Rambling about culture and radio
Thinking about Colonel Green's unapologetically aristocratic radio station....
I've discussed this point often. Radio began with an overlay of high culture, which was sometimes condescending but usually productive.
Classical music and poetry were major parts of LOCAL radio for several decades, offering opportunities for LOCAL performers to showcase their capacities. The cultural slant was enforced by FCC, thus enhancing and broadening the SKILLS of LOCAL talent and LOCAL appreciation for culture.
So Green's pure aristocracy wasn't unusual or contrarian, just more extreme.
TV started without the overlay of culture. Why?
One possibility: The basic skill of radio was new. Writing for the ear and acting for the ear were new techniques that had to be developed from scratch.
Some older cultures had a tradition of oral storytelling, with all characters voiced by one narrator and no visual output. Those cultures weren't involved in the birth of radio. No Osages or Kiowas.
The dramatic side of radio began with Vaudevillians and 'classical' stage actors. The biggest stars in the first two decades were Vauds. Gracie and George, Fibber and Molly, Jack and Mary, Amos and Andy, Edgar and Charlie. Serious actors like Hans Conried and Katharine Cornell were also well represented.
Vaudeville had a visual aspect, but it was primarily audio. Vauds had to walk into an unfamiliar theater without any stage sets and create a scene in the minds of the audience. Stage actors were accustomed to fixed sets, but they were focused heavily on projecting the WORDS of the playwright. Both of these groups had to aim toward a large audience at a considerable distance, so their faces weren't important and often weren't attractive.
Who was missing? Movie actors. Occasionally they made cameo appearances in dramas or quiz shows, but they never fitted into the dramas and couldn't handle the quiz shows. They were accustomed to performing FOR THE CAMERA, not for the ear, and most of them weren't intelligent or flexible. They were hired for attractive faces and obedience, not for creativity.
When radio started in 1920, movies were still silent. Successful movie actors were PURELY visual, and the visual emphasis continued after sound was attached in the late '20s.
When TV started in 1948, the movie actors transferred their skills easily and directly. Exactly the same situation. A set built for camera angles, acting directly to the camera. Following the director's instructions perfectly.
= = = = =
Hmm. Well, that didn't answer the cultural difference, did it?
The FCC was still pushing culture and public service in '48, so its influence isn't the variable. I'm guessing that plain old money made the difference. Most of the founders of radio were starting on a shoestring. They were turning a hobby into a business, often working with a local store that was willing to support the bet as an advertising method. They had to follow FCC's guidance. TV requires a lot more money, and the networks were already established and powerful in '48. They could afford to lobby and ignore.
Labels: Asked and badly answered, Constants and Variables, skill-estate