Creating a Mass Audience

Today marks the 99th anniversary of the first radio broadcast heard by a very large number of people:  the Dempsey vs Carpentier boxing match.  (Although a Carpentier was French, he had quite a following in the United States, owing to his distinguished record as a pilot in the First World War.)

Boxing promoter Tex Ricard had the idea that radio broadcasting might be a good way to increase the popularity of prizefighting…there had previously been some broadcasts of fights in local areas with limited audiences, but what was envisaged for this broadcast was a much larger audience over a much wider area.  David Sarnoff of RCA, a strong advocate for the development of a broadcasting industry, was evidently a driving force behind this approach.  A dedicated phone line from ringside to a transmitter in Hoboken was established, and radio amateurs throughout the Middle Atlantic states were encouraged to set up their receivers in bars, auditoriums, etc, for the benefit of those people (most of the population) who did not have their own radio receivers.  The radio audience was estimated at 300,000 people.

The broadcast was not national in scope, owing to the limitations of the AM radio band, but it was a significant milestone in the the delocalization of information.  Very soon, network broadcasting, enabled by long-distance dedicated phone links, would make possible programs with truly national audiences.  The delocalization trend has continued, with television, intercontinental links via satellite and undersea cable, and the Internet, and has been a powerful driver of social, economic, and political changes.


6 thoughts on “Creating a Mass Audience”

  1. The first president to use radio effectively was not Roosevelt but Coolidge.

    Little known facts, like most of Coolidge’s life.

    First, radio changed the climate in which Coolidge worked with the press. Rather than be “silent,” Coolidge recognized an opportunity to become friends with the press as the new medium of the radio began to take hold. Like both Roosevelt presidents, Coolidge demonstrated a willingness to cooperate with reporters to make their jobs easier.

    Coolidge’s use of humor and desire for cooperation with the press gave him an understanding which guaranteed favorable coverage.[i] In fact, during vacations, Coolidge would often invite the press to social gatherings at his summer residence. On one occasion, Coolidge even said “‘I am sure that we all had a very pleasant time up here and look forward to having another pleasant summer next year.’”

    The political left in the 1920s and 30s really slandered him.

  2. Would you agree that in the last 20 years with “delocalization” it has become very segmented with small slices of various audiences?

  3. Bill…yes–segmentation driven to some extent by proliferation in the number of TV channels enabled by cable. Also by decline in public school quality & people who can afford to sending their kids to private school, so less interaction among people of different economic levels.

  4. OTOH, social media…especially Twitter…provides for rapid dissemination of insults and accusations across all segments, and hence enables the formation of cross-segment online mobs.

  5. Twitter might be the most destructive technology innovation since Alfred Nobel mixed nitroglycerin with diatomaceous earth.

  6. You’d think Twitter would be about a popular as Russian roulette given the similarity of the results. On second thought, it may only be because none of the video sharing sites will let a Russian Roulette video stay up. Probably an unexploited market for now.

    Vanity should probably be investigated as another fundamental force of the universe. A bomb built on it would only kill the person that deployed it.

    The rule was: Before saying anything in anger, count to ten. I would add: Before you twit, count from 100, backwards, in Latin.

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