The Not Quite So Inevitable Origins of Commercial Broadcasting in America

Dave Berkman
University of Wisconsin


Different values, different beliefs, different political systems and different class structures, broadcast historians have suggested, made inevitable the different, national broadcast outcomes of the mid-1920s. Thus, there could have been no other result but that an advertiser-supported, private-sector medium would quickly evolve in a business-dominated, government-distrusting, Harding/Coolidge America, whose 'business', its leaders proclaimed, 'was business' [1]; whose government was best because it governed least; and an America where a 'businessman-theologian' such as Superadman Bruce Barton, could publish a best-seller claiming that in His super-salesmanship lay the secret of Jesus' success[2]. Conversely, in a Britain dominated by a ruling class with its counter-balancing traditions of guilt, and guilt-assuaging noblesse oblige, and one which would quickly come to see broadcasting as too valuable a resource for culture and enlightenment ever (or at least until the mid-l950s) to be subjected and subjugated to the vulgar vicissitudes of marketplace vagaries, the creation of a public-sector, tax-supported radio was equally as inevitable[3].