Skip to main content Accesibility Help

The Savior of the Nation? Regulating Radio in the Interwar Period

  • Heidi J. S. Tworek (a1)
Hide All


1. Baron John Charles Walsham Reith, Broadcast over Britain (London, 1924), 217.

2. Judith Cary Waller, Radio: The Fifth Estate (Boston, 1946), 8.

3. Roth-Ey, Kristin, Moscow Prime Time: How the Soviet Union Built the Media Empire That Lost the Cultural Cold War (Ithaca, 2011), 135–39. Maoist China too sought to make radio a communal experience, including sponsoring “broadcast assemblies” in the Great Leap Forward. Liu, Alan, Radio Broadcasting in Communist China (Cambridge, Mass., 1964), 51. Thanks to Anne O’Donnell and Liat Spiro for their help with the Soviet and Chinese cases, respectively.

4. Tworek, Heidi J. S., “Peace through Truth? The Press and Moral Disarmament through the League of Nations,” Medien & Zeit 25, no. 4 (2010): 19. For theoretical reflections, see Cohen, Deborah and O’Connor, Maura, eds., Comparison and History: Europe in Cross-National Perspective (New York, 2004). For a practical illustration of a diachronic three-country comparison, see Maier, Charles S., Recasting Bourgeois Europe: Stabilization in France, Germany, and Italy in the Decade after World War I (Princeton, 1988). On the importance of transnational media research in radio, see Hilmes, Michele, “Radio-Nationen: Die Bedeutung transnationaler Medienforschung,” in Radio Welten: Politische, soziale und kulturelle Aspekte atlantischer Mediengeschichte vor und während des Zweiten Weltkriegs, ed. Hampf, M. Michaela and Lehmkuhl, Ursula (Münster, 2006), 8493.

5. Stamm, Michael, “Broadcast Journalism in the Interwar Period,” in Making News: Historical Perspectives on the Political Economy of the Press in Great Britain and the United States since 1688, ed. John, Richard R. and Silberstein-Loeb, Jonathan (Oxford, forthcoming 2015); Hilmes, Michele, Network Nations: A Transnational History of British and American Broadcasting (New York, 2012); Hagen, Wolfgang, Das Radio: Zur Geschichte und Theorie des Hörfunks–Deutschland/USA (Munich, 2005); Lacey, Kate, Listening Publics: The Politics and Experience of Listening in the Media Age (Cambridge, 2013); Marssolek, Inge, “Radio Days: Did Radio Change Social Life in Germany and the United States?” in Atlantic Communications: The Media in American and German History from the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Century, ed. Finzsch, Norbert and Lehmkuhl, Ursula (Oxford, 2004), 247–70. Pascal Griset has compared the interwar British, French, and German radio industries. Griset, Pascal, “Innovation and Radio Industry in Europe during the Interwar Period,” in Innovations in the European Economy between the Wars, ed. Caron, François, Erker, Paul, and Fischer, Wolfram (Berlin, 1995), 3763.

6. Peterson, Theodore, Schramm, Wilbur, and Siebert, Fred S., Four Theories of the Press: The Authoritarian, Libertarian, Social Responsibility, and Soviet Communist Concepts of What the Press Should Be and Do (Freeport, N.Y., 1973); Nerone, John C., ed., Last Rights: Revisiting Four Theories of the Press (Urbana, 1995). For another classic example and a recent reassessment, see Hallin, Daniel C. and Mancini, Paolo, Comparing Media Systems: Three Models of Media and Politics, Communication, Society, and Politics (Cambridge, 2004); Brüggemann, Michaelet al., “Hallin and Mancini Revisited: Four Empirical Types of Western Media Systems,” Journal of Communication 64, no. 6 (2014): 1037–65.

7. On the concept of institutional arrangements, see Davis, Lance E. and North, Douglass C., Institutional Change and American Economic Growth (New York, 1971); North, Douglass C., Joseph Wallis, John, and Weingast, Barry R., Violence and Social Orders: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History (New York, 2009).

8. Hong, Sungook, Wireless: From Marconi’s Black-Box to the Audion (Cambridge, Mass., 2001).

9. Marconi, cited in Bredow, Hans, Aus meinem Archiv: Probleme des Rundfunks (Heidelberg, 1950), 18.

10. Tworek, Heidi J. S., “Wireless Telegraphy,” 1914–1918 Online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War, 8 October 2014, http://encyclopedia.1914–1918,

11. On American construction of spectrum scarcity, see Stamm, Michael, “The Space for News,” Media History 21, no. 1 (2015): 5573. On how the Portuguese government created artificial scarcity of radio frequencies for its own political advantage in the 1930s and 1940s, see Ribeiro, Nelson, “Censorship and Scarcity: Controlling New and Old Media in Portugal, 1936–1945,” Media History 21, no. 1 (2015): 7488.

12. Schwoch, James, “The American Radio Industry and International Communications Conferences, 1919–1927,” Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 7, no. 3 (1987): 289309; Gorman, Daniel, “Freedom of the Ether or the Electromagnetic Commons? Globality, the Public Interest, and Multilateral Radio Negotiations in the 1920s,” in Empires and Autonomy: Moments in the History of Globalization, ed. Streeter, Stephen, Weaver, John, and Coleman, William (Vancouver, 2009), 138–56.

13. Douglas, Inventing American Broadcasting, 1899–1922, 290. See also John, Richard R., Network Nation: Inventing American Telecommunications (Cambridge, Mass., 2010), chap. 7.

14. Richard Slotten, Hugh, Radio and Television Regulation: Broadcast Technology in the United States, 1920–1960 (Baltimore, 2000), ix. On corporate liberalism in broadcasting, see Streeter, Thomas, Selling the Air: A Critique of the Policy of Commercial Broadcasting in the United States (Chicago, 1996). For the classic work on American corporate liberalism, see Sklar, Martin, The Corporate Reconstruction of American Capitalism, 1890–1916: The Market, the Law, and Politics (New York, 1988).

15. Sykes Committee, Broadcasting Committee Report, 1951 (London, 1923), 15. For more, see Scannell, Paddy, “Public Service Broadcasting: The History of a Concept,” in Understanding Television, ed. Goodwin, Andrew and Whannel, Garry (London, 1990), 1129.

16. Sykes Broadcasting Committee, Report, 6.

17. Johns, Adrian, Death of a Pirate: British Radio and the Making of the Information Age (New York, 2010), 31.

18. On patents, see Arapostathis, Stathis and Gooday, Graeme, Patently Contestable: Electrical Technologies and Inventor Identities on Trial in Britain (Cambridge, Mass., 2013), chap. 6.

19. In 1921, the Postal Ministry received a subsidy of 1,244,194 Marks. Bundesarchiv Berlin (henceforth BArch) R3301/2098, 101.

20. Lacey, Kate, Feminine Frequencies: Gender, German Radio, and the Public Sphere, 1923–1945 (Ann Arbor, 1996), 31. On regional broadcasting companies, see Dussel, Konrad, Hörfunk in Deutschland: Politik, Programm, Publikum (1923–1960) (Potsdam, 2002), 49; Christian Führer, Karl, Wirtschaftsgeschichte des Rundfunks in der Weimarer Republik (Potsdam, 1997), 17ff.; Lerg, Winfried B., Die Entstehung des Rundfunks in Deutschland: Herkunft und Entwicklung eines publizistischen Mittels (Frankfurt am Main, 1965), 245ff.

21. Führer, Wirtschaftsgeschichte des Rundfunks, 19. On RRG, see Lerg, Winfried B., Rundfunkpolitik in der Weimarer Republik (Munich, 1980), 194ff.

22. Dussel, Konrad, Deutsche Rundfunkgeschichte: Eine Einführung (Konstanz, 1999), 75ff.; Lerg, Rundfunkpolitik in der Weimarer Republik, chap. 7; Ross, Corey, Media and the Making of Modern Germany: Mass Communications, Society, and Politics from the Empire to the Third Reich (Oxford, 2008), 279ff.

23. Douglas, Inventing American Broadcasting, 317.

24. On the distinction between audience and public, see Lacey, Kate, “The Invention of a Listening Public: Radio and Its Audiences,” in Mass Media, Culture, and Society in Twentieth-Century Germany, ed. Christian Führer, Karl and Ross, Corey (Basingstoke, UK, 2006), 6179.

25. Marszolek, “Radio Days,” in Finzsch and Lehmkuhl, Atlantic Communications, 247–70.

26. Douglas, Inventing American Broadcasting, 305.

27. “The Joint Resolution to Amend the Radio Act of 1927,” cited in Robert Fortner, Radio, Morality, and Culture: Britain, Canada, and the United States, 1919–1945 (Carbondale, 2005), 97.

28. Moss, David and Fein, Michael, “Radio Regulation Revisited: Coase, the FCC, and the Public Interest,” Journal of Policy History 15, no. 4 (2003): 389416; Stamm, Michael, Sound Business: Newspapers, Radio, and the Politics of New Media (Philadelphia, 2011), 4554.

29. Caldwell, Edward C., “Censorship of Radio Programs,” Journal of Radio Law 1, no. 3 (1931): 473. See Richard Slotten, Hugh, Radio’s Hidden Voice: The Origins of Public Broadcasting in the United States (Urbana, 2009), 120f.

30. Briggs, Asa, The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom: The Birth of Broadcasting, vol. 1 (London, 1961), 131.

31. Gehlen, Boris and Schulz, Günther, “National Regulatory Traditions? Introductory Remarks,” in Regulation between Legal Norms and Economic Reality: Intentions, Effects, and Adaptation: The German and American Experiences, ed. Schulz, Günther, Schomeckel, Mathias, and Hausman, William J. (Tübingen, 2014), 3.

32. Bredow, Hans, Im Banne der Ätherwellen. Festschrift zum 75. Geburtstag des Verfassers am 26. November 1954, vol. 2 (1954; Stuttgart, 1960), 166.

33. Hilmes, Network Nations, 2.

34. For a discussion of this idea in the American context, see Craig, Douglas, Fireside Politics: Radio and Political Culture in the United States, 1920–1940 (Baltimore, 2000), chap. 11. For an English translation of Tönnies, see Tönnies, Ferdinand, Community and Civil Society, ed. Harris, Jose, trans. Margaret Hollis (Cambridge, 2001). On transatlantic exchanges of social thought, see Rodgers, Daniel T., Atlantic Crossings: Social Thought in a Progressive Age (Cambridge, Mass., 1998).

35. Lacey, Feminine Frequencies, 34.

36. Ernst Heilmann, cited in Lerg, Rundfunkpolitik in der Weimarer Republik, 84.

37. The political theorist Carl Schmitt took this view. Though Schmitt thought that the political was unavoidable, he believed that the state should put cinema to the service of creating order or even homogeneity. See Schmitt, Carl, Verfassungslehre (Berlin, 1954), 168.

38. Dussel, Hörfunk in Deutschland, 43.

39. Stamm, Sound Business, 15; Robertson, James C., The British Board of Film Censors: Film Censorhip in Britain, 1896–1950 (London, 1985).

40. Craig, Fireside Politics, 206. See also Goodman, David, Radio’s Civic Ambition: American Broadcasting and Democracy in the 1930s (New York, 2011). On fears of the crowd sparked by the nineteenth-century popular press, see Sumpter, Caroline, “The Cheap Press and the ‘Reading Crowd,’” Media History 12, no. 3 (2006): 233–52.

41. McChesney, Robert W., Telecommunications, Mass Media, and Democracy: The Battle for the Control of U.S. Broadcasting, 1928–1935 (New York, 1993), chap. 4.

42. Lacey, Feminine Frequencies, 35.

43. For an example of disparaging amateurs, see Thurn, H., “Erste grundlegnde organisatorische Maßnahmen (1924),” in Bredow, Aus meinem Archiv, 26.

44. Avery, Todd, Radio Modernism: Literature, Ethics, and the BBC, 1922–1938 (Aldershot, UK, 2006), 16.

45. Reith, Broadcast over Britain, 17.

46. Lacey, Feminine Frequencies, chap. 9. In the 1930s, the male archetype of the newsman emerged in the United States.

47. Hans Bredow, cited in Heinz Pohle, Der Rundfunk als Instrument der Politik (Hamburg, 1955), 60. On collective listening practices in Britain and Germany, see Lacey, Listening Publics, chap. 7.

48. Hans Bredow, “Dem ‘Deutschen Rundfunk’ zum Geleit” (1923), in Bredow, Aus meinem Archiv, 15.

49. Dussel, Hörfunk in Deutschland, 137–75. On pioneers of radio plays and radio content, such as Hans Flesch’s “Enchanted Radio,” see Hagen, Das Radio, 89–112.

50. Bredow remained a staunch opponent of extremist politics, resigning his post the day after Hitler became chancellor. After World War II, Bredow became a key figure in radio, serving as head of the administrative council of Hessian radio from 1949 to 1951.

51. Adelheid Saldern, “Rundfunkpolitik, Nationalidee und Volkskultur (1926–1932),” in Marssolek and Saldern, Radiozeiten, 59–82.

52. Führer, Christian, “Auf dem Weg zur Massenkultur? Kino und Rundfunk in der Weimarer Republik,” Historische Zeitschrift 262 (1996): 776.

53. Lord Riddell, Sykes Broadcasting Committee, 29 May 1923, cited in Briggs, The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom, vol. 1, 157.

54. Reith, Broadcast over Britain, 217.

55. Calculated from table in Briggs, Asa, The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom: The Golden Age of Wireless, vol. 2 (London, 1965), 35.

56. Coyle, Michael, “Radio,” in TS Eliot in Context, ed. Harding, Jason (Cambridge, 2011), 146.

57. Cited in Avery, Radio Modernism, 17.

58. Herbert Hoover, “Opening Address to National Radio Conference, February 27, 1922,” cited in Stamm, Sound Business, 46.

59. Herbert Hoover, “Address to National Radio Conference in 1924,” cited in Craig, Fireside Politics, 46.

60. Lenthall, Bruce, “Critical Reception: Public Intellectuals Decry Depression-Era Radio, Mass Culture, and Modern America,” in Radio Reader: Essays in the Cultural History of Radio, ed. Hilmes, Michele and Loviglio, Jason (New York, 2002), 4162.

61. Aitken, Hugh, The Continuous Wave: Technology and American Radio, 1900–1932 (Princeton, 1985), 9495.

62. Slotten, Radio’s Hidden Voice.

63. Stamm, “Broadcasting Journalism.” Stamm also has the most up-to-date work on Anglo-American broadcast news in the interwar period.

64. Leatherwood, Dowling, Journalism on the Air: An Abridged Textbook for a Course in Radio Journalism, with Laboratory and Microphone Exercises (Minneapolis, 1939), 87.

65. On the press-radio wars of the 1930s, see McChesney, Telecommunications, Mass Media, and Democracy; Stamm, Sound Business.

66. Douglas, Susan J., Listening In: Radio and the American Imagination, from Amos ‘n’ Andy and Edward R. Murrow to Wolfman Jack and Howard Stern (New York, 1999), 164.

67. BArch R3301/2098, 20 December 1923, 67.

68. Lacey, Feminine Frequencies, 34.

69. BArch R1501/114232, March 1925, 49.

70. BArch R1501/114231, March 1926, 88.

71. Greiner, Klaus, “‘Mit dem Gongschlag ist es ...’: Die Nachrichten im Hörfunk,” in Margot Hamm, Bettina Hasselbring, and Michael Henker, Der Ton, das Bild. Die Bayern und ihr Rundfunk 1924–1949–1999: Begleitbuch zur Ausstellung des Hauses der Bayerischen Geschichte und des Bayerischen Rundfunks (Augsburg, 1999), 123–30.

72. Sarkowicz, Hans, “Das Radio im Dienst der nationalsozialistischen Propaganda,” in Medien im Nationalsozialismus, ed. Heidenreich, Bernd and Neitzel, Sönke (Paderborn, 2010), 209.

73. RM POST 33/704, 3 October 1922, pt. 2.

74. Hamilton Fyfe, editor of Daily Herald, Royal Mail Archives (henceforth RM) POST 89/27, Crawford Broadcasting Committee, 3 February 1926, 1, para. 3.

75. Briggs, The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom, vol. 2, 35.

76. Bromley, Michael and O’Malley, Tom, eds., A Journalism Reader (London, 1997), 325.

77. Sykes Broadcasting Commission, 5 June 1923, RM POST 89/20, 1977. For the same stance at the 1935 Ullswater Commission, see British National Archives (henceforth BNA) CAB 24/259, sec. 81. On news-gathering arrangements, see Stamm, “Broadcast Journalism.”

78. BNA CAB 24/259, Ullswater Commission Report, 1935, para. 81.

79. Report of interview between Turner, Moloney, Murray, and the BBC, 18 July 1939, BBC Written Archives Centre, London, R28/162/1.

80. Scannell, Paddy and Cardiff, David, A Social History of British Broadcasting (Oxford, 1991), 136.

81. Lommers, Suzanne, Europe on Air: Interwar Projects for Radio Broadcasting (Amsterdam, 2012). On private, commercial European stations like Radio Normandy and Radio Luxembourg, see Spohrer, Jennifer, “Ruling the Airwaves: Radio Luxembourg and the Origins of European National Broadcasting, 1929–1950” (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 2008).

82. RCA and Marconi had started experimenting on shortwave transatlantic broadcasts in 1927. On transatlantic shortwave, see Vaillant, Derek W., “At the Speed of Sound: Techno-Aesthetic Paradigms in U.S.-French International Broadcasting, 1925–1942,” Technology and Culture 54, no. 4 (2013): 888921.

83. Horn, C. W., “International Broadcasting,” in Radio and Its Future, ed. Codel, Martin (London, 1930), 88. On similar beliefs in the power of engineering to promote peace, see Meer, Elisabeth van, “The Transatlantic Pursuit of a World Engineering Federation: For the Profession, the Nation, and International Peace, 1918–48,” Technology and Culture 53, no. 1 (2012): 120–45.

84. James Potter, Simon, Broadcasting Empire: The BBC and the British World, 1922–1970 (Oxford, 2012), 14. See also Anduaga, Aitor, Wireless and Empire: Geopolitics, Radio Industry, and Ionosphere in the British Empire, 1918–1939 (Oxford, 2009).

85. Burmester, Eberhard, 30 Jahre Deutsche Welle (Munich, 1983), 716; Schwipps, Werner and Goebel, Gerhart, Wortschlacht im Äther: Der deutsche Auslandsrundfunk im Zweiten Weltkrieg: Geschichte des Kurzwellenrundfunks in Deutschland, 1939–1945 (Berlin, 1971).

86. Nelson, Michael, War of the Black Heavens: The Battles of Western Broadcasting in the Cold War (Syracuse, 1997); Siefert, Martha, “Radio Diplomacy and the Cold War,” Journal of Communications 53, no. 2 (2003): 363–73. On jamming practices and foreign broadcasting in the Soviet Union, see Roth-Ey, Moscow Prime Time, chap. 3.

87. Anderson, Benedict,Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, rev. ed. (London, 1991), 54 n. 28.

88. Lenk, Carsten, Die Erscheinung des Rundfunks: Einführung und Nutzung eines neuen Mediums, 1923–1932 (Opladen, 1997), 253.

89. On interwar German visions of the future, see Graf, Rüdiger, Die Zukunft der Weimarer Republik: Krisen und Zukunftsaneignungen in Deutschland, 1918–1933 (Munich, 2008).

90. Lacey, Feminine Frequencies, 25.

I am very grateful to Michael Stamm, Simone M. Müller, James McSpadden, and the participants in the Center for History and Economics workshop at Harvard University for their invaluable and insightful comments and suggestions.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Policy History
  • ISSN: 0898-0306
  • EISSN: 1528-4190
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-policy-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed