The New-Media Crisis of 1949

Old joke… when’s the best time to air a radio drama? 1937. 

Radio is still around, but the salary of TV personality Katie Couric ” is more than the entire annual budgets of NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered
combined.” (so says Michael Massing).  If you knew nothing about the internet beyond what you learned about it from the TV news, you’d probably think it was full of child predators, weirdos, and clips of babies dancing to pop music.

But not too long ago, TV was the strange new medium that changed the way people spent their leisure time, and the way advertisers spent their marketing budgets, despite the wishes of the established old media titans.

Network TV lost vast amounts of money in its early years. It was
only because the existing ­radio networks were willing to subsidize TV
that it survived–leaving CBS and NBC at the top of the heap in the ’50s
and ’60s, just as they had been in the ’30s and ’40s. The old media of
today have a similar chance to prosper tomorrow if they can survive the
heavy financial losses that they’re incurring while they develop
workable new-media business models.

Established radio performers such as Benny and Hope, who embraced TV
on its own visually oriented terms, flourished well into the ’60s.
Everyone else–­including Fred Allen–vanished into the dumpster of
entertainment history. The same fate awaits contemporary old-media
figures unwilling to grapple with the challenge of the new media, no
matter how popular they may be today.

Americans of all ages ­embraced TV unhesitatingly. They felt no
loyalty to network radio, the medium that had entertained and informed
them for a quarter-century. When something came along that they deemed
superior, they switched off their radios without a second thought.
That’s the biggest lesson taught by the new-media crisis of 1949.
Nostalgia, like guilt, is a rope that wears thin. —Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal

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