Listening to the World: Reconstructing Audience Experiences of International Broadcasting, 1927–39

Friday, January 5, 2018: 2:10 PM
Calvert Room (Omni Shoreham)
Simon J. Potter, University of Bristol
Recent critics of the ‘global turn’ in the writing of History have emphasised the need to move beyond top-down accounts that focus on economic processes of globalisation. Instead, they advocate the creation of a history of globalisation ‘from below’, through social and cultural histories that explain how ordinary people experienced the development of ever-denser webs of transnational interconnection. This paper will demonstrate how historical research into the experience of listening to international broadcasting can contribute to this project. In the 1920s and 1930s, radio offered a new way for ideas, culture and voices to travel across borders. As the price of receiving sets fell, more and more people could tune in to distant stations. Histories of international broadcasting have traditionally been political and institutional in focus, concerned overwhelmingly with production and propaganda, and have thus shed little light upon audiences and the history of listening. This paper draws on evidence from British archives read ‘against the grain’, presenting evidence about audiences and listening that has been ignored by scholars intent on examining the relationship between the BBC and the British state. It also uses fresh evidence from international broadcasting magazines to trace how broadcasters and enthusiasts experienced, portrayed and imagined the phenomenon of distant listening. In so doing, it seeks to contribute to a broader body of historiography concerning transnationalism and internationalism in the interwar years.