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Listening in: Radio and the American Imagination, from Amos 'N' Andy and Edward R. Murrow to Wolfman Jack and Howard Stern [Paperback]

Susan J. Douglas
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

April 2000
Few inventions evoke such nostalgia, such deeply personal and vivid memories as radio.  Ask anyone born before World War II about radio, and you'll see that person time-travel to the lost world of Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and Arturo Toscanini; to the jokes of Jack Benny and Burns and Allen; to the sobering commentary of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Edward R. Murrow. Those born after World War II grew up tuned to Jean Shepherd in the darkness of their bedrooms; cruising with Sam Cooke, the Beatles, or the Doors; talking back to Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, and Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Listening In is the first in-depth history of how radio culture and content have kneaded and expanded the American psyche.

But Listening In is more than a history. It is also a reconsideration of what listening to radio has done to American culture in the twentieth century and how it has brought a completely new auditory dimension to our lives. Susan Douglas explores how listening has altered our day-to-day experiences and our own generational identities, cultivating different modes of listening in different eras; how radio has shaped our views of race, gender roles, ethic barriers, family dynamics, leadership, and the generation gap.

How we listened, where we listened, who we listened to and why: With her trademark wit and erudition, Susan Douglas has created an eminently readable cultural history of radio that fixes its place in our lives as shaper and reflector of our passions and obsessions.

Product details

  • Paperback: 415 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books (April 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812933001
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812933000
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.5 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,006,445 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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5.0 out of 5 stars Fundamental! 25 Nov 2008
This is a very well documented, clear, and clever book on the history of US radio. I read it to research an article I was writing, and it really helped. It puts the most important moments of US radio history in their social, economical and political context, and shows how US radio evolved with US society. A fundamental contribution, and a necessary reading for all those who are interested in media studies.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.2 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not just a history, not just a textbook 5 May 2000
By F. Behrens - Published on
Please take note that Susan J. Douglas' <Listening In: Radio and the American Imagination> (Times Books, 1999) is no mere history of radio. It was triggered by a request from the Sloan Foundation that was preparing a series of books on technology and American culture; and the emphasis is not on the details but on the general effect radio has on us from its beginnings. And take another note. This is too enjoyable a read to be considered a textbook.
My favorite chapter was the one called "Radio Comedy and Linguistic Slapstick." Here only a few comics are used as examples to support her several theses, one of which is the emasculation of the American male by the use of such high-pitched speakers as Jack Benny and Joe Penner. Of course there is lots of room for argument, but she does let the facts speak for themselves (pun intended).
The other chapters are "The Zen of Listening," "The Ethereal World," "Exploratory Listening in the 1920s," "Tuning In to Jazz" "The Invention of the Audience," "World War II and the Invention of Broadcast Journalism," "Playing Fields of the Mind," "The Kids Take Over: Transistors, DJs, and Rock 'n' Roll," "The FM Revolution," "Talk Talk," "Why Ham Radio Matters," and "Conclusion: Is Listening Dead?"
Which of us has not been affected in many of the ways Ms. Douglas points out in this book? Therefore, which of us can afford to miss being shown how radio has helped make us what we are? And I do hope she produces a similar book about television.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb social and cultural history of the medium 28 Jun 2000
By A Customer - Published on
Radio has become such a background part of our lives, we forget just how astounding an impact it has had on our culture and psyche. Susan Douglas brings it all back to the foreground in her book "Listening In." This is not just a chronicle of the development of the media, this book takes us deep into the social impacts of radio, and how it changed how we react and interact with each other. Douglas has perfectly captured the feel and "tone" of different periods of radio listening, and explores a lot of the psychological aspects of how radio let us sample and explore different parts of our American cultue in a safe and nonthreatening way.
As a present-day radio fanatic, the book gave me hope: hope that the medium hasn't been corporatized into complete blandness. Radio will continue to evolve, just like our American culture.
Whether your're a radio technology type, an old time radio fan, or just a student of American history, you'll find something to love in this book.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read! "Radio is a sound salvation..." 8 April 2000
By Amazon Customer - Published on
I've got Douglas' book today for her take on ham radio (I'm part of the Amateur Radio community) and I was very impressed with the rest of the book. Though I wrinkled my nose at the over-emphasis on the gender conflict in radio, Listening In reminded me of a time when people participate in a common culture instead of idly sitting by listening to the umpteenth Top 40 hit made by over-commercialized "plastic" bands.
The ham radio chapter was simply great and I give Dr. Douglas her due for mentioning the American Radio Relay League as the national association for hams. From this chapter, I can see why hams have a nurturing touch in their approach to life! The section on radio comedy is well done (the comedy bits are good for a chuckle or two). I recommend it to those who have a deep affinity for radio and communications.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book about the sociological history of radio. 31 Mar 2014
By Scott McKinney - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A keen insight into how media shapes the times and how listeners shape the media. A must read for all with an interest in radio and in media in general.
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting 11 Mar 2014
By jill nelson - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A critical look at the way radio helped to shape an emerging industrialized, middle class America. Outside of my field, but yields insight into technology, and its contribution to modern history. A must read for those in radio, for a greater appreciation of how the field began.
Jill C. Nelson
Mississippi State University
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