From Publishers Weekly
There's not a bit of dead air in this well-written and researched history of radio and its pivotal role in the emergence of American youth culture. Washington Post columnist Fisher (After the Wall: Germany, the Germans and the Burdens of History) traces the evolution of radio from the 1950s, when the spread and popularity of television made it almost extinct, to its rise to become "the sound track of American life" and "the mere act of listening made you feel like a part of a secret society." Built around narratives compiled from nearly 100 interviews, Fisher knits together a compelling story detailing how radio helped penetrate race barriers, created a "shared pop culture" and was the "birthing room of the counterculture." Fisher shows readers how the personalities of radio shaped our popular culture, from visionaries like marketing genius Todd Storz to radio artists Cousin Brucie of New York and Jean Shepherd, who was a precursor to Garrison Keillor and Ira Glass. He follows radio's decline from a medium driven by freedom and passion to one comprising wastelands of unmanned stations, prefab formats and narrow niche markets. Fisher does more than take a nostalgic look backward at what we've lost. (Jan.)
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On a path paved with deejay profiles and pithy anecdotes, Fisher tracks how rock programming in the 1950s saved radio from oblivion as TV became America's entertainment medium of choice. Obvious profile choices, such as Alan Freed, have their stories retold, and obscurer figures, such as Todd Storz, who developed the Top 40 concept, are given their due. Wolfman Jack is limned, of course, and so is Hunter Hancock, an important figure, along with Freed, in bringing African American music to the mainstream. Eventually, such rock programming led to a comprehensive change in what Americans expected to hear on the radio, with music or not, and irreverent wordsmiths like Jean Shepard paved the way for the likes of Howard Stern today. Fisher covers a lot of ground in a lengthy study, and the sheer enjoyment felt by the people he writes about helps carry the story along. This is rock and entertainment-world history that explains the changing bottom line in the economics of delivering entertainment to the masses. Mike Tribby
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