Radio changes, big and small

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"ABC television news commentator, Ted Koppel, interviews Brig. GEN. James McCarthy at the Pentagon via a television hook up," 1981. Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration. 

Television also changed the way the world interacted with the news and its leaders—just as its radio predecessor had done decades prior. The first major television news events were the 1952 Democratic and Republican conventions. Walter Cronkite, one of the first television news anchors, covered the conventions for CBS. In future elections, television coverage became a major focus for the party conventions and soon, the race for president itself.

Many, in fact, credit television in part for the election of President John F. Kennedy. During a televised debate with Richard Nixon, Kennedy came across as a much more viable—and photogenic—candidate. In polls following the debate, Americans who watched on TV thought Kennedy won the debate. Those who listened on the radio considered Nixon the winner. But by 1960, television news was king. As President Lyndon B. Johnson said in 1968, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.”

While television carved out a substantial role for itself in politics and entertainment, radio adapted. Where early radio was primarily one-sided, with a host talking to an audience, call in talk-shows emerged in the 1960s allowing listeners to interact with the content. Many of these new talk shows were political in nature, with conservative and liberal bents, appealing to more specialized audiences.  The 1980s also saw the emergence of the “shock jock,” a DJ who pushed the boundaries of accepted speech and content on the radio.

Radio, in its many iterations, from “Top 40,” NPR, Rush Limbaugh, to satellite and Internet based programming, continues to adapt and find new audiences. As NBC’s vice president in charge of radio announced in 1954, “Radio didn’t die. It wasn’t even sick. It just had to be psychoanalyzed . . . .The public didn’t stop loving radio despite TV. It just started liking it in a different way—and radio went to the beach, to the park, the patio and the automobile . . . Radio has become a companion to the individual.”