Review of Communities of Air

Worth Reading: Radio Days

By putting people in touch with each other electromagnetically, radio creates a set of overlapping communities of the air,” writes Susan Squier in the introduction of her new book.

Squier, professor of English and women’s studies at Penn State, edited Communities of the Air: Radio Century, Radio Culture, which was published in 2003 by Duke University Press. The work contains essays that present an overview of the history and impact of radio. It aims to convey the significance of radio as a major technological and cultural catalyst in 20th century society that affected everything from science-fiction tales of aliens taking over the earth to wireless technology laws that were passed to insure the transmission of distress signals such as those sent by the sinking S.S.Titanic.

The essays in the collection are grouped into three sections. The first section — Radio Technology across the Twentieth Century — addresses the way in which radio technology developed over time, citing for example how radio technology was modeled after the telephone. The second set of essays, Radio Cultures, focuses on how radio affects producers and listeners in marginalized social groups. In her article, Kathy Newman of Carnegie Mellon University discusses how African Americans were targeted as a radio market in the 1940s. The third and final section, Radio Ideologies, contains essays that describe how radio influences gender identity. Adrienne Munich of SUNY at Stony Brook traces how Queen Elizabeth II shaped her identity as a woman monarch and united the empire she inherited through the use of radio.

According to Squier, radio allowed various communities to overlap because it appealed to such a wide audience. Communities of the Air shows how those communities transformed as a result of radio’s developments, and, as Squier puts it, the way in which “radio serves as the site of vivid historical documentation as well as the mark of a shifting mode of national communication.”

—Liliana M. Naydan

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