds from those radio receivers sold. In order to continue broadcasting, they had to use advertising to pay for their operations. I found this irony to really be a key point in the chapter.

  8. The thing that jumped out to me the most in the chapter was that "direct advertising" was not allowed. I understand the concept of possibly not saying the locations of the stores where the products could be purchased, but I don't understand how the advertisements couldn't describe the product. "The Master Switch" used the example that Gillette's first advertisement was about beards and not about razors. If a listener did not know that Gillette sold razors, then they may have thought the person in the advertisement just really liked beards. If it were me, there is no chance I am going out and buying a product that I really have no idea about.

    It also was interesting that it didn't strike companies that advertisements equal money and that people were so against advertisements on the radio. It seems like such a simple concept, I can't imagine radio or television without commercials, even though I can't stand them.

  9. The old cliche that hindsight is 20/20 vision rings true in Chapter 5 of "The Master Switch" by Tim Wu. Direct advertising didn't ruin radio, though it does annoy many people (myself included). That said, listeners experiencing mild annoyance wasn't enough to crumble an entire industry. And there have also been times that I've heard a commercial that actually interested me--an example is a few months ago, when I heard an advertisement for a drumline competition on WPGC 95.5. A close friend of mine loves the movie "Drumline" and so I decided to buy tickets for us purely because of the radio commercial. In hindsight, it was quite idealistic and naive in hindsight to think people wouldn't stand for advertisements and they would be forever absent from the radio.

    I was also interested in how AT&T was very close to having a complete monopoly over a lot of communication outlets--much like a communist industry. It's peculiar to think that had David Sarnoff not intervened, broadcasting would be so different from what it is today; the future of broadcasting was wholly dependent on one individual and his actions. And perhaps as a triumphant result of Sarnoff's risks, RCA still manufactures various broadcasting electronics today, while AT&T has stuck primarily to phones and cell service.

  10. What I find most interesting about Ch 5 is how advertising was an afterthought for the media monopolists of the time. Wu writes about how the general consensus of the time was that radio should be a “technological utopia” and that direct advertising should be prohibited. In the industry today, advertisers are the ultimate monopolists. Any good producer knows programming does not exist without them. The debate surrounding early advertising is especially interesting given the newspaper model of the time. Newspapers had relied on some form of advertisements years before the commercialization of radio. It’s interesting how industry (then and now) tries to re-invent the model before adapting an existing one for a new medium.

    It’s scary to wonder what the communications industry might have been had Sarnoff not outmaneuvered AT&T. However, what I found more interesting were the General Orders that followed the consolidation of radio and how government measures aimed at protecting the interests of big industry violated the first amendment. General Order No. 32 in particular seemed to contradict the origins of mass communications, by requiring smaller stations to “show cause why they ought not to be abolished.”

    The division of radio that followed the general orders, both public interest and “propagandist” illustrates the difficulties small town radio faced from radio’s onset. Still I found myself wondering what our industry would have been like, had larger stations not felt the need to create news departments and invest in public interest journalism that large broadcast corporations still adhere to today.

  11. I was surprised to know that AT&T was the first company to feature advertising on their stations. But what was most interesting is that AT&T made an actual profiting business out of radio broadcast. They figured out that if they created a network instead of just a station, they could sell time blocks to different groups and add advertisers into the mix. In today’s culture, it seems like idea of making a business out of radio should have been immediate and intuitive. But it wasn’t. Radio broadcasting was such a phenomenon in its early life that most people wanted to capitalize on its communicative aspects, not the moneymaking side.

    When you think about it, that is probably why AT&T is still a company that is around today. They figured out how to make the most of radio, with the inclusion of music, news and entertainment and speeches. While Herbert Hoover stated that he thought advertising had no place in radio, it actually most certainly did. I also found it interesting that around this time, the Federal Radio Commission was first created. Radio had become so popular, and now that there were big-time networks and advertisers involved, there had to be some kind of agency or organization that could keep a watchful eye over the industry and regulate what was going on.

  12. I think it’s really unusual how we have completely transitioned from a radio medium that dispelled the idea of advertising (since it morally destroyed the fabric of radio), into an era of communications that is driven by the constant use of direct and indirect advertising. Nowadays, in my opinion, majority of media forms throughout the United States would likely fail, if they cease to serve any advertisements opportunities. The whole argument that advertising was not meant to be played on radio as it “tainted” the evolution and progress of the medium. President Hoover even declared that advertising is damaging to the success of radio broadcasts. Obviously, most were wrong about their skepticism towards radio advertising, especially since it virtually was the main reason some companies survived and others perished.

    I think that since the newspapers had grown so successful being so different than the radio airwaves, many felt the correlation between the two should never mix. Wu points out that news (current events), like advertising, was also heavily discouraged for the longest time on radio. The newspaper industry controlled this aspect of media, and radio basically had no place competing for power. In my opinion, people were afraid to explore the unknown territories of this new technology. And the others, who decided to break down societies’ boundaries, were ultimately the ones who became the most successful.

  13. Something that stood out to me was the FRC's General Order No. 32 that "164 smaller stations show cause why they ought not to be abolished", followed by General Order No. 40, which shut down or kicked out many smaller stations, and clearly favored established commercial broadcasters. I find it outrageous that independent, non-network affiliated stations were essentially kicked to the curb.

    I can't help but think of the resistance from the small stations that were affected by these orders. Who was the FRC to decide which stations should or shouldn't be abolished? It seems that there would be a ton of legal implications (property rights?) surrounding these orders. It's fascinating to think that a government agency had the power to decide which station merited a place on the airwaves and which didn't, and to think about what their PR response was to the smaller stations and to the public.

  14. Whether I turn on my computer, television or radio the same thought occurs to me: "Man, ads are EVERYWHERE!" So much so that in another journalism class I am taking this semester we've spent an entire two hour class period discussing advertisements and how to make them effective. So much of our society is dependent on ads working that current business models would completely flop if ads weren't encouraged. To this point, I was a bit taken aback when I read in the beginning of chapter 5 that ads were frowned upon and disallowed over the radio. The parallel between radio and newspapers at the time is an interesting one because of the polar extremes we see in both mediums concerning ads. Papers dominated the ad industry and were supported in large part because of them, but on the other hand radio was banned in the beginning to preserve the "utopian" state.

    A minor note that I enjoyed learning was "clear channel" actually has a meaning in the radio industry. I've always heard of clear channel as a brand with Westwood One for sports broadcasts so reading that there is actually a definition was a fun tidbit. Unfortunately, the downside of having clear channels was disbanding smaller broadcast stations that epitomized the freedom of American radio.

  15. This chapter introduced the beginning of radio advertisements by AT&T. I think it is interesting to note how President Hoover denounced advertising yet it still began to flourish. Simply the business model of selling radio sets had to change. There had to be a continued flow of income for radio companies. What happens when everyone has a radio set? Income flattens and the industry seeks new ways of earning money. I think the early regulations on advertising such as not mentioning price or location of the store are a bit backward. Would this not then seem like the radio station is supporting a product or store because it is not clearly understood as a paid advertisement to its audience? Did this not open the door to propaganda?

    Later in the chapter we hear of the FRC and the defining of large public sector stations and smaller “propaganda” stations. I think it is interesting how the argument against propaganda on radio was a bit skewed. The FRC favored fewer more controlled stations than a free enterprise system of radio stations. This new American model with large, clear channels became an international model. It even inspired the German model which aided the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party.

  16. The first radio advertisement was for Queens, NY. For some reason, that seems appropriate.

    I found it interesting that Gillette’s first radio advertisement was “a lecture on the history of beards.”

    The story behind the formation of NBC was interesting. I wonder how the no commercial model for radio would have fared had it stayed in existence. Would the US have a network like the BBC? Does the US have a network that's similar to the BBC? CNN? NPR? PBS? NYT? FOX NEWS? MSNBC?

    I had no idea that Jack Benny was responsible for saving Jell-O.

    My grandpa introduced me to Jack Benny. He said he turned 39 every year when we visited for his birthday.

    The SMU bit was hilarious and it was great that the school’s two Jewish fraternities tried to get a fictional radio character’s son to join.

  17. Chapter five of Tim Wu’s “The Master Switch” open with talking about how many people say advertising on radio as unacceptable and how Herbert Hoover and others took steps to bar the medium from being saturated with advertisements. What I found interesting was the first (or I guess possibly first) advertisement that did grace the airwaves; the small blurb about the housing development Hawthorne Court. I was surprised as how similar it was structured as the advertisement reads that I hear the hosts say on the SiriusXM NASCAR shows I work for on weekends. I think it just shows that while it was resisted, once advertising breached the wall it was there to stay.

    I will remember for five years that it was actually AT&T that had the first broadcast network. The way Wu covers it in the book it seems as though the company kind of fell into finding that there interconnected telephone lines suited radio programs as well. I also will remember this because it happened to be a $1600 answer on Jeopardy a few nights before I read the chapter.

  18. Advertising is such a huge part of our lives today that it’s hard to believe those in charge of radio avoided it because they thought no one would suffer through advertising and stick with their favorite shows. We are so bombarded by ads now, from those on nearly every computer website, to TV, to on cellphone aps, to billboards, and etch that I can’t imagine a time without them. Advertising does so much today to shape how we feel about ourselves and the world around us. In a way, it has become its own great art form, with unparalleled influence. As a huge Mad Men fan, I think it would be fascinating to look at the history of advertising in the U.S. Advertising throughout the years is possibly the best reflection of our society and culture—our norms, wants, needs, tastes and fads. Educational ads by Gilette were mentioned in the reading—A History of Beards” sounds like some sort of ridiculous Zach Galifianakis YouTube parody—but this is a technique still used often in advertising. I found it interesting how the birth of broadcast advertising spurred the competition that led to the Federal Government’s reigning in of radio. Broadcast advertising, for better or worse, has from its inception been a powerful force.