Community Airwaves: Radio, Television, and Identity in Twentieth-Century Latin America

AHA Session 112
Conference on Latin American History 28
Friday, January 3, 2014: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Columbia Hall 2 (Washington Hilton)
Jennifer L. Schaefer, Emory University Ariel Svarch, Emory University
Benjamin Arthur Cowan, George Mason University

Session Abstract

Following its widespread adoption in the late 1920s, radio dominated mass communication for the next half-century. It only relinquished center stage in broadcast entertainment, news, sports and culture as television’s accessibility and reach widened in the 1970s. In Latin America, the overlapping ascendency of these two broadcast technologies corresponded with periods of mass migrations, international conflicts, revolutions and dictatorships. Radio and later television broadcasts both reacted to and shaped the reception of these processes and events. Similarly, the introduction of these technologies in the 1920s and 1950s, respectively, produced national discussions around the nature of modernization. As radio’s accessibility widened during the 1930s and television's during the 1970s, both played a formative role in the formation of local, national, and continental identities. Juxtaposing classical arts and popular music, political news and sports commentary, and comedy skits and educational programing, radio and television also encouraged overlapping combinations of geographic, ethnic, political, socioeconomic, and generational identities.  

Historical scholarship on radio broadcasts and television programing in Latin America tends to reflect the influences of cultural studies and cultural history, particularly their calls for a focus on popular culture, everyday practices, and material consumption. These fields also emphasize “counter-” or “sub-cultures” and their relationship with dominant hegemonic forces, an intervention that the papers included on this panel reflect to varying degrees as they trace ethnic, urban, generational, economic, and political communities through radio and television production, broadcast, and consumption. 

Alongside their specific focus on the cultural, social and political impact of radio and television in twentieth century Latin America, the papers represented on this panel also confront the methodological challenges inherent to analyzing live broadcasts from a historical, archival perspective. These papers draw on theoretical interventions from Media Studies, Performance Studies, and other disciplines that posit the difference between the live event and its recording, define the impact of mediatization, and complicate the relationship between performance and its archival — textual or audio/visual — traces. This panel broadly suggests that the medium through which these cultural, social or political ideas were transmitted, particularly the practical and technological specificities of radio and television, played an important role in the reception and circulation of shared identities.

The papers included on this panel move from Levy’s urban perspective on radio in Sao Paulo, Brazil, to Svarch and Schaefer’s national analyses of radio in  Argentina, to Simón Salazar’s continental approach to broadcast in Latin America. With this geographical range, this panel hopes to not only interest scholars with research interests across the Americas, but also provoke comparative discussions of particular local contexts and analytic lenses. These papers also reach across the twentieth century, charting broadcast from the 1920s to the 1970s and together work to invite broad commentary on the impact of mass broadcast during the twentieth century. 

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