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The Great Depression helps Radio
In 1929, The Great Depression started with the collapse of the American stock market. At the lowest point in 1933, 16 million people, or one third of the United States working population were unemployed. Many advertisers switched to radio from newspapers, spending US$60 million in radio commercials. From 75,000 sales of radios in 1921, figures rose to 13.5 million in 1930. Radio infiltrated all aspects of American life, filling it with music, news, entertainment and advertisements.
Publishers became economically squeezed as circulation and advertising profits declined. Even William Randolph Hearst (1910s, 1940s), who then owned the largest press empire, had to sell stocks and pump in personal funds to keep his newspapers afloat. Many readers switched to more economical condensed periodicals such as Time or Reader's Digest (see 1920/ Publications section) which gathered the most important articles from various publications.
The press faced scruntiny from the public as many jobless Americans began to examine and critize the newspapers on their content and impact. During this time, the publishers were actively involved in presenting and commenting on political issus. The press lords Hearst (San Francisco Examiner and New York Journal) and Robert R McCormick (Chicago Tribune) were on opposing sides of the presidential elections of 1932, supporting Franklin Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover respectively. The newspapers presented editorials and features that focused intensely on the governing of America.
During the 1930s and 1940s, five large companies dominated the American film industry: Fox, MGM, Warner Brothers, Paramount and RKO, while Rank and ABPC dominated the British film industry. Some of the most famous films of all time were made during this period: Gone With the Wind (1939), Citizen Kane (1941) based loosely on the life of press lord William Randolph Hearst, and Casablanca (1942).
While television was still in developmental stages, theatre newsreels were a very dominant form of entertainment and information, and were considered the forerunner of television news. The newsreel presented public figures and events around the world. By the end of the 1930s, 80 million Americans were buying movie tickets yearly, to view showings that included a newsreel, a cartoon, a short subject, previews of coming attractions and a double feature.
radio brought together the rich and the poor, of every race, nationality or
creed in one audience rather than in many separate readerships in the print
media. During the Great Depression, radio advertising revenues doubled (while
newspaper and magazine profits were halved), because radio could reach a large
national audience. Radio continued to focus on entertainment then news, until
World War II where newscasts
on the radio became more prominent.
President Roosevelt of the United States made use of radio to speak to the masses, in broadcasts known as "fireside chats" to evoke a cosy and comfortable feeling among listeners. His first fireside chat was delivered on March 12, 1935 to 35 million listeners, giving assurance that it was safe to keep money in the banks, (during this period of the Great Depression). Receiving information directly from an authoritative voice added credibilty to the report. Confidence returned, and banks began to restart transactions. Listeners felt they were being spoken to personally, in contrast to the feeling of being addressed anonymously in the newpapers.
Adolf Hitler, the leader of Germany, invaded Austria on March 13, 1938. He also obtained Sudetenland from the Czechs through the signing of the Munich Pact. Before then, cultural and human interest stories of radio networks in Europe were re-broadcast in America. Edward R. Murrow, at first an unknown correspondent who had become the European news chief of CBS in 1937, improvised the first coordinated radio broadcast to America from multiple European locations. During the 20-day period of diplomatic talks in Munich, America heard live broadcasts from 14 European cities. The voices of Hitler, Czech President Benes, British Prime Minister Chamberlain and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was heard first-hand. The radio coverage of the Munich crisis confirmed its power to inform and influence its audience. Radio helped the war events become a reality to those far away from it.
Radio advertising bloomed in the 1930s. The messages of radio advertising was similar to that of mass magazine advertising. Advertisers paid less attention to the special qualities and focused more on what people wanted or hoped to be. They claimed their products helped people feel young, rich and envied. For example, Listerine (a mouth wash) presented weekly stories of how "lives were ruined forever" because of bad breath. By the Thirties, sponsors of radio programs won the right to broadcast commercial messages, in other words, sponsors were buying time slots on radio for advertising.
Throughout the 1930s, David Sarnoff, president of Radio Corporation of America, started the drive to develop the television. In 1937, 17 experimental television stations emerged. Television was publicly introduced at the 1939 World's Fair in New York. The phenomenon of bringing both pictures and sound to a home audience would soon shake the position of radio and print media. However, World War II prevented its development until the 1950s.