History of Radio and Television (Spring 2012) (COM 220)


Dr. Christopher Anderson
Class Time / Room: Monday 2:30-6:20, Room 2N 005
My Office: 1P / Room 232A
Office Hours: Monday, 1:00-2:15; Wednesday 1:00 – 2:15

Required Texts

  • Hilmes, Only Connect (3rd ed.)
  • Online Course Reader of Collected Texts

Course Learning Objectives

  • To understand the political, social, technological, cultural, and economic conditions which made broadcast television and radio possible.
  • To understand the history of these media.
  • To understand the invention, culture, and impact of broadcast journalism.
  • To understand current digital challenges which are affecting the world of broadcast media

Course Description

This course examines the development of radio and television broadcasting systems in the United States, from their origins in “wireless telegraphy” to the current age of multichannel cable and satellite transmission. The course considers different theoretical approaches to the analysis of radio and television; their distinct genres; economic, regulatory, technological, and aesthetic features of these commercial media and public broadcasting; and their roles as key social institutions.

There are many aspects of our 21st century media world that would seem to argue that we have left the days of mass-broadcasting far behind. There are hundreds, even thousands, of cable channels. Indeed, an increasing number of consumers are even leaving cable behind, watching the majority of TV through Netflix or Hulu or Youtube.  To understand the world of the present, however, we could do worse than understand the world of the past, the days when broadcast television—and before that, radio— reigned supreme.

This course will introduce students to the invention of broadcast media, the culture of “listening in,” the development of broadcast news, and the history of television and radio up to the present day.

Course Requirements

This is the grading breakdown for the course. To receive a passing grade for the class, students must meet all requirements. Missed assignments will automatically result in a failing grade.

Participation (15%)

In Class Drill Assignments (15%)

Quizzes (15%)

Midterm Paper  (25%)

Final (30%)

General Class Structure

If you look ahead to your schedule of classes, you’ll see that this class consists of four basic elements: readings, lectures, group conversation, and classroom debates.

Readings: A few times this year, you’re going to be reading a couple of sections a week from multiple books. Because of this, you have to make sure you do all the readings, or else you’ll be missing important aspects of the class. Don’t pick one book to read and one book to skip. It won’t work.

Lectures: The early part of most classes will consist of a lecture and some general discussion of the topic at hand.  These lectures are not a substitute for the readings, but rather compliment and expand upon them.

In class participation: The second part of each class will consist of some combination of group conversation and weekly structured classroom debates. There may be an element of social-media (Facebook, twitter, blogging) documentation of these debates as they occur.

MidTerm Paper

Instead of a mid-term, you will be assigned a mid-term writing assignment that will count 25% of your final grade.  The paper will be due on March 19, and can either be emailed to me or placed in my mailbox in room 226 of building 1P.


The final will count for 30% of your grade, and will be given on a date TBA.  The final exam will be cumulative; you will need to know all of the material we have covered in class up until that point.


Students will be given randomly assigned quizzes during the course of the semester. These quizzes will count for 15% of your final grade


Students are expected to attend every session of “History of Radio and Television.” According to college policy, unexcused absences exceeding 15% of course hours can result in a WU grade. 15% of the classes in this class would be two sessions or more. Bottom line: don’t miss class.

In the event that a student must miss a class due to religious observance or family emergency, students must provide advance notice, in writing, of days missed. In the event of class missed due to illness, students must provide the instructor with a doctors’ note. No exceptions.


Plagiarism is a major—perhaps the major—academic offense a student can commit as an undergraduate, graduate student, or as a scholar. Plagiarism is defined as either (1) failure to acknowledge the source of ideas not one’s own or (2) failure to indicate verbatim expressions not one’s own through quotation marks and footnotes. Plagiarism is a growing problem on college campuses across the nation, largely due to growing technological ease in accessing already composed papers and sources of information. For this reason, I personally will be relentlessly unforgiving regarding any suspected cases of plagiarism this semester—and I will check. There will probably not be a second chance in this regard, and I will recommend the strict enforce university policy for all cases of plagiarism. Bottom line: don’t do it. If you have any questions, please talk to me before you write rather than afterward. For more information, see the CUNY Policy on Academic Integrity: http://www1.cuny.edu/academics/info-central/policies.html. For a guide on how to cite your sources well, see http://www.library.csi.cuny.edu/?option=com_content&view=article&id=130

Schedule of Classes

January 30                  Class Introduction and overview of the issues

February 6            READING DUE: “Before Broadcasting” (Hilmes, Ch. 2); “Radio,” and “The Great Radio Controversy,” from Tesla: Man Out of Time (Cheney)

IN-CLASS ASSIGNMENT: Life before the radio

LECTURE: Before broadcast

February 21             READING DUE: “Broadcasting Begins,” and  “The Network Age” (Hilmes, Ch. 3-4)

LECTURE: On the radio

SCREENING: Selections from radio soap operas, comedies, and dramas

***             PLEASE NOTE: CLASS TODAY IS ON A TUESDAY             ***

February 27            READING DUE:  “Exploratory Listening in the 1920s” from Listening In: Radio and the American Imagination (Douglas); “The Enormous Radio,” (Cheever)

LECTURE: The Zen of listening

SCREENING: Selections from Radio Days

March 5          [NO CLASS]

March 12        READING DUE: “Radio for Everyone,” and “The FCC” (Hilmes, Ch. 5-6)

SCREENING: “7 Dirty Words.”

IN-CLASS ASSIGNMENT: The FCC and “fleeting expletives.”

LECTURE: Regulation and the “public interest.”

March 19          READING DUE: “At Last Television,” and “The Domesticated Medium,” (Hilmes, Ch. 7-8).

SCREENING: “War of the Worlds” episode of Radiolab

LECTURE: The implications of a mass audience.

March 26            Selections from This Is Berlin: Reporting from Nazi Germany, 1938-40 (Shirer); “The Blitz,” and “Buchenwald,” from Edward R, Murrow and the Birth  of Broadcast Journalism (Edwards)

IN-CLASS SCREENING: excerpts from Goodnight and Good Luck

LECTURE: The Invention of Broadcast Journalism


April 2            READING: “Rising Discontent,” (Hilmes, Ch. 10); Selections from Amusing Ourselves to Death (Postman)



***             SPRING BREAK: APRIL 6-15, 2012             ***

April 16            READING: “The War on Television,” and “The Uncensored

War,” from The Uncensored War: The Media and Vietnam (Hallin)

IN-CLASS SCREENING: excerpts from Network

LECTURE: The rise and fall of broadcast news

April 23            READING:

SCREENING: Selections from the Colbert Report, the Daily Show, and Bachelor

LECTURE: Satire, “fake” news, and reality TV

April x                         *** PLEASE NOTE: This class is on a [x] to accommodate ***


Address: 25 West 52 Street New York NY 10019

May 7            READING: “Convergence Culture in the New Millenium,” (Hilmes, Ch. 13)

SCREENING: Excerpts from “Control Room.”

LECTURE: Globalized television

May 14            READING: “TV after TV,” (Hilmes, Ch. 14); “A New YouTube: Herding Those Funny Cats.” (Hale); “Cord Cutting Continues Apace,” (Kaplan); “Occupy PressThink: Tim Pool.” (Rosen)

LECTURE: TV in the Digital Age

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