From Publishers Weekly
Before it fell victim to the voracious adolescence of television in the late 1950s and early 1960s, American radio was the country's dominant cultural force. It served as a testing ground for new advertising and marketing models, created huge celebritiesAJack Benny and Fred Allen, for exampleAand installed programs such as Amos 'n' Andy and You Bet Your Life in America's cultural pantheon. There have been several attempts to create a popular history of the medium's Golden Age but none quite as successful as Nachman's book. Organized thematically rather than chronologically, the 24 chapters cover everything from radio's domestic comedies ("Nesting Instincts") and the quiz-show phenomenon ("Minds Over Matter") to the medium's dependence on ethnic types ("No WASPS Need Apply"). A syndicated humor columnist and reporter on the arts, Nachman also presents vivid portraits of radio's major figures and a few of its fascinating minor ones, including maverick comic Henry Morgan and horror maven Arch Obler, the Rod Serling of his day. Nachman doesn't shy away from such issues as racism and sexism; throughout he stresses the overarching theme that radio has served as a national conscience and a socioeconomic mirror. He takes such delight in chronicling the medium's rise and fall that even readers raised away from radio will understand why a whole generation projected their imaginations onto this vast sonic canvas. Photos.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
A sharp, nostalgic homage to the golden era of radio, told as both a memoir and a social history. Nachman, a columnist for the New York Times syndicate, attempts to explain just how radio came to define American pop culture from the 1920s to the '40s by examining the personalities, genres, and behind-the-scenes politics of network radio productions. As the earliest tycoons (like George Washington Hill of the American Tobacco Company and barn broadcaster Dr. Frank Conrad) contributed to radios availability and mass-market appeal, a boom began that drew talent of varying degrees and generated a patriotic hype not unlike that which surrounds todays information superhighway: radio was to be the American medium that would bring culture and democracy around the globe. Instead, it introduced advertising to the country and created the formatssoap operas, news, sports, variety, sitcom, and dramathat remain in popular entertainment to this day. Nachman recalls the 30 remarkable years of radios reign by remembering the programsinspired first by vaudeville, then by Broadwaythat he enjoyed as a child: from the sassy satirist Fred Allen (the David Letterman of radio) to the fluffy but arousing teen-girl dramas like Junior Miss. Mirroring the countrys domestic politics, radio programs of that era attempted to sweeten immigrant stereotypes and launch antiracist images of blacks (in what Nachman calls a rather thin rainbow coalition): the Italian immigrant comedy Life with Luigi, the blue-collar characters in The Life of Riley, and the Jewish family in The Goldbergs all told the immigrant story with bursts of ethnic humor and staunch American patriotism. Beulah, a show about a black maid, tried to honor black culture (while using white actorsa practice that happily died out early on). Still lovable despite its flaws, network radio through Nachmans eyes is a treat. A humorous account of a radiophiles memory and longing for the return of the lost era. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.