1930s: TV and Radio
1930s: TV and Radio
Just as the 1930s produced some of the best American movies, it also produced some of the best radio programs, making the decade the golden age of both cinema and radio. More than just a source of news and entertainment, radio provided listeners with a chance to escape their troubles. Popular shows like Amos 'n' Andy offered comfort, as did broadcasts like the "fireside chats" of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945). Social workers observed that some poor families would give up their iceboxes before giving up their radios. By the end of the decade, nearly 80 percent of American households had a radio.
Comedy shows were among the most popular entertainment on radio, especially Amos 'n' Andy. The show was broadcast for fifteen minutes every evening. The show was so popular that for those fifteen minutes, telephone use dropped by 50 percent and films were stopped so that movie theaters could play the show for audiences throughout the country. Comedians Gracie Allen (1906–1964), George Burns (1896–1996), Jack Benny (1894–1974), and Fanny Brice (1891–1951), who had had successful vaudeville careers, were guests on various variety programs and made listeners smile. Another successful radio comedy program was Fibber McGee and Molly. It starred the husband-and-wife team of Jim Jordan (1896–1988) and Marian Jordan (1897–1961), two vaudeville veterans.
More serious programs also entertained audiences. Serial melodramas called "soap operas" became favorites of both women and men across the country. Shows such as Guiding Light offered dramatic stories of family crisis and romantic entanglements. Other dramas offered audiences stories of mystery and crime. Suspenseful programs including The Shadow, Charlie Chan, and Sherlock Holmes kept audiences on the edge of their seats. Younger listeners and those interested in fantastic adventure could hear stories of superheroes, including Buck Rogers in the Year 2430, Tarzan, The Lone Ranger, Superman, and The Green Hornet. These stories had spectacular sound effects that mimicked creaking doors, mysterious footsteps, and the galloping hooves of Silver, the Lone Ranger's trusty horse, as well as crunching bones and even the monstrous spilling of blood and guts.
Regulation became the most important aspect of radio broadcasting during the 1930s. At the beginning of the decade, the airwaves were a bit chaotic. Stations interfered with the programs of other stations by broadcasting on the same bandwidth. By 1934, the U.S. government, as a part of its plan for controlling various parts of the economy, created the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC sought to organize stations so that radio broadcasts could be efficiently played across the country without overlapping. The FCC also foresaw the danger of having a company or an individual in control of too many stations in one area. An individual in control of the radio stations in a certain area, or of a network of stations reaching a large number of people, could have too much control over what information the listeners heard. Fearing that the American public would have access only to one opinion or one point of view, the commission sought to limit the number of media outlets (in this case, radio stations, and later, TV stations) a company or an individual could own.
While radio dominated the airwaves of the 1930s, television received its first dramatic public debut in 1939 at the New York World's Fair. At the fair, President Roosevelt addressed audiences and became the first president to appear on TV. Although those who had enough money to buy the $200 to $600 TV receivers clamored to place their orders, TV did not become a popular medium until after World War II (1939–45). After the war, the economy had rebounded and Americans had more cash for luxuries.