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Radio and Television in Mass Media Essay

A form of media that revolutionized the way humans communicate was the radio. David Sarnoff is the best candidate for the man who put radio on the map. Although it may have not been his choosing, the sinking of the Titanic in 1916 put his name in the record books. For three days straight, the young Sarnoff decoded messages from the sinking ship from his office in New York (Wells 36). The Titanic broadcast was groundbreaking, because it showed and economically profitable way by which radio could be used as a medium of mass communication for ordinary families (Wells 36). By 1930 transmitters were popping up in cities around the nation. A record 30 million households had a set, and the one set per household was becoming a reality (Wells 42). The power of radio was not really noticed until a monumental broadcast in 1939.

H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds” broadcast brought a whole nation to its knees and caused widespread panic among millions of viewers. Hours after the broadcast, people from coast to coast were thrown into panic, believing monsters from Mars, invulnerable space ships were destroying the earth. They took to cars, ran out to warn neighbors, traffic was jammed, church services were ended. Four times during the show the listeners were reminded that they were hearing a dramatization, but many citizens couldn’t see past. After the incident, Wells told reporters that radio is a popular democratic machine for disseminating information and entertainment (Naremore 38). The power of radio was soon known, and this incident brought light to it.

Today there more than 575 million radios in America alone (Encyclopedia Britannica). The latest study from the National Broadcasting Company found that 90.5 percent of the adult population listens to some type of radio during the week.

Today, Clear Channel Communications owns over 1,200 radio stations across the United States, and Cumulus, the second largest owns 266 stations. (Grant, Meadows 141). With the FCC eliminating caps on ownership, one day everyone may be listening to the same news, spun whichever way Clear Channel feels like spinning it; to the left wing, or the right. Traditional radio is facing its toughest battle these days though. Satellite radio is sweeping through the market like a wildfire; with CD-quality sound, and hundreds of channels to choose from, who wouldn’t spend the ten dollars a month to have XM or Sirius? Although both companies reported losses in mid-2004, each service looks to become profitable by the end of 2005 (Grant 142). Radio will be hard-pressed to keep up with satellite. XM’s digital music library is among the world’s largest – 1.5 million titles and counting.

Out of the 121 channels available on XM, 68 are 100% commercial free 24 hours a day, year round, with over 1500 hours of live programming every week. Although XM and Sirius only represent radio’s 4.5 million subscriptions only represents a fraction of radio’s 290 million weekly listeners, the number of satellite subscriptions is expected to double in 2005 (Bachman 4). On Christmas Day 2004, over 50,000 subscribers signed up for satellite radio service. If both companies hit their projections, there will be 7.7 million satellite radio subscribers by January 2006 (Bachman 4).

Satellite radio isn’t the only next generation radio system on the market. In 2004, 10,000 HD radios were sold, with prices ranging from $500-$1,000. B the end of 2005, Strubble predicts there will be a t least 600 HD radio stations, covering 80% of the U.S. and about 100,000 HD radios sold. HD radio representative John Smulyan believes, “WE think this is one of those opportunities for game-changing radio business” (Bachman 5).

Television began with three companies that still dominate the airwaves, ABC, NBC, and CBS. In a world of subscription, these companies till offer free TV, but the ratings are going more towards cable. The clean cut programming that was once aired is being replaced with a plethora of violence and political propaganda that may ruin television. Television ranks just behind radio in penetration in the U.S. With over 106 million home, or 98% of the U.S. population having televisions, there is a plethora of sets ready to catch signals for people to view.

Network TV has emerged over the last two decades as the dominant vehicle for interpreting national politics. TV has become the major source of news for the population, and the only news source for others. The problem is that politicians and journalists feed off each other like leeches. The politician needs the journalist for their messages to reach the intended audience, and journalists need the politicians to have something to write about. The coverage politicians seek gives them an outlet from which to speak. Those who look good in the media can make a good image for themselves. The real problem comes when the news turns out to be propaganda, causing action from an opposing side that leads to deception. More than propaganda, violence seems to be the hot topic debated daily by politician and parent alike. Can what you child sees on television affect how he lives his/her life?

E.B. White once said that “television is going to be the test of the modern world” (Simons 151). There is no doubt that television has become the central activity in homes today. Its ability to entertain, teach and persuade has huge impact on viewers. In the United States 98% of households have at least one set (Simons 149). What is astonishing is that children are watching an average of 7.5 hours a day (Simmons 149).

One of the main concerns with television programming is the violence viewed by children that cannot understand the differences between fantasy and reality. Davidson, in a issue of Rolling Stones, agreed that “children are vulnerable to television between the ages of 2 to 8 years because of their maturational inability to separate what they view from reality” (qtd. in Simmons 152). Violence was such an issue that is came under consideration in the 50s and 60’s in Congress. The findings supported the idea that a casual relationship existed between television violence and aggressive behavior.

The National Coalition on Television Violence has classified the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers as the most violent program ever studied, with almost 200 violent acts per hour (Simmons 150). In an experimental study involving 5 to 11 year olds, children who watch Power Rangers committed seven times more aggressive acts than those who did not. Shows such as these caused a large number of accidents and quarrels due to the children imitating the characters actions. There is no doubt that the television programming has engulfed the U.S. population. As of 2003, 71.3% of U.S. households received cable programming (Grant, Meadows 29).

This fact is amazing, because cable had only been around for fifty years. Not only programming is changing, but how we receive it as well. In May 2002, the FCC set a deadline by which all U.S. commercial television broadcasters were required to be broadcasting digital television signals. This date was a little early though, but by September 2003, 38 of 40 stations in the 10 largest markets in the United States began broadcasting digital television signals (Grant, Meadows 28).

By early 2004, 1.5 million household were watching HDTV, and that number is going to rise sharply. This means clearer sound and displays, recordable content, and crisp, clear reception of the same channels that have always been around. What if new 16×9 television sets make news broadcasts look weird or maybe cartoons might not look good on a widescreen set? There is no telling where the television market will go, hopefully bigger and better; but will content become more subtle, or so radical that new laws must be made to subdue?

“Radios.”Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. 1999. Encyclopedia Britannica. 13 February 2005

Grant, August and Jennifer Meadows. Communication Technology Update. Oxford: Focal Press, 2004.

Naremore, James. The Man who caused the Mars Panic”. Humanities, Vol 24 (2003) 38-40

Simmons, Betty Jo, Stalsworth, Kelly, Wentzel, Heather. “Television Violence and Its Effects on Young Children.” Early Childhood Education journal Vol 26 (1999): 149-153

Wells, Alan. Mass Media and Society. Palo Alto, National Press Books. 1972

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