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Something in the Air: Radio, Rock, and the Revolution That Shaped a Generation Hardcover – January 9, 2007

4.5 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (January 9, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375509070
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375509070
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.4 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #814,881 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on January 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover
There was a Golden Age of radio, with Gothic-design cabinets pumping out live music and radio drama. Radio had branched out from crystal sets used by hobbyists into a mass medium like no other seen before, and in America it was the first source of a national pop culture. The Golden Age passed as television took over. Television was predicted to be the death of radio, as have subsequent technologies, but radio has continued to be resilient. In _Something in the Air: Radio, Rock, and the Revolution that Shaped a Generation_, Marc Fisher, a newspaper writer who has a weekly column on radio, covers how radio brought forth rock-and-roll, Top Forty playlists, disk jockeys, midnight raconteurs, FM, national talk and phone-in shows, National Public Radio, and shock jocks. Radio never died, and is not dead, but much of Fisher's book reads like a eulogy; his beloved era of listening to his transistor radio illicitly under the pillow is long gone. The story of the influence of past days, and the way radio was repeatedly reshaped in the classical effort to balance artistry and budgets, makes a framework for many funny and poignant anecdotes. This is an excellent history of a small part of modern times, a part that was enormously influential in making current American society.

The story starts with someone you have probably never heard of, Todd Storz, who realized that radio stations had the best ratings when favorite tunes were played over and over. So from his Omaha station he dropped the homemaker show, the soap operas, the Bible show, and the rest, and started introducing the songs played on _Your Hit Parade_, the weekly show that was supposed to be based on the most popular songs in the nation.
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Format: Hardcover
Oh how I miss the radio I grew up with! Like most people these days I have become extremely disenchanted with most of commercial radio. I lament the fact that the consolidation of broadcast media has left many towns with almost no local radio programming at all. I wonder how this sad state of affairs came to be. "Something In The Air" traces the evolution of this venerable medium from its inception in the early 1920's until today. Marc Fisher does an outstanding job of guiding his readers through all of the twists and turns that radio has taken over the past 75 years. He not only documents what happened but he also does a fine job of explaining the reasons why all of these changes took place.

In the early days of radio, networks dominated the airwaves. In most cities, there were only a few hours each day devoted to local programming. Most of the rest of the broadcast day was filled by an assortment of programming from NBC and CBS. Over the next three decades listeners were treated to a wide variety of network programming including musical shows, variety shows, news and sports broadcasts, soap operas and situation comedies. Particular radio programs became appointment listening. For most folks in this country radio was largely a shared experience.
All of this began to change in he early 1950's when the new medium of television began to gain a mass audience. Most radio performers could see the handwriting on the wall and quickly jumped over to television.

Suddenly there was a huge void of programming on the radio dial. Enter one Todd Stortz of Omaha, NE who had a new vision for radio. Indeed it was Todd Stortz who came up with the concept of Top 40 radio. I was fascinated by Marc Fisher's account of how this format was conceived and promoted by Stortz.
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Format: Hardcover
Ever get a book so good you read it all in one sitting? This book is that good, and not just for radio fans like myself (I have been a college station DJ for 26 years and am active on radio messageboards on the Net). When TV came along many thought it was death knell for radio, but the wireless adapted into pop/rock radio, talk stations, and various other formats. Radio was everywhere--when we woke up and had breakfast, during our commutes and at work, and during leisure time, providing us with music and information.

Fisher's book covers everyone from Cousin Brucie Morrow to Lee Abrams

and Tom Donuhue; talk hosts like Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, and Tom

Leykis; the storyteller Jean "A Christmas Story" Shepherd; Bob Fass of

WBAI and his pals Abbie and Arlo ("Alice's Restaurant" developed on

Fass's show) and it comes into the present where terrestrial radio

gets competition from the likes of mp3 players and satellite radio,

and revised ownership rules have resulted in job cutbacks/consolidation

and a more homogenized, less local product.

From the transistor radio you listened to under the pillow of your

bed to streamcasts on the Net, Fisher covers it all, and extremely

well. Excelsior!
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Format: Hardcover
I haven't listened to the radio since the Telecommunications Act destroyed radio as we knew it. My favorite stations quickly appealed to the lowest common denominator and I had to search elsewhere to keep up with music. Fisher's book shows the fascinating history of a medium that once was central in our lives (to anyone of a certain age). It's hard to imagine how revolutionary it was to have a station playing the same songs more than ONCE a day!!! Who knew that Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop" was the perfect 70's song, according to focus groups? Now I know why the local oldies stations plays the same Motown songs over and over. I remember as a kid listening to Casey Kasem's Top 40 and writing down the song titles to see how far my favorites would go up the charts. Now, radio is just one choice among many for young people, but for those of us who remember, radio was once the center of our lives. Reading "Something in the Air" is like taking a trip back in time down the radio dial.
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