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The Rise of the Radio

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Through the establishment of the radio in the 1920s, it appeared that radio had not yet revolutionized American politics as enthusiasts hoped it would; but rather, the radio, amplified the personal nature of electoral politics through establishing a connection between the candidates and the public. The radio captivated both style and substance into politics. Through political broadcasting, the public became more informed and were given the chance to engage. With such a wider audience being reached through the use of the radio, commentators were overwhelmingly optimistic about the radio revolutionizing politics.

The increased popularity of radio in American households made radio an essential tool for Presidential candidates to reach out to the public. The radio had the power to inform citizens while creating consensus among them, across geographic expanse, ethnic and cultural diversity, and partisan division. Many politicians, political commentators, as well as social analysts agreed that radio was the main connecting tool between the public and significant national events, such as State of Union addresses, congressional debates, and inaugurations. Examinations of broadcasters’ policies and practices on political programming and advertising reveals much about the ways in which stations and networks viewed their role in political culture. As a result of the style and subject content of radio broadcasting, there were visible changes in the public perception on politics, both positive and negative.

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The Decline of Motion Pictures

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Movietone News (also known as Fox Movietone News) produced the most newsreels and cinemas between 1928 and 1963. Other movie studios also had their version of newsreels such as Universal Newsreel by Universal Studios and Paramount News by Paramount Pictures. Motion pictures had its highest peak of production in the 1920’s with 800 movie productions per year. With the increase of popularity of motion pictures, 40 million of Americans went to the movies every week in the 1920’s (US population at the time was 120 million). In result, motion pictures become a part of American culture. Political broadcastings were shown in the beginning of movies at movie theaters. Conveniently, snippets of Presidential speeches and campaigns were able to reach the general public and a wider range of audience. Politics became a larger part of everyday life because newsreels were shown at recreational places such as movie theaters.

When the Depression hit the US in 1930, the decrease of economic activity impacted the movie industry. Motion picture production was reduced because major studios lost money. Consequently, less Americans went to the movies and political campaigning through motion pictures became less significant in 1932 than it was in 1928.

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Archival Research Materials provided by Matthew Schaefer and Craig Wright of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum - West Branch, IA
Created by Alyssa Hawley, Fia Wulur, Alyssa Zavislak -- (November 18, 2009)

The Role of Media in the Presidential Campaigns of 1928 and 1932