Global Radio, Local Listening: International Broadcasting and Parochial Identities in Interwar America

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 9:10 AM
Columbia Hall 10 (Washington Hilton)
Michael A. Krysko, Kansas State University
The subject of international broadcasting frequently inspires visions of global cultural exchanges that will transcend national identity. The purpose of this paper will instead be to explore how interwar era radiobroadcasts originating from beyond American borders often reinforced more parochial senses of local, regional, and national identity among the American audiences that heard them. Based on an analysis of listener letters preserved in State Department files and at the FDR Presidential Library, this paper will demonstrate how international communications technologies like radio can help reinforce more parochial notions of identity rather than transcend them. This analysis will be in part informed by the work cultural geographers have done in connecting internalized knowledge of maps to identity formation, and underscore how border crossing broadcasts provoked listeners to call on that knowledge. It will also benefit from the insights offered by the emerging field of "sound studies" in the history of technology and the linguistic research that together explore how listeners will imagine presumed differences based on the nature of the voices and other sounds that are heard over an aural medium like radio. Some listeners reacted against foreign broadcasts by expressing a deep antagonism toward the foreign peoples perceived as responsible for the ethereal violations of US territory. And yet other Americans listeners - often those from more remote rural areas of the country - embraced many of those same foreign programs, and did so in part because of their dissatisfaction with the network-dominated commercial broadcasting that defined the US airwaves by the end of the 1920s. Through an exploration of the full array of reactions, this paper will demonstrate how a border-crossing technology like radio with its invisible yet audible transmissions can ultimately draw more attention to a nation’s territorial borders and one's sense of place that larger nation.