How Did the Invention of the Radio Affect the Profitability or Circulation of Newspapers?

When the radio was invented, how threatened were newspapers?  Overall, the real threat to newspapers and the radio was the television.  So, just how affected were newspapers with the inception of the radio?


Tuning Into the Radio

After the invention of the radio, readers of newspapers starting turning the dial to hear the news instead of reading about it. In the early 1930s, FM radio was invented and listeners no longer had to hear static in the background. As more people tuned in, though, newspapers’ advertisers were losing money. Thousands to millions of people were obtaining radio receivers worldwide. The radio became a replacement of the method of communication to the world, but it was also a new and exciting practice. With the radio and the millions of listeners, though, broadcasters needed to be aware of their social responsibility.

We know the benefits of the radio and that advertising could be sold on the radio instead of newspapers, but how did newspapers respond to profits being affected? Just as the internet affects our immediacy of obtaining the news, so did the radio during its inception. And, if you had a radio, you could hear information before your newspaper was delivered. What made the radio appealing to advertisers was the fact that when radio stations were formed (CBS and NBC), time slots could be sold to advertisers, but what did the advertisers really know about their potential buying public?

Has anyone ever asked a grandparent whether they listened to the famous “War of the Worlds” broadcast was recalled? It was aired in 1938 on Halloween.

Also, with wartime broadcasting on the airwaves, families would gather to listen to Edward R. Murrow’s reporting in his journalistic fashion.


Newspapers Survive the Invention of the Radio

Keep in mind that newspapers were a main source of information prior to the invention of the radio so competition became a viable factor to keep up with sales, especially how profits for advertisers were affected. This country’s history has been dependent on acquiring news and information from newspapers. The radio affected newspaper circulation. While the radio could provide a major headliner in a brief five minute’s worth of highlights, a listerner would still have had to rely on the newspaper to collect all the details.

Remember, too, that periodicals like “Time” magazine were also affecting the circulation of newspapers. With the crash of the stock market, a third of the population unemployed, a lot of the advertisers switched from newspapers to radio. Allegedly, there were 75,000 sales of radios in 1921 which rose to over 13 million in 1930. The radio, however, impacted several aspects of life in America and it wasn’t limited to news–it provided music and entertainment outside of advertisements.

Newspapers, for good reason, were concerned the radio was going to run them out of business. They forbid radio stations to just read the news from their pages until after papers were delivered. But, in time, stations like CBS Radio developed its own news department.

Newspaper giants like William Randolph Hearst even put some of his own money into keeping his papers alive. Just as the radio had to get more creative when the television was developed, so, too, did newspapers. Even with newspaper competitors, the weaker papers were going out of business and the elite papers were becoming more popular like “The New York Times” and “The Washington Post.”

Also, for those who didn’t read well anyway, the radio was more attractive because all people had to do was listen. Interestingly, once television arrived, both radio and newspapers were competing against the new form of media.

You Can’t Stop Technology, Inventions or Innovation

At best, the newpapers carried a fear they would be rendered some day as possibly obsolete with the demand for radio. What they had to do was get more creative. I’m not talking about the radio being another tool to deliver propoganda, but it was definitely another way to reach the public regardless of what a broadcaster was providing as a message to society as a whole. Families were still buying newspapers if they could afford them and people who would resist change would continue receiving a newspaper. Certainly, the newspapers didn’t want to lose any “power” to a source delivering both language and audio, which would provide persuasiveness to a greater effect.

The newer and faster of any communication tool will always be improved upon so that it is better and faster. Newspapers used to feel the radio was going to destroy effective journalism and democracy. That hasn’t happened as far as I know. There may be certain annoying broadcasters on public radio, but there’s a dial or button that can change that.

In time, just as the newspapers had the Associated Press, radio started its wire services. The battle between newspapers and radio in the early part of the 20th Century was much different than the effect of the internet on newspapers because they can publish on-line. The internet will basically become the newspaper choice of the public because it’s faster and accessible on demand. People will turn on their laptop or pads to the newspapers that will continue to be popular to anyone interested. The radio has become a source of entertainment to a large extent. You can watch the news 24/7 on your television now, but if you want to stay up and read the news, you have that option now with other tools since you can’t take your television to bed with you.


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