Domesticating "the Great, Throbbing, Common Pulse of America": A Study of the Ideological Origins of the Radio Act of 1927

by Sylvain, Olivier, Ph.D., COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, 2010, 259 pages; 3442848


The stated purposes of the Commerce Department's national radio conferences in the 1920s were simple enough: end signal interference and resolve airwave congestion. This dissertation argues that the preoccupation with the concepts of interference and congestion among advocates of what eventually became the 1927 Radio Act were part of a more general reaction among policy elites and intellectuals to the industrial, technological, and demographic changes that had been unsettling economic, political, and cultural conventions in the United States for decades. Judicial opinions, legal briefs, speeches, films, and articles in trade and general interest magazines, newspapers, and scholarly journals in the years and decades before passage of the Radio Act strongly suggest that reformers, policy elites, and intellectuals wanted above all to mediate the transition to modernity. They did not simply want to find an administrative fix for interference and appease the Radio Trust, as most of the studies on the Act assert. Reformers also believed that broadcasting presented a cultural problem as much as or more than an economic or engineering one. Interference and congestion, this dissertation argues, were salient metaphors for anxieties that also manifest themselves, for example, in the contemporaneous debates about immigration, urbanization, mechanization, and the general role government administration in democracy. Seen in this light, the Radio Act of 1927 was only part of a larger reform effort against modernity itself.

AdvisersRichard John; Todd Gitlin
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsAmerican history; Law; Mass communication
Publication Number3442848

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