Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Curious George, Pt. 2

Originally published in the March, 2009, Old Radio Times.(

Curious George

In researching Invisible Stars, Halper learned that women were welcome in radio in the 1920s, when the amateur ethic prevailed and there wasn’t much money to be made. But as the decade drew to a close and the medium became more commercial, women were cast aside, or ghettoized on women’s shows.

Yet Halper argues that, in a sense, things are actually worse today. The women’s shows may have emphasized domestic bliss, she says, but they also served as “an electronic community” where topics such as feminism (before it was even a word), birth control, and greater involvement in public life could be discussed. “It wasn’t all recipes,” she says.

Since the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, though, most of the country’s 10,000 radio stations have fallen into the hands of just a few giant media conglomerates, resulting in the loss of scores of jobs. These days, Halper notes, smaller markets may not have a single locally based radio station; programming frequently pipes in by satellite from a distant headquarters. “Before, you were channeled into the women’s shows,” she says. “Today you’re just not hired. And that worries me.”

As Halper notes in Invisible Stars, there is one bright spot for women in radio: National Public Radio, whose most popular and respected news personalities are women such as Linda Wertheimer, Nina Totenberg, and Susan Stamberg. NPR even has its own female hack purveyor of conventional wisdom (my characterization, not Halper’s), Cokie Roberts, showing that women can equal men in mediocrity as well as excellence.

And though Halper laments the devolution of commercial radio into “shock and vulgarity,” she retains a nostalgic affection for the medium. “I was a very lonely kid, and radio was my companion,” she says. “Those DJs were my friends. And while other girls might have dreamed about marrying them, I dreamed about being one of them.”

- Donna Halper is a lecturer and broadcast consultant based in Quincy, MA. Her love of radio history is evident in the way she captures the essence of her subjects.


Post a Comment

<< Home