In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Radio and Sound Studies

  • Introduction
  • Inventors and Inventions

Cinema and Media Studies Radio and Sound Studies
Shawn VanCour
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 May 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 October 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0312


“Radio studies” is a relatively recent term used to signal the explosive growth in scholarship on the medium that has developed as part of a larger interest in sound media and audio culture across the arts and humanities since the 2000s. However, scholarly studies of radio are by no means unique to the new millennium, extending back to the very earliest years of the medium. Prior to World War I, when radio was primarily a medium of point-to-point wireless telegraphy used for shipboard military and trade communications, radio scholarship was mainly the province of science and engineering. As dominant uses shifted to broadcasts of public news and mass entertainment after the war, radio garnered the attention of social scientists, whose methods for quantitative media effects research formed the backbone of work in newly constituted departments of communication studies during the 1940s and 1950s. An initial humanistic turn in radio scholarship came with the rise of dedicated programs in journalism and mass communication during the 1960s and 1970s, which spawned a series of historical studies and critical analyses of radio’s industrial and regulatory regimes. The formation of new departments of radio, television, and film in the 1980s and 1990s ushered in a second methodological shift toward close analysis of politics of representation in radio texts and their negotiations of ongoing struggles for cultural representation by traditionally marginalized social groups. This cultural turn generated increased interest in radio moving into the 2000s, which was further fueled by newfound attention to the medium within neighboring fields of music studies, literary studies, and media arts. Scholarship since the 2000s has been marked by five larger tendencies, including (1) further attention to alternative programming forms and listening cultures, from educational broadcasting to entertainment broadcasts by and for members of neglected or underserved communities; (2) explorations of radio at local and transitional levels, supplementing or challenging earlier emphases on national broadcasting; (3) considerations of digital distribution’s impact on dominant forms of content and listening practices; (4) analyses of radio aesthetics, including work on sound style, genre studies, and performance studies; and (5) a growing intermedial awareness of radio’s connections to neighboring technologies and cultural forms. While focusing on work produced during the height of the radio studies boom from the 2000s onward, this article also includes representative texts from earlier periods and other disciplinary traditions, synthesizing these under a series of broader headings. Beginning with general reference texts and theoretical works, it then moves to more technologically oriented studies of radio inventors and inventions, followed by work on radio’s industrial and regulatory contexts, its programming forms and on-air talent, and its reception contexts. Works listed are limited to book-length studies and English-language publications, with an emphasis on US radio but gestures also made toward other, competing broadcasting traditions within both Europe and the Americas.

General References

Sources provided here include historical overviews and general reference texts that address the history of, key issues in, and significant programming for mainstream US, Canadian, and British broadcasting, as well theoretical works that provide important conceptual foundations for radio studies scholarship.

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