A London-based writer published in a Danish journal this history of the U.S. experiment in direct listener support: “The Lengthening Shadow: Lewis Hill and the Origins of Listener-Sponsored Radio in America” © 1992 John Whiting. Sez he, “I suffered, I was there…” Here’s an excerpt:
The “radio voice” was established early: it demanded a norm of intonation, inflection and voice projection which was as absolute in its rules as the BBC’s so-called “standard English”. Deep chest tones, bland assurance, total lack of hesitation or error were essential, so as to convey that ineffable, indispensable quality-Sincerity. This exaggerated diction also helped to compensate for the primitive equipment and the bad reception in “fringe” areas…
(1948) FM radio was just being launched in America. Therefore there were open channels available which were not yet worth a great deal of money, since there were very few receivers and only a small audience. The new medium was especially suited to the kind of broadcasting Hill intended, which was to achieve a high technical as well as intellectual and artistic standard. A few years earlier there would have been only low-fidelity AM channels, prohibitively expensive to acquire; a few years later FM would also become expensive, though not in the same league as AM, whose broadcast radius and therefore its audience were much greater. In the meantime the asset, a greenfield site, would become also a liability as KPFA struggled to reach an audience without FM receivers….
Having established two totally revolutionary principles — absence of commercial sponsorship and indifference to a mass audience — Hill went on to describe in detail some of the attributes of a broadcasting medium which would conform to these criteria. The very fact of non-commercial broadcasting led at once to two interlocking principles: there was no time-ownership and no need for commercial breaks:
On examination of the tradition and uses of second-hand timing in commercial radio, it appeared that this practice had an entirely economic origin and meaning. Since at best it poses an obstacle to programming freedom, there appeared no reason whatever for its continuance in educational radio not engaged in the sale of time segments.
This had two highly pragmatic results: (1) the absence of commercial breaks meant that broadcasts could assume whatever attention span was required by the subject matter; and (2) this could be extended to its logical conclusion; i.e., a program could be as long as necessary or appropriate.
(From “The Lengthening Shadow: Lewis Hill and the Origins of Listener-Sponsored Radio in America” © 1992 John Whiting, published in “Cracking the Ike Age”, The Dolphin No.23, Aarhus University Press, Denmark)
One of the many sources Whiting cites is: Lewis Hill, Voluntary Listener-Sponsorship: A Report to Educational Broadcasters On the Experiment at KPFA, Berkeley, California. Berkeley, CA: Pacifica Foundation, 1958. If anyone knows where I can get a copy, please holler.
More Whiting’s Writings on radio:
Pacifica in Vincula The Life and Death of Great American Radio.
Matthew Lasar: Pacifica Radio: The Rise of an Alternative Network. Review for American Studies in Scandinavia, 1999.
War in Heaven In Uneasy Listening, Matther Lasar continues his encyclopaedic history of KPFA and Pacifica Radio.