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This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.

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By Jim Cox
McFarland, 2009, 236 pp., softcover, $45
Reviewed by Maury Cagle
(From Radio Recall, August 2009)

When Lee De Forest was pursuing the development of wireless broadcasting, the idea was so unbelievable he was once arrested for selling stock to underwrite his invention. Not too many years later, a word spoken or a musical note played in New York could be heard in most every town in America, thanks to network radio.

The development and profound impact of radio networks is the subject of the latest book on OTR (his 14th) by MWOTRC member Jim Cox.

As with all his books, Cox places the progress of technology in the context of the social and economic fabric of the times, so that what otherwise would be disjointed facts form a cohesive whole. This is particularly important to OTR fans, since almost all the programs they cherish were carried by one of the networks.

As the number of radio stations and receivers multiplied, it became clear that there wasn’t enough local talent to keep listeners interested. Enter what was called “chain broadcasting,” a linking of several stations. Soon, farm homes in Iowa could hear the nation’s top talent, and all Americans could share as one community the triumphs and tragedies as history unfolded

Cox traces the development of the four major networks—the National Broadcasting Company (Sept. 9, 1926, soon to be two networks, the Red and the Blue); the Columbia Broadcasting System (Sept. 18, 1927); Mutual Broadcasting System (Oct. 29, 1934), built originally around four key radio stations (including WXYZ in Detroit, home of the extremely popular Lone Ranger series), which would become coast to coast on Dec. 29, 1936; and the American Broadcasting Company, built out of the NBC Blue Network in the summer of 1943 because of antitrust concerns, and not branded as ABC until 1945. There are some fascinating insights into the machinations behind the development of these networks, and some of the personalities involved. Two giants who were part of the network scene for many years, David Sarnoff of NBC and William Paley of CBS, were powerful arbiters of the American popular culture scene during the entire run of the Golden Age of Radio, and, in Sarnoff’s case, as the driving force behind the development of television.

Cox also notes the rise and influence of the many regional networks, such as the Don Lee Broadcasting System on the west coast, and the Yankee Network in New England.

One fascinating chapter deals with the development of advertising on radio, and the many ideas for financing the new medium before advertising became entrenched.

Cox includes a sample of important network programs in the 1935-1955 period, with cogent half-page summaries of each show, arranged by category, such as Audience Participation, Juvenile Adventure, etc.

The book ends by taking on the Four T’s--forces that contributed to the demise of network radio and have taken over in its absence---television, turntables, troublemakers, and talk. His views on television and talk are particularly pithy.

As with all of Jim Cox’s books, this one is loaded with interesting, little-known vignettes, and is written in an engaging style. OTR fans can learn a lot by reading this book.

The book’s one problem has nothing to do with Cox’s text—the type size chosen is very small, and calls for more concentration in reading it than should be necessary.

American Radio Networks is available from McFarland at 1-800-253-2187, or online at www.mcfarlandpub.com.