Tuesday, September 11, 2018

An archaeology of early radio production: doing sound historiography without the sound

By Shawn Vancour, September 11, 2018
What did early US radio sound like? During radio’s initial rise to prominence in the 1920s, before the “golden age” of network broadcasting in the 1930s and 1940s, what kinds of programming, production practices, and performance styles greeted audiences’ ears when they tuned into this new medium? What strategies of musical instrumentation, sound mixing, and dramatic representation were favored for these broadcasts, and what styles of singing, playing, speaking, and acting did early radio listeners hear?

At first glance (first whisper?), these questions should seem easy enough to answer. Why not just play a few recordings of old programs – “listen in” on the past, as it were, to the surviving traces of that bygone era – and hear for ourselves? However, those recordings do not, in fact, exist, at least not for this early, prenetwork period. To reconstruct this otherwise silent soundscape, the historian is thus left to either project back onto the past from anachronistic evidence of subsequent network-era recordings (in short, doing bad history), or look to other sources entirely – that is, doing sound historiography without the sound.

Additional story and link at: https://blog.oup.com/2018/09/early-radio-production-sound-historiography/