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The Birth Of Mass Culture: The Rise Of The Radio In The 1920’s

2374 words - 9 pages

Throughout the 1920’s, a new era of pop culture was ushered in as America recovered from its involvement in the First World War. Within this era, society was dominated by the desire to express oneself and live lavishly while free of structural constraint, and this new pursuit of freedom was displayed within the evolution of jazz, flapper fashions, and an increased obsession with entertainment. While each of these events undoubtedly played a role in shaping the pop culture of the twenties, one particular aspect of entertainment was the driving force behind the redefinition of the American culture and lifestyle for decades to come. This new element of pop culture was the radio. Becoming an American sensation seemingly overnight, the radio soon was a standard appliance in every home, and owning a radio automatically characterized a household as “modern.” Through this single appliance, the nation was drawn together in the first real shared experience that provided entertainment and contributed to the rapid spread of new ideas. For the first time in history, Americans were granted the opportunity to enjoy radio shows, sports broadcasts, news programs, music, and other forms of entertainment, all within the comfort of their own living rooms. With the sudden emergence of the radio in the 1920’s, a new era of mass culture was born, one whose impact still resounds today.
Although the radio gained popularity in the twenties, its initial presence on the forefront of technology was in the late 1800’s when an Italian inventor, Guglielmo Marconi, successfully sent and received the first radio signal in Italy. It was not until World War I that the United States began to utilize radios, and their main purpose was for communication between warships at sea (“New Popular Culture”). Until the 1920’s, average Americans did not own radios, nor did they have any interest in them. At the time, fascination with radios was limited mainly to a rather small group of male hobbyists who had gained experience with the new device during their service in the war (Taylor 430). In 1920, the role of the radio began to shift ever so slightly. As a radio hobbyist near Pittsburgh began playing records over his own radio, he was unaware that other Americans were listening. News of this hidden interest in radio entertainment caught the attention of Westinghouse, a radio manufacturer, and the first radio station, KDKA, was created in October of 1920 in response (“New Popular Culture”). While an increasing number of Americans were taking an interest in radio, it was slow to catch on in the realm of personal enjoyment. As more public events were broadcast live, such as the 1920 Harding-Cox election results and the 1921 fight between Dempsey and Carpenter, the number of listeners began to rise. In 1921, there were 28 new stations in the United States, but by 1922, radio had swept the nation, with over 570 stations across the country (Bryson 47). According to Taylor’s...

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