Mid-Century Speech Association of America Convention : [Day One: Criteria for Criticism in Radio Panel]

Friday, December 29, 1950

This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.

Prompt: How do we judge how successful radio is at accomplishing its job? What is radio's function? Where does the radio critic fit in to this picture?

Professor Charles A. Siepmann, Radio Critic and NYU Communications Professor: Criteria for criticism. In terms of profitability, radio is successful. Radio is universal, so it owes something to everybody, depending on demographics (radio in Russia vs. in a democracy). Diversity in radio is axiomatic. Radio is a social force and accountable: radio is the conscience of a people. Implies leadership: effort to bring out the best in people: the job of radio is to "dig up the native ore." Radio must exemplify publicly what people aspire to privately. More criteria: Catholic tastes and interests; cherish a love of excellence at every level; to know evil and denounce it, to bespeak the good; to be ready to face unpopularity where principle is at steak; treat people as if they were better than they seem; subordinate money-getting to self-discovery and service; take the long view. By these criteria, radio is a resounding failure. Criteria for criticism of specific programs (varies with program and the problem it raises); two questions: what does this program set out to do? How significant is the doing of it? How successfully have the techniques of radio been used to execute? Ex: soap operas: popular interest with techniques of dramatic radio. Also discussed: criteria for adaptation and commentary. Radio's success relies on its ability to execute imaginative, catholic leadership and fresh experiment.

Joseph H. Ream, Executive Vice President of Columbia Broadcasting System: "Broadcasters' Obligations to the Public." Give most of the people most of the time what they want most to hear. Keep radio a mass medium with in the democratic concept while including minority tastes. Two main criticisms against radio: not enough minority programming, and what there is is at inconvenient times. Radio is not a library; only one program can come out at a time, so listeners must seek out the programs they want. Operate in the broadest way possible: most of the people most of the time, as many stations as possible. Competition among broadcasters have built large audiences. Broadcasting is a mass medium, a mass product. Broadcasting has accomplished his four criteria for success: Getting and staying on the air with the best facilities, serving the majority, serving a wide variety of minority interests in peak hours, maintaining an audience for the government in case of national emergency.

Panel of working critics: Robert Lewis Shayon (Saturday Review of Literature, Christian Science Monitor Magazine), Elizabeth Forsling (Newsweek), Harriet van Horne (--), Saul Carson (New Republic Magazine), Prof Siepmann.

Mr. Shayon takes offense to Mr. Ream's figures and conclusions, CBS's lack of documentary programming. Mr. Ream's response is that CBS provides programming for what most of the people want, that catering only to the minority is a mistake. Does Mr. Ream recognize the need to give the audience not what they want, but what they need, to hear? Does a broadcaster have a responsibility to explore techniques of teaching man things he ought to know, particularly in times of crises? Mr. Reams suggests that their programming is already fulfilling, or trying to, that need.

Ms. Forsling wants to know if the two -- entertainment and informative -- can be combined. Mr. Ream says nothing is impossible, though he does not plan on combining the two; he prefers to keep them separate, especially government-related programming.

Ms. Van Horne laments the fact that 80% of the audience prefers "trash." She cites Hitler and Wagner as an example of the audience's ability to learn to appreciate what is "good." She suggests educators -- and radio -- play a role in stirring a "cultural renaissance," after which the audience will demand better programming.

Mr. Carson echoes her belief that radio could play a large role in creating a more discerning public. He also supports teaching radio criticism courses in schools.

Mr. Reams talks about the new Ed Murrow show, his belief that programming has changed in response to criticism.

Question & answer with the audience: broadcasters' involvement with educators, is there a middle ground between Shakespeare and soap operas?, criteria for criticism of commercials, "goodness" vs. popularity, better education for aspiring critics.

Historical New York Times lists broadcast date as 12/29/1950 at 8:30pm.

Similar to 68925, Does the Public Get What it Wants? Panel Discussion; [Museum of Modern Art Symposium].

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection

WNYC archives id: 69032
Municipal archives id: LT348


Saul Carson, Elizabeth Forsling, Joseph H. Ream, Robert Lewis Shayon, Charles A. Siepmann and Harriet Van Horne


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