Points on the Dial

Golden Age Radio beyond the Networks

Points on the Dial

Book Pages: 292 Illustrations: 11 illustrations Published: February 2010

Author: Alexander Russo

American Studies, Cultural Studies, Media Studies

The golden age of radio is often recalled as a time when the medium unified the nation, when families gathered around the radios in homes across the country to listen to live, commercially sponsored network broadcasts. In Points on the Dial, Alexander Russo revises our understanding of radio’s past by revealing the hidden histories of production, distribution, and reception practices during this era, which extended from the 1920s into the 1950s. Russo brings to light a tiered broadcasting system with intermingling but distinct national, regional, and local programming forms, sponsorship patterns, and methods of program distribution. Examining a wide range of practices, including regional networking, sound-on-disc transcription, the use of station representatives, spot advertising, and programming aimed at homes with several radios, he not only recasts our understanding of the relationship between national networks and local stations but also charts the development of new ways of listening—often distractedly rather than attentively—that set the stage for radio in the second half of the twentieth century.


Points on the Dial is a significant book that should be read by those interested in the relationship between technology and culture, radio history, and the wider history of broadcasting.” — Kathleen Battles, Technology and Culture

Points on the Dial combines multiple conceptual approaches and will appeal to those interested in broadcasting’s social, cultural, and business history. . . . For scholars seeking to understand the complexity of the first decades of American radio broadcasting, this book is essential reading.” — Michael Stamm, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television

“[An] important book. . . . Recommended. Advanced upper-division undergraduates, graduate students, researchers, faculty.” — R. W. Morrow, Choice

“Alexander Russo’s contribution to the existing historical scholarship on American radio will be appreciated by specialists interested in the production, reception, and distribution of ‘golden age’ radio, as well as by scholars with a more general interest in American media history. Points on the Dial reminds us that moments of media history that have been exhaustively explored by scholars can still yield new and important insights, provided we shift our attention away from these moments’ dominant forces and tendencies and toward their exceptions and undercurrents.” — Amanda R. Keelér,, Popular Communication

“Business historians will find Russo's analysis useful in its discussion of the interplay between marketing strategies and technological advances in the formation and segmentation of radio audiences. . . . Russo contributes significantly to our understanding of the growing technological complexity and commercial sophistication involved in radio audience formation and identification during the 1930s and 1940s.” — Douglas B. Craig, Business History Review

“In Points on the Dial, Alexander Russo significantly revises and enriches our
understanding of radio history during the medium’s peak pre-television years of 1926-1951. . . . For teachers and scholars of broadcasting, Points
on the Dial
is essential reading.” — Allison McCracken, American Studies

Points on the Dial . . . has much to contribute to our understanding of radio—not only in the past but also in the present.” — Brian Fauteux, Enterprise & Society

“Russo provides a comprehensive history of Radio’s Golden Age. His well-documented exploration is particularly enhanced by the case studies of radio pioneers and pioneering technology. Most of all, he provides answers to lingering questions about niche audiences, programming availability in hard-to-reach areas, and the survival of early broadcast programming. . . .Russo’s work enhances our understanding of the development of American mass media, particularly as it pertains to programming and advertising, and makes a valuable contribution to the field of broadcast history.” — Trevy A. McDonald, Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly

“The presence of studies emphasizing network radio reflects the reach of those networks and the sense that national broadcasting represented something new in the United States, not that alternatives were lacking. The originality and strength of Russo’s study lies in providing real insights into how those alternatives worked, not in arguing for the existence of a hybrid system.” — Bruce Lenthall, American Historical Review

Points on the Dial: Golden Age Radio beyond the Networks is not only interesting but also informative. If Russo's read on radio is right, history may help inform the nature of radio as it proceeds into a digital era where geographies of consumption and listening are drastically altered by the technologies of production and distribution.” — John F. Barber, Leonardo Reviews

“Russo . . . challenges some of the assumptions embedded within the standard narrative of radio’s evolution in this well-researched and persuasively argued book. . . . [A]nyone interested in media history, current changes in the media industries, or the growth of American consumer culture will no doubt find something of value in this work.” — Noah Arceneaux J-History, H-Net Reviews

“The book’s forty-eight pages of notes contain gems as interesting as the main text, and the fourteen-page bibliography offers the reader the opportunity to explore in detail particular aspects of the history. Thus, Points on the Dial delivers a fresh perspective on the network era of radio broadcasting.” — Don Bishop, Journalism History

Points on the Dial is an important book, smart and forcefully argued. Alexander Russo makes a fresh and distinctive contribution to radio studies and to media history and analysis by challenging the network-centered history of radio and bringing the role of regional radio to the fore. His discussion of regional programming gambits is new and fascinating, as is his account of the rise of spot advertising.” — Susan J. Douglas, author of Listening In: Radio and the American Imagination

“Offering fascinating arguments based on a wealth of excellent research, Alexander Russo fills in the history of radio broadcasting in the United States. He reveals the diversity of practices obscured until now by scholars’ focus on the national networks.” — Michele Hilmes, author of Radio Voices: American Broadcasting, 1922–1952


Availability: In stock
Price: $26.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Alexander Russo is Assistant Professor of Media Studies at The Catholic University of America.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: Narratives of Radio's Geographies 1

1. The Value of a Name: Defining and Redefining National Network Radio 17

2. "The Lord is my Shepard, I shall not want": Regional Networks as Sites of Community and Conflict 47

3. Brought to You via Electrical Transcription: Sound-in-Disc Recording and the Perceptual Aesthetics of Radio Distribution Technologies 77

4. On the Spot: The Spatial and Temporal Flow of Spot Broadcasting 115

5. People with Money and Go: Locating Attention in the Human Geography of Radio Reception 151

Conclusion: Open-End Game: The Legacy of Spots, Representatives, and Transcriptions 184

Notes 191

Bibliography 241

Index 257
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4532-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4517-6
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