Weaver’s Magazine Concept: Notes on Auditioning Radio’s New Sound
Published in The Quarterly of Film Radio and Television, Vol. 10, No. 4 (Summer, 1956)
PATRICK D. HAZARD, an English teacher, is currently on a Fund for the Advancement of Education Fellowship, studying how the liberal arts can develop a tradition of criticism in the popular arts. While in New York this year, he is radio-TV editor of Scholastic Teacher.
“With a courage born of desperation and destitution” was Variety critic Bob Chandler’s apt description of the motives behind A.B.C.’s “New Sounds for You.” This program is, according to its executive producer Drex Hines, an “effort to do in radio what the digest magazines do in the publishing field; that is, recognize that busy people appreciate a service which selects features especially for them.”
Robert W. Sarnoff, president of N.B.C., admits frankly that “Monitor” and “Weekday” are also moves of desperate destitution. Radio lost two million dollars at N.B.C. in 1955. “The networks,” in Sarnoff’s judgment, “have to make these new forms work or else.” Mutual Radio has made similar changes in programming and advertising; it calls the new pattern “Companionate Radio.” Only well-fed C.B.S., relatively prosperous in terms of radio’s diminished fortunes, rides out the storm with Godfrey and sponsored soapers. Even C.B.S. has had to overhaul its advertising structure, allowing many sponsors to underwrite a single program or series of programs through its “segmentation” plan.
Radio’s new sound stems from changes TV has wrought in listening habits. Advertising has similarly shifted from an effort to assemble one big audience to a systematic attempt to expose one’s message to a cumulative audience assembled seriatim throughout the broadcast schedule. A description of program content in the new radio formats should be seen against the theoretical ideas of its pioneer, Sylvester L. Weaver, Jr. The magazine concept in commercial radio breaks down some walls between educational and commercial broadcasting; an effort is made at the end of this paper to explore the possibilities of collaboration among mass educators, critics, and broadcasters in light of the educational implications of the “electronic magazine.”
Radio itself is not in danger of extinction; it is in fact flourishing. In the first three quarters of 1955, radio-set sales increased over 40 per cent, from seven and a half to ten and a half million. Total TV-set sales increased only 16.5 per cent, from five million in 1954 to six million in 1955. Largest gains were in auto, clock, and portable radios. C.B.S. has recently estimated a national total of one hundred thirty-two million radios.
TV, however, has radically changed where, when, and how these radios are used. Two out of three American homes have more than one radio set. Two out of three American-home radios are located outside the living room—bedrooms have 20 per cent; dining rooms and kitchens, 18 per cent; living rooms, 21 per cent; other rooms, 7 per cent. Four out of five radios are located outside the living room where nearly all the TV sets are. Most radio listening is done by individuals rather than by family groups. Radio listening is up in TV homes and increases as the TV set grows older. Most daytime radio listeners do other things while listening; two out of three nighttime radio listeners concentrate entirely on listening. Since 85 to 90 per cent of the radio homes in TV cities own TV and 75 per cent of all radio homes are TV-equipped, radio has become an individual listener’s medium.
TV has also changed the economic facts of radio advertising. As TV began to deliver the national market, advertisers used radio to plug holes in TV-network coverage. Spot campaigns and local-station advertising tended to siphon off what TV had left of network radio’s revenue. Network radio faced bankruptcy unless it could devise new ways to lure back both listeners and advertisers. It sought to regain listeners by personalizing programming; it sought to regain advertisers by letting a sponsor gain a cumulative audience by small participations in many programs. For instance, in the C.B.S. Segmented Program Plan, sponsors can underwrite five-minute segments of one or more of eleven big-name shows—among them, Bing Crosby and Amos ‘n’ Andy.
Numerous possible combinations of participations are available. C.B.S. offers, for example, a segment each in all eleven programs with gross weekly audience of forty million for about $18,000. The rating point is being replaced by low-cost presentations of cumulative audiences for many programs. The advantage of this type of advertising is that it can be tailor-made. Small companies can buy a few exposures; large ones can buy into all the programs if they want to. The national market can be saturated by a short campaign carried on major-network shows. High TV-production costs make it desirable for alternate-week TV sponsors to keep their product exposed on radio during off weeks. C.B.S., because it has been in the strongest financial position, has been able to concentrate on changes in advertising rather than in programming.
The remaining networks, on the other hand, had to get more listeners before the new participation advertising would draw many sponsors. Radio’s new sound, then, is an attempt to lure back the laggard listener. N.B.C. started in the summer of 1955 with “Monitor,” a week-end marathon from 8:00 A.M., Saturday, to midnight, Sunday. (Poor affiliate support of the eight hours from midnight, Saturday, to 8:00 A.M., Sunday, killed that segment.) Since the week end was a poor revenue getter to begin with, it was perhaps the safest place to experiment. There was the usual razzle-dazzle associated with Weaver enterprises. A science-fiction musical theme bloop-bleeped listeners to an awareness that something new was about to emerge from their loud-speakers.
“Communicators” from Radio Central—a “push-button listening post on the world”—promised listeners that they were “going places and doing things.” The new network radio service was designed to bring listeners into instantaneous touch with everything important, interesting, or entertaining anywhere in the world. News, sports, time signals, weather, and local and special features were supplemented by entertainment elements consisting of comedy, drama, music, theater, films, and records. Each communicator works a four-hour block backed up by a name-disc jockey, experienced newscasters, a sports editor, writers, and program idea men. Features can vary from a one-line gag to a twenty-minute excerpt from a film or play. “Monitor” had that ants-in-the-pants mobility and immediacy of the American week end it was designed to enliven.
Jazz fans were quickly impressed by panoramic coverage of night spots from New York City to Los Angeles. Bob and Ray, extraordinary spoofers of excesses in popular culture, found a deserved national audience. Henry Morgan filled in radio listeners on what they hadn’t really missed on TV by listening to “Monitor.” In fact, despite its occasionally neurotic pace, “Monitor” had the beginnings of something long needed in American life: a relaxed yet perspicacious criticism of the popular arts.
One could scarcely ask for a better explicator of creative popular music than Al “Jazzbo” Collins, disc jockey for WRCA, N.B.C.’s owned-and-operated station in New York. His genial and informed introductions of jazz and quality dance-band music at various night sots are sorely needed as a corrective to tin-pan-alley’s puffs. Shirley Thomas consistently makes her Hollywood interviews more than the usual chatter. She appreciates the art of film, and her questions tend to reveal the complexity and integrity of that new aesthetic form. Bob and Ray are in the important tradition of popular satirists like Stan Freberg and Al Capp.
They bring the tonic of laughter to areas that are impervious to other critical strategies. Literature book reviews and profiles on the American theater give another dimension to “Monitor’s” coverage of the arts. Indeed, given a little encouragement and constructive criticism, “Monitor” could help substantially to take the hex off “culture” and “the finer things” in America. Its mixture of hammy showmanship and low-key literacy is precisely the means for easing the century-and-a-half-old cold war in American culture between self-conscious gentility and aggressive lowbrowism. This is not to whitewash “Monitor.” It has a can-you-top-this mentality that is quickly tiring, and it brags about its technological virtuosity until you crave the era of smoke signals. Still, it may deemphasize these audience getters, in time; and, as it now stands, it remains the best extant hope for a broadcast forum of popular criticism.
The next electronic magazine launched to retrieve TV addicts was A.B.C.’s “New Sounds for You.” It began late in October, 1955, in the heretofore lucrative prime evening time, 7:30 P.M. to 10:00 P.M. (NYT), Mondays through Fridays. There are five thirty-minute segments, each segment itself divided into five- and ten-minute parts with five minutes reserved for news. The first thematic unit is “Events of the Day.” “Today’s Sensational Story,” a five-minute tabloid feature, is followed by “Inside Washington,” a controversial story from the nation’s capital; “Transatlantic Exclusive,” Europe’s sensational story of the day; “Personality of the Day,” the hero or heel of the headlines; and finally, “The News and You,” political, economic, and social news as it affects the individual.
The second half hour is called “The World and You.” Each segment approximates five minutes. “Arrivals and Departures” has included the last steam locomotive leaving the Long Island Railroad station, a visit to the traveler’s-aid booth in New York’s Grand Central Station, a visit to an Alaskan airport, celebrities interviewed at major transportation terminals throughout the world. “Let’s Take a Trip” has featured the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., the Robert E. Lee Mansion in Arlington, Va., a spice shop, novelist Rex Stout, two travelers who had motor-scootered through thirty-three countries recording music, the United Nations, the Contemporary Art Galleries for an exhibition of Aubusson Tapestries, and a meeting of solar scientists in Phoenix, Ariz.
“Yesterday at Midnight”: the New York Stock Exchange, the Bowery, a house detective at work, a cleaning woman at the Smithsonian, dancing at Birdland, an interview with Edith Piaf at her current engagement, backstage interviews. “America at Work and Play” presents spot close-ups with interesting Americans everywhere: the Pan-American Tennis Tournament in Mexico City, the warden of Michigan State Prison, a pre-Thanksgiving visit to a turkey farm, a Notre Dame cheerleaders’ rehearsal, Justice William O. Douglas, the editor in chief of Field and Stream, the New York City Commissioner of Sanitation, a report on an electronic computer at the Bureau of Standards, he blind at work at work in Cleveland, Ohio. “From Elm Street to the Great White Way” is the final segment in “The World and You.” It has featured the out-of-town opening of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Pipe Dream; a report on Three Penny Opera; a visit to the Mississippi Delta; an interview with Melvyn Douglas, star of the Broadway hit Inherit the Wind; Scottsdale, Ariz., the West’s most western town; Little Theater, Dallas, Tex.,; theatrical set designer Max Gorelik; Irene Selznick, producer of The Chalk Garden.
Affiliates are encouraged to tape newsworthy programs for this and other segments and send them to New York for editorial decision by the planning board, composed of the executive producer, his assistant, and the editors of the five segments. This attempt to capture the regional flavors of Americana is an important strength of “New Sounds.” Such decentralization of programming sources tends to encourage diversity and resist New York-Hollywood erasures of valuable differences in American subcultures. It is another example of radio’s new realism—substituting the excitement and interest of real life for the prefabricated sugar nannies of earlier radio.
“Your Better Tomorrow” is the third major section of A.B.C.’s “New Sounds for You.” In it, radio is attempting to build audience by serving recognized human needs instead of by creating ersatz satisfactions to fill emotional vacuums. “Your Living Thoughts” has included Dr. Billy Graham, philosophy professor Reinhold Niebuhr from the University of Connecticut, Brooklyn’s oldest minister, anthropologist Margaret Mead, author Sholem Asch, a talk on Chanukah, a summary of race relations, and a moving appeal for the UN by Dr. Ralph Bunche. “Your Marriage and Family” has presented marriage expert Dr. Paul Popenoe discussing budgets, quarrels, working wives, and similar topics; Domestic Relations Judge John W. Hill; an Army chaplain discussing problems of G.I.’s; Walter Hendl with tips on when and how to teach children to play musical instruments. “Your Personality” features Dick Satterfield, an expert on etiquette, grooming, and beauty, and other prominent people giving their views on personality problems. “Your Success” features celebrities who explain the reasons for their good fortune; Dick Satterfield is also a regular contributor for this segment. “Your Home” cultivates the do-it-yourself craze. So far, it has featured a furniture expert; tips on building things from old orange crates; a visit to a door store, where unusual things are made from old doors; household hints; magic with leftovers; and activities like those of the New York City 88th Street tree-planting group.
“Soundmirror” is the fourth half-hour segment in “New Sounds.” “Sounds of Yesterday” presents stories, readings, and voices that make the past come alive. Materials used have included a debate over the struggle between government and business recorded in the thirties between Harold Ickes and General Hugh Johnson; auto-racer Barney Oldfield; singer Florence Foster Jenkins; the first Edison recording; famous sporting events; Elsie Janis, sweetheart of the AEF; vaudeville star Bert Williams; Jonas Salk on the polio victory; F.D. Roosevelt’s prayer for G.I.’s on D-Day, 1944; and the Pearl Harbor announcement interrupting a pro football game. “Sounds of Today,” a ten-minute segment, has featured tapes from Unit 99, Sacramento police; a uranium prospector; a football team in the huddle and on the line; voodoo from Haiti; sounds of workmen building the third tube of the Lincoln Tunnel.
“Sounds of No Importance” is a showcase for aural humor: the sound of manhole covers, hanging up clothes, knocking on doors, eating breakfast, a moth in a gray flannel suit, ash cans, goat talk, an aspirin going to work, a city as night, cracking nuts, and similar esoterica. “Soundmirror” closes with “Soundings,” short editorial-page features. Phone calls and letters from listeners are solicited and featured. The producers are anxious to expand this feedback potential, making the entire series closer to the conscious desires of the audience. It is this consideration of the audience’s actual interests that strikes a freshening note in radio’s new sound. For radio can thereby deepen awareness rather than supply substitutes for it.
“Offbeat” is the fifth and final half hour. It begins with a five-minute comedy sketch “Humor.” “Focus on the Future,” a ten-minute segment, has featured Willy Ley on such topics as satellites, monorails, and rockets; James P. Mitchell on the Guaranteed Annual Wage; an expert on Nostradamus; a report on nuclear energy from Westinghouse laboratories; the future of mobile homes; Duke University’s studies in extrasensory perception; Robert Moses on city planning. “Soloscope,” also ten minutes, completes the program with readings from literature. Ogden Nash reading his verse and Basil Rathbone doing “The Raven” may be taken as examples.
A.B.C.’s format attempts to retain “Monitor’s” excitement and yet appeal to radio’s established listening habits—based on regular features, regularly scheduled. The short “easy listening” segments appeal to a great variety of interests; the producers are attempting to broadcast a radio Reader’s Digest.
It is easy to criticize this show on the same grounds that literary people have criticized its digest-magazine prototype: canned thought or Pablumized ideas is not thought at all. Yet there may be a lack of realism to this kind of cultural snobbery. Factory and office workers and housewives submit to various deadening routines to make possible the advantages of a technological society. Their psychic energies are drained by their jobs. A certain capitulation to their lower standards of self-awareness seems compatible with an expanding culture.
And critics who object to an “entertainment culture” sometimes forget that such random amusements are probably a necessary corollary of the frustrating roles inherent in technological processes. “New Sounds for You” brings the listener into frequent if not exalted contact with reality. If his news is sensationalized, at least he is made aware of the human community. If he is exposed to inconsequential nonsense, he is also exposed to useful and inspiring messages on other parts of the program. “New Sounds” has all the limitations and advantages of the magazine it has set out to emulate.
The next entrant in the battle of the broadcast magazines is N.B.C.’s “Weekday.” Starting early in November, 1955, it has tried to bring “everything that is essential and much of what is interesting to the American woman.” Conceived of as companion and counselor to the American housewife, “Weekday” doles out information, news, service, and entertainment. A staff of thirty backs the host-hostess teams of Margaret Truman and Mike Wallace, and Martha Scott and Walter Kiernan. Although the title “Weekday” has been applied to N.B.C. programming between 10:00 A.M. and 6:00 P.M., Mondays through Fridays, distinctively new material appears only from 10:15 to 11:45 and from 12:00 to 3:00.
Staples include a “Star of the Day” whose records are frequently played and who answers generally intelligent questions about his personal life. Gordon MacRae, Peggy Lee, Vaughan Monroe, Walter Schuman, and Debbie Reynolds were one week’s stars. Food consultant Charlotte Adams gives frequent reports. There are two man-and-wife comedy teams, Ted and Rhoda Brown and Jane and Goodman Ace. “Guests of the Day,” during a typical week, have included Sol Hurok, Jean Pierre Aumont, Dr. James T. Shotwell, dress designer Ceil Chapman, and Gertrude Berg. Guest editors from affiliate stations discuss their specialties. Shirley Thomas conducts a sensitive interview from a Hollywood set each day. “College at Home” presents lectures by university authorities—Dr. Ashley Montagu was the first—on topics like “The Nature of Human Nature,” an anthropological approach to child rearing.
Meredith Willson explains long-haired music, with perhaps more condescension than is necessary in “Music Room.” Two days a week, Margaret Truman discusses opera and other serious music that she personally likes. Each day, there is a short story (Steinbeck and Hawthorne have vied with slick-magazine fiction), a serialized dramatization of a best seller, and dramatic readings—Cornelia Otis Skinner reading from Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea was the first. There are numerous lectures by experts on topics of interest and importance to homemakers.
“Weekday” is the most literate and promising of the broadcast magazines. Look at the people it has brought to the attention of the housewife within its first month of operation: Chester Bowles, Louis Bromfield, Orson Welles, Patrice Munsel, Harry Belafonte, Morris Ernst, Ilka Chase, Frank Lloyd Wright, Robert Anderson, T.H. Robsjohn Gibbings, Bruce Catton, Carl Sandburg, Norman Cousins, Eleanor Roosevelt, Julie Harris, George Balanchine, Benjamin Fine, and Cameron Hawley. This is a mere sampling of the imaginative package that N.B.C. presents daily for the enlightening entertainment of the American woman. This picture window on pertinent reality provided by “Weekday” is one of the most hopeful signs that mass culture is approaching maturity. In a very substantial way, “Weekday” provides a format for mass enlightenment that may be able to make up for many of the weaknesses of formal education in the last thirty years. To fully understand the long-range implications of radio’s new programming, it is helpful to examine its ideological background—the imaginative philosophy of industrial statesmanship of Sylvester L. Weaver, now Chairman of the Board at N.B.C.
A general analysis of radio’s new sound should begin with a consideration of the “magazine” concept as elaborated by Weaver. Clearly, the new forms are audio translations of N.B.C.’s television programs “Today,” “Home,” and “Tonight.” First of all, in a magazine-type broadcast, it is possible to mix levels of taste in the material presented—something for everyone, in the Life tradition of photojournalism. And just as in one issue of that magazine, one may see “horror” photos as well as a brilliant color essay on a phase of American art history, so on “Today” one may hear a literate discussion with drama critic Walter Kerr followed by J. Fred Mugg’s simian antics. On “Home,” Theodore Rousseau of the Metropolitan Museum has given a ten-day course in the great masterpieces to a TV audience assembled by appeals generally less Olympian than art history.
It may be that in the multilevel magazine we have one of the most distinctive instruments of enlightenment in a cultural democracy. The difference between this conscious mixing of degrees of complexity in programming on N.B.C.’s “Home,” “Today,” and “Tonight” and the stratified strategy of the N.B.C.’s “Home” and “Tonight” and the B.B.C.’s “Third Programme” is clear. On the former, less sophisticated people are constantly sampling excellence of a level within upward reach; on the latter, graded audiences are hermetically sealed off from each other. There seems little doubt which system has a greater potential for bringing self-awareness to the masses.
Continuing the magazine analogy, just as one leafs through Life, looking closely at some things, cursorily at others, scarcely at all at still others, so a listener dialed to “Monitor” psychologically tunes out, by degrees, program material not compelling to him. This psychological tuning out probably works in different ways for all segments of the audience. A highbrow might conceivably hear only jazz, hard news, and Bob and Ray. A middlebrow might tune in only movie profiles and Broadway stage interviews. A lowbrow could choose to attend to only the Saturday afternoon football games and Hit Parade tunes. There is flexibility of appeal, therefore, and—important at least to educators—the likelihood of relaxed exposure to cultural patterns of a level higher than those presently accepted.
Because advertisers do not sponsor a whole show but merely “participate” (for large or small amounts, for a long or a short time), editorial control remains with the networks in the magazine programs. When a network operates within an imaginative frame of reference, there is then the possibility of establishing several electronic magazines which appeal to the actual needs and desires of general or special audiences. “Monitor,” for example, is a kind of entertainment magazine, like Cue; “Weekday,” a combination of Ladies Home Journal and a supermarket slick; “Today,” a cross between Time and Life; “Home,” the video archetype for “Weekday” and thus analogous to similar magazines; “Tonight,” an Esquire wired for jazz.
Weaver’s “Wide, Wide World” also partakes of the magazine format, but might also be compared to Steichen’s photo exhibition “Family of Man,” particularly in its paperback form. It mixes levels of taste in a remarkable way: for example, in “American Rhapsody” there were live shots of folk music in North Carolina; of a lonely mine inspector singing; New Orleans stevedores, a jazz night club, and a marching funeral band; popular idol Frank Sinatra from The Sands, Las Vegas; a touching sequence of deaf children learning to sing in Baltimore, Maryland. In this perfectly natural context, there appeared a profile on the National Ballet of Canada, rehearsing their production of the Nutcracker Suite. It would be interesting to know for how many people this sequence was a natural introduction to ballet, enticing them, perhaps, to become one of the 30,000,000 viewers of a full-length television production of Sleeping Beauty by Sadler’s Wells Company, seen shortly thereafter on N.B.C. “Wide, Wide World” is really Walt Whitman with coaxial cables. The program is occasionally overdone; frequently, moving; in rare (and more frequent) moments, superb—just as is Whitman.
Yet the proponents of book culture are seldom impressed by the magazine (printed or broadcast) as an instrument of self-awareness and upward cultural mobility. The number of book stores in a country is still their index of vitality. Ephemeral media are suspect as sources of enlightenment. This aesthetic snobbery helps explain the polarity of opinion about Weaver. Intellectuals and critics generally regard him as a mountebank. They tend to take his pronouncements as seriously as they took his wartime campaign to send Lucky Strike’s green to war.
They find him pretentious, as when novelist John O’Hara twitted Weaver in Collier’s for using the polysyllabic “communicator” to refer to a plain, old radio announcer. His prose style has sustained more jibes than the late John Dewey’s; and it is a rather incomprehensible jargon for a Dartmouth Phi Beta Kappa. As for his Olympian communiqués, critics usually sign and point to the fact that there are still many mediocre programs on his network, and he’s been president for several years, hasn’t he? He is, they insist, the humanist huckster, the Madison Avenue boy with a cerebral ulcer, a fast talker who has joined the Book Find Club.
On the other hand, people who work under him have quite another opinion. They refer fondly to his willingness to go personally to hesitant advertisers to help settle contracts for major cultural programs. They say that since he took over at N.B.C. the mediocre man is at the same disadvantage that a creative person heretofore was. The odds have been reversed. The question of censorship has ascended from a mechanical scrutiny aimed at keeping pressure groups at bay to a calculated willingness to take chances on mature situations—if they are justified aesthetically. It is this changed climate of belief about the possibilities of broadcasting that makes Weaver such an important cultural phenomenon. For a century and a half, American culture has steered gingerly between the Scylla of gentility and the Charybdis of “I know what I like” lowbrowism. Now, an executive says and seems to show that culture and commerce are not incompatible. It is this break through the barrier of American self-consciousness about the “finer things” that makes Weaver’s career of more than individual significance.
Indeed, Weaver’s first principles as they apply to radio, television, and the general society demand scholarly examination and amplification. Is his responsibility report the sort of thing Lyman Bryson asks for when he says that when engineers break stable cultural patterns with technology they have the moral responsibility of reestablishing significant patterns? Do we not witness the effects of avoided responsibility in industrial design, urban planning, and architecture? Is not Weaver implying with his responsibility report that industries must develop a mature consumer—one whose needs are satisfied and considered as on “Weekday” and on “Home”? And does this not lead to the belief that technology must justify itself not by keeping factories moving and studios broadcasting but by fulfilling human potentials and gearing its operations to know needs as Francis Horwich consciously does for children in “Ding Dong School”? We witness, perhaps, in Weaver a coming of age in American industrial leadership, in which our goal becomes a humane rather than a merely healthy economy.
This sociological dimension of radio-TV criticism is important and, unfortunately, almost nonexistent; but it does not exhaust opportunities for the creative critic. On the aesthetic level, many questions arise. Can radio’s new direction—substituting the excitement and interest of reality for the soporific of soap opera and witless chatter—be encouraged by formal educational institutions? How can the book publishers’ councils and library organizations use the dramatized best sellers and dramatic readings on “Weekday” to stimulate mere reading among housewives?
Weaver claims that “light” viewers attracted to a quality spectacular on TV are better buys for advertisers and should count more than “heavy” viewers. Could radio become a haven for such light viewers, attracted because of the continuous appearance of elite material? In this way, radio might actually become a catalyst in network broadcasting, establishing a tension with TV that would take the average programming of both to ever higher levels. Exposure to excellence on radio might swell audiences for TV’s cultural events, as in an interview with Sol Hurok on “Weekday,” the afternoon before he presented Sadler’s Wells on TV.
Perhaps the greatest responsibilities fall on the secondary school where tomorrow’s subscribers to electronic magazines are finishing their formal education. Here a literature criticism of the media is most needed. And one is struck at this point by a major paradox. Gilbert Seldes has argued that the masses are often ahead of the media; here, certainly, the media are ahead of the educators and intellectuals. The program material on “Weekday” and “Home” makes infinitely more sense in the areas covered than many secondary-school curricula. Seriously, what we fail to do in school, these programs are doing brilliantly.
Respect for contemporary art? What school gives students the respect for the complexity of the film form that Shirley Thomas dos in her Hollywood interviews on “Weekday”? Who hears in the public schools of Frank Lloyd Wright or Robert Moses or Harry Belafonte or Henry Dreyfuss? “Weekday” and “Home” show more concern for contemporary creativity than do the schools. What is involved here is a major strategy for the humanities and social sciences in mass education. Marshall McLuhan has urged the creation of the “classroom without walls” that would prepare media patrons to handle modern instruments of communication with sophistication. It seems that the magazine concept in broadcasting has anticipated this responsibility of the school by instituting the “kitchen without walls” or, to use the actual name of a “Weekday” segment, a “College at Home.” Should not the school develop curricula that allow children to scrutinize and discuss systematically the best that is being said and done on the media and in the general culture? A viable criticism of mass communication ought to begin in mass education, the only mass medium relatively free from commercial and deadline pressures.
The colleges have two great opportunities in the educational broadcasting inaugurated by the magazine concept. First, there is the need for creating a sense of professional pride, a tradition of responsibility in broadcasting; such a tradition is our best guarantee of excellence. This is what Weaver is trying to do with terms like “communicator” and his theories of a common man elite. That he should be lampooned for his attempts is pathetic. The new college-level programs in communication arts ought to have as a major responsibility the creation of a tradition of responsibility in commercial broadcasting. In this way, the colleges will continuously send groups of fresh recruits to secure the beachheads of maturity established in commercial broadcasting by the magazine concept and other enlightened programs of mass entertainment.
The second great opportunity is for the scholars themselves. The appearance of people of the stature of Reinhold Niebuhr and Margaret Mead on A.B.C.’s “New Sounds for You” and Ashley Montegu on “Home” and “Weekday” promises an entirely unforeseen context for educational broadcasting. This precedent could be extended to establish the larger showcase for the nation’s most creative lecturers proposed by Max Wylie in Clear Channels. One hopes that our creative people will seek out the new dimensions that the magazine concept brings to mass education.
What, finally, are the opportunities that the magazine concept—broadcasting’s new contact point with reality—provides the professional critic? Will the more spectacular and thus more anecdotal programs monopolize the columns of he critics? Will glamorous TV force her dowdier older sister right out of serious discussion? How carefully will he critics examine the possibilities of TV and radio’s vast new classrooms—the various electronic magazines? There has been a great deal of discussion recently of the adequacy of present criticism of the media. Perhaps a foundation will underwrite a conference at which educators, broadcasters, and critics can discuss the possibilities of critical collaboration in encouraging excellence of the networks.
For the emergence of the magazine concept on both TV and radio is a sign of a new maturity at the networks that could be lost if audiences do not materialize for this kind of programming.* Radio’s new sound particularly affords educators and critics a chance to make up for the mistakes and sins of omission that have characterized the last generation’s approach to commercial broadcasting. If the radio networks languish, it will be a serious loss for American culture. Remarkable new programs like “Biography in Sound” attest to the undiminished creative potential of network producers. Somehow, the energies of mass education, from secondary school through professional courses in graduate training, should rally to salvage the benefits of network radio.
That commercial broadcasters have turned to the best as a last resort is not important; at least, they have partially committed themselves, in desperation it is true, to the real needs of the radio audience. In that, they have given us a basis for cooperation. The future of network radio may well be determined by the kind of criticism educators and journalists provide it in the next few years.
* Since this article was written, A.B.C.’s “New Sounds for You” died in April, 1956, of chronic lack of sponsorship. “Mysterytime” and popular music shows are replacing the series that impressed critics but not advertisers.