Carnegie Mellon Press Release: April 6, 2004
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Jonathan Potts

For immediate release:
April 6, 2004

Mass Media Inflames Progressive Activism, Carnegie Mellon Professor Says in New Book

PITTSBURGH—The rise of broadcast radio during the 1930s and 1940s brought on a wave of activism against the commercialism of the new medium, a movement that could provide a blueprint for modern progressives to influence mass media, according to "Radio Active," a new book by Kathy Newman, an associate professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University.

Newman's book chronicles the early influence of commercial radio, which offended the middle class with its commercialism but was embraced by the working class because it was free entertainment. Commercial radio also gave birth to consumer activism among union members and other progressives who were determined to influence or eliminate radio advertising. But over the years, progressives largely withdrew from the mass media, alienated by its emphasis on consumerism, and are only now trying to reclaim it from conservatives.

"This is my attempt to try and figure out why progressives have turned their backs on mass culture. I'm looking at how progressives in the past used the mass media and, when necessary, organized effective movements to influence it," Newman said.

Among the first progressives to understand the power of the mass media were, unsurprisingly, the unions that represented workers who produced radios. During the 1930s, a union representing workers at the Philco Radio Company in Philadelphia organized a boycott of the company over its sponsorship of a radio program hosted by conservative commentator Boake Carter, the Rush Limbaugh of his time, according to Newman. The boycott forced Philco to drop Carter.

"Even today the most successful unions have learned how to use the mass media in really smart ways. I think other progressives—like Al Franken, who has started a for-profit liberal radio network—are just starting to realize that liberals can use the mass media for their own purposes," Newman said.

"Radio Active" is published by the University of California Press and can be ordered at


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