Books of Interest to Mercurians

Stay Tuned: A History of American Broadcasting, Third Edition, Christopher H. Sterling and John Michael Kittross, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, New Jersey, 2002. 720 p., $59.95

A few months ago, I was hoping to teach an interdisciplinary introduction to telecommunications course. It would be the first course in the Telecommunications graduate program at George Washington University. I was looking for a textbook that covered the history, the technology, the regulatory politics, and as many other aspects of telecommunications as possible. I never found the appropriate book (suggestions still welcome), but somewhat later, Chris Sterling, the long-term director of the program, sent me a copy of his book: Stay Tuned. While Prof. Sterling’s book is about broad-casting rather than the more general field of telecom-munications, it is a wonderful example of the type of book I was looking for.

Stay Tuned covers broadcasting from its prehistory (mass communications and early electrical communications) to the present day. The second and third editions brought the story forward a dozen years each time from the original end date of 1976. Two tables of contents are provided: a chronological table (the book is laid out chronologically) and a topical table. The pages devoted to chronological periods and individual topics seem well distributed. For a variety of reasons, it was fun to explore the topical contents. Programming, regulatory issues, and tech-nology occupy the most space (in that order). Other topics, such as stations, networks, advertising, and audience, receive significantly less space. My own area of interest, satellite communications, receives a good amount of attention that emphasizes its effects on networks, distribution, and programming.

A chronology, glossary, 50 pages of historical statistics, and a bibliography complete the book. It is an excellent textbook for a history of broad-casting course, and could serve a variety of other courses as a main or supplemental text. While it satisfied my own interests in technology and politics (regulation), much of the pleasure of reading this book lies in the view it affords of the establishment and evolution of a form of mass culture in the United States. Contemporary photo-graphs, advertising, and programming excerpts provide insights into 20th-century American history as much as they provide insights into the history of broadcasting.

— David Whalen