Television in the Antenna Age: A Concise History
By David Marc and Robert J. Thompson
Published in 2005
Published by Blackwell Publishing
According to its back cover, Television in the Antenna Age: A Concise History is an “accessible, engaging, and straightforward overview of the medium’s history and development in the United States.” Its eight chapters cover roughly a century of technological innovation, the explosive growth of mass advertising and the role television played in the home. The first three chapters focus heavily on radio and how it grew into a dominant cultural force. Beginning with the fourth chapter Television in the Antenna Age delves into the hows and whys of broadcast television, covering the fall of DuMont and the rise of ABC, the shift from live dramas to filmed action-adventure shows, the problems of violence and quiz show rigging and the role of government regulation in the television industry.
Each chapter is peppered with the occasional sidebar discussing one aspect of television or an excerpt from interviews with the likes of Abby Mann, E. G. Marshall and David Hartman. I actually found these disruptive, to be honest, and don’t think they added much to the book. If anything, they interrupted the flow of the text in an attempt to flesh out the term “least objectionable programming” or devote a few paragraphs to the U-2 incident. If these topics weren’t important enough to cover in the text proper, they probably weren’t important enough to devote a sidebar to.
As interesting as I found the bulk of the book to be — and parts of it were indeed very interesting — I was a little put off by the occasionally silly end notes. Many of them weren’t even necessary. For example, in the second chapter there’s an end note explaining who the Wright brothers are. Others briefly cover the War of 1812, World War I, what S.O.S. stands for, what two oceans border the United States and how many terms Ronald Reagan served as President. Were the authors trying to have a little fun with the end notes, curious to see if readers would actually refer to them?
As a “concise history” the book does a fine job exploring the birth of television and how it grew to such prominence. I would have preferred a slightly more professional tone at times but, as Laura R. Linden puts it in her foreword, “the authors gleefully unravel the story of modern telecommunications history in all its felicitous, tempestuous, serendipitous, and often ridiculous glory.”