Science on the Air: Popularizers and Personalities on Radio and Early Television

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University of Chicago Press, Aug 1, 2009 - Technology & Engineering - 324 pages
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Mr. Wizard’s World. Bill Nye the Science Guy. NPR’s Science Friday. These popular television and radio programs broadcast science into the homes of millions of viewers and listeners. But these modern series owe much of their success to the pioneering efforts of early-twentieth-century science shows like Adventures in Science and “Our Friend the Atom.” Science on the Air is the fascinating history of the evolution of popular science in the first decades of the broadcasting era.

Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette transports readers to the early days of radio, when the new medium allowed innovative and optimistic scientists the opportunity to broadcast serious and dignified presentations over the airwaves. But the exponential growth of listenership in the 1920s, from thousands to millions, and the networks’ recognition that each listener represented a potential consumer, turned science on the radio into an opportunity to entertain, not just educate.

Science on the Air chronicles the efforts of science popularizers, from 1923 until the mid-1950s, as they negotiated topic, content, and tone in order to gain precious time on the air. Offering a new perspective on the collision between science’s idealistic and elitist view of public communication and the unbending economics of broadcasting, LaFollette rewrites the history of the public reception of science in the twentieth century and the role that scientists and their institutions have played in both encouraging and inhibiting popularization. By looking at the broadcasting of the past, Science on the Air raises issues of concern to all those who seek to cultivate a scientifically literate society today.
 

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Contents

Prologue
1
1 Tuxedos and Microphones
7
2 The Radio Nature League
27
3 Syndicating Science
45
4 Cooperative Ventures
65
5 Shifting Ground
87
6 A Twist of the Dial
113
7 Facts and Fictionalizations
133
9 Broadcasting the Voice of the Atom
179
10 Illusions of Actuality
211
Entertaining Lessons
239
Notes
247
Bibliography
281
Acknowledgments
295
Index
299
Copyright

8 Adventuring with Scientists
157

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About the author (2009)

Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette is an independent historian who has taught at the Johns Hopkins University, the George Washington University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is the author of several books, including Making Science Our Own: Public Images of Science, 1910–1955, also published by the University of Chicago Press, and Reframing Scopes: Journalists, Scientists, and Lost Photographs from the Trial of the Century.

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