Over 400 million people the world over listen to radio each day. It is one of the cheapest and easiest ways for people from all walks of life to have access to news, music and entertainment. We at Tivoli Audio want to explore the ways in which radio has influenced and affected the popular culture, listening habits and lifestyle choices of generations over the past century. What better way to start than with a brief overview of the history of radio?
The first syndicated radio broadcast aired Christmas Eve 1906 and featured violin performances and bible readings. In these early years, radio broadcasts were largely a service medium, providing relevant and useful information such as news and weather to those who were listening. Within a decade there were government initiatives to get radios into the hands of as many people as possible, with hundreds of thousands of simple and cheap ‘build it yourself’ crystal radio kits sent out nationwide.
Commercial radio became increasingly popular in the 1920s, heralding what was to become known as the ‘golden age’ of radio. Radio sets became the centerpiece of the home around which the entire family gathered, and home entertainment consoles were often constructed with built in radio components.
The radio programming of the 1920s and 1930s established the typical format for variety shows, cooking shows, mystery serials and soap operas that were eventually co-opted by other forms of entertainment and broadcast mediums like TV. Betty Crocker even had her own show where she would share her cooking tips and tricks to housewives around America, and President Roosevelt was famous for his candid ‘Fireside Chats’ to the American public every Saturday evening.
The rise of pop music and ‘top of the chart’ music programs in the late 1950s and early 1960s spelled the end of syndicated fully scripted radio shows. These new formats grew in popularity concurrently with the rise of youth culture and the increasing ubiquity of the portable radio. Music and news could be heard in any and every area of life - in the home, in the workplace, in the car, or even while out for a walk. It was also during this period that record labels realized the potential for radio airplay to entice listeners to buy singles or LPs. By the end of the 1970s the 'Top 40' format popularized by the iconic UK show Top of The Pops was the standard on virtually all music focused radio stations.
Following the popularity of the cassette tape during the 1980s, many people began to record their favorite songs directly from their radio onto the cassette, what would soon colloquially be referred to as a mix-tape. This practice was known as ‘home dubbing’ and was derided by the music industry and condemned as a practice that would ‘kill’ the music, a rhetoric that in 2017 we still hear from the music industry - this time in terms of illegal downloads and pirating of music.
The number of available media formats for people to consume grew exponentially in the early 2000s. With the advent of MP3 players, digital streaming services and all-in-one devices, it is easier than ever for the consumer to access their media. With new technology allowing ease of access for all media at all times, the set times and schedules of radio stations and inability for listeners to hear their favorite programs at any time became problematic. This issue was quickly solved following the introduction of podcasts. Virtually every radio station that produces weekly or daily shows also release their shows in podcast format, allowing listeners to hear their favorite shows at any time.
The media market has become over-saturated. Radio is no longer the immediate choice as a mode of listening to audio, with digital streaming services and MP3 players the defacto options for many people. Yet there remains over 400 million people the world over who still tune in to their favorite stations, despite the glut of media choices. Beautifully designed radios have returned in force, representing a conscious and nostalgic lifestyle choice. The emphasis on design has deep roots in radio’s history. Stay tuned for our upcoming features in Tivoli Audio’s Radio History Month. Later this week we will explore the history of radio design! #radiomonth