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Bill Kirkpatrick. “Localism in American Media, 1920-1934.”
Ph. D. diss., University of Wisconsin--Madison, 2006.


Previous scholarship has considered localism in broadcast regulation—i.e. policies designed to encourage support for geographically based local identities and public spheres through a licensee's program service—a well-meaning but failed attempt to recover pre-modern small-town life. According to this view, policymakers in Congress and regulators in the Commerce Department and the Federal Radio Commission (FRC) were motivated by nostalgia or sentimentality to resist the nationalizing and modernizing trends of twentieth-century American life. They failed, such studies assert, either because the economic pressure or audience desire for national programming was too strong, or because the FRC was too weak to stand up to large commercial broadcasters.

This study challenges that received view and argues instead that localism in American media before 1934 was not a straightforward effort to foster local identities and public spheres. Instead, localism—both in the media and in American political thought—constituted a key battleground for largely class-based conflicts over economic and cultural changes in U.S. society. Localism was not simply an effort to resist or slow modernization, but became the site of ongoing struggles over how and on whose terms the modernization of America's economy, culture, technological infrastructure, and social networks would occur.

These struggles shaped a range of important features of American media and politics: how a common-sense classification of stations developed, producing the idea of "local" and "national" stations long before any policymakers organized broadcast service into those categories; how regulators used discourses and structures of localism to achieve a modern, professional, and national radio service; how network employees at NBC and CBS articulated their national mission and tried to balance local and national business interests, profoundly affecting the growth of the networks and their programs; and how individual localities could advance their interests within a modernizing America and participate in radio's spatial, political, economic, and cultural reorganization of the nation on their own terms.

Viewing early radio history through the lens of localism allows the re-examination of the philosophy of localism both as a democratic political concept with a long history in American thought, and as a fundamental principle of media policy.


Acknowledgements -- iv

Introduction: Localism as Myth and Reality
in American Political Thought and Media Policy -- 1

Localism in Media Scholarship -- 7
Contributions of this Study -- 13
Literature Review -- 20
Theory and Methodology -- 26
Chapter Organization -- 38
Conclusion -- 42

Chapter One: Localism and the National Class, 1900-1934:
Democratic Ideals, Cultural Distinction -- 44

Part I: Pre-Twentieth-Century Localism -- 47
Ia. Localism and Nationalism in the Early Republic -- 53
Ib. Localism and Nationalism After the Civil War -- 62
Part II: The Twentieth Century—The National Class Emerges -- 66
IIa. Localism and Distinction I: Positive Localism -- 73
IIb. Localism and Distinction II: Negative Localism -- 80
Part III: Positive and Negative Localism in the Modernizing Project -- 104
IIIa. Radio in the National-Class Project -- 112
IIIb. The National Class and its Discontents -- 123
Conclusion -- 130

Chapter Two: Establishing the Regulatory Context:
Politics, Economics, and the Local-National Divide -- 134

Part I: Tensions Shaping Radio Policy in the 1920s and 1930s -- 136
Ia. Content Control, Private Control -- 137
Ib. Economic Viability and the Radio Trust -- 148
Ic. National Desires, Regional Differences -- 155
Part II: Localist Discourses, National Radio -- 161
IIa. The Emergence of "Local" and "National" Stations -- 161
IIb. "Local' and "National" Become Official Policy Categories -- 175
IIc. Coda: A Note on Regionalism -- 187
Conclusion -- 195

Chapter Three: Localism in American Media Policy, 1920-1934:
Modernizing the Local Through Media Regulation -- 197

Part I: Modernization Through Content Control -- 201
Ia. Controlling Content Through the Trusteeship Model -- 202
Ib. Controlling Content Through Program Standards -- 211
Ic. Controlling Content Through "Community" -- 218
Part II: Modernization Through Economic Management -- 224
IIa. Local-National Tensions in Industry Economics -- 225
IIb. Modernization and Professionalization -- 230
IIc. Regulating Competition -- 236
Conclusion -- 246

Chapter Four: National Radio and Local Resistance:
The Networks and Localism -- 248

Part I: The Struggle to Make "National" Radio National -- 251
Ia. Using Localism to Defend Chain Broadcasting -- 253
Ib. National-Local Tensions Within the Networks -- 263
Part II: The Struggle to Make "Local" Culture National -- 279
IIa. Localizing the National and Nationalizing the Local -- 285
IIb. Aesthetic Localism, Translocal Localism -- 289
Conclusion -- 302

Chapter Five: The Traditional Local Middle Class and Local Radio, Or:
How the Local Became an -Ism -- 304

Part I: Audiences, Citizens, and Local Radio -- 305
Ia. Localism, Nationalism, and Listener Desire -- 305
Ib. Civic Radio, Civic Boosterism -- 310
Part II: Local Stations and the Uses of Localism -- 322
IIa. Local Radio and the Politics of Localism -- 322
IIb. Local Radio and the Economics of Localism -- 335
IIc. Affirmative Localism, Market Localism, and the Depression -- 343
Conclusion -- 348

Conclusion -- 354

Bibliography -- 367