Since the beginning of radio’s “golden age” in the 1940’s, this form of mass media has experienced many changes from different programming, to advertising, to broadcast laws, etc. Beginning when the first radio station, KDKA, signed on in 1920 , it was quickly being picked up as a new emerging form of mass media. By the mid-20’s radios themselves were better and easier to use, and by 1930, were being purchased by the millions. Radio not only survived but thrived through the great depression. This would only be the beginning of its journey of change.
Radio, like many other mass media, has continued to evolve to meet the constantly changing wants and needs of society. The 1940’s were a monumental time for radio. The amount of money spent on radio ads almost doubled from ’40 to ’45, thus surpassing the newspaper industry as the nation’s main mode of advertisement. During World War II, radio provided the people with entertainment and propaganda. Because of a Supreme Court ruling the National Broadcast Company (NBC) sold one of its weaker networks which soon became a large competitor- the American Broadcasting Company (ABC).
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In the latter part of the decade, television was quickly coming onto the scene. The emergence of television ultimately delayed the continuing development of FM radio (A higher quality frequency than the AM frequency that was currently being used), and forced the radio networks to make some changes in their formats and budget. By the mid-1950’s, stations focused less on entertainment programs such as soap-operas, detective stories, and comedy shows, and more on music, talk, and news. Radio began giving increased attention to music and the recording industry.
Soon, local stations were adopting different formats, which were now ruled by the “clock hour” and developing their own personalities. By the mid 60’s over a dozen music formats of all kinds had been implemented, such as the Top 40. The Top 40 became increasingly popular and young listeners were spending more and more money on music that was being played by their local disc jockey (DJ). Record companies began to depend on DJ’s to play their music as advertisement for artists and new albums.
Some companies were even accused of bribing DJ’s to play their music in a controversy referred to as the “Payola” scandal. FM radio’s listening base grew rapidly from the 60’s to the 80’s. By 1984, 70 percent of listeners were choosing FM instead of AM, a 42 percent increase since 1972 . By 1990, FM accounted for about 90 percent of listening time. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 allowed increased competition in the radio industry. Radio was becoming more consolidated, and the industry was being mostly ruled by large group owners.
Meanwhile, largely because of the popularity and success of major talk-show hosts, AM radio was able to remain profitable with even 2 or 3 percent of the listening audience. Partly because of the weak economy causing the loss of advertising profits, radio markets became even more concentrated. Recently, satellite and digital radio have been all the rage. Companies such as Sirius and XM offer hundreds of channels with crystal clear sound quality to subscribers, and listeners can also purchase digital radios to listen to local digital stations free of charge.
Also, streaming online radio channels have become increasingly popular. Many stations are offering their programming in traditional and internet form to appeal to a larger audience. Listeners are now able to enjoy radio in many new and different ways. Since KDKA in 1920, radio has been constantly evolving. From AM to FM, analog to digital, soap operas to talk-shows, radio continues to entertain and inform, and it continues to remain an important source of information for the masses.