5.2 Text

On New Year’s Eve 1936, Cantril wrote to Marshall a revised detailed outline:

Radio listening has become a habit with the vast majority of the population . . . Radio has developed because it has satisfied genuine human needs. But what, precisely, these wants are is still an open question.

If radio in the United States was to develop ‘as a democratic instrument serving the best interests of the people’, it was essential that an objective analysis be made of what those interests were and how the unique psychological and social characteristics of radio might be devoted to them. To understand fully what radio meant to listeners, it would be essential to determine exactly what radio listening was and to what programs people really listened?:

Are certain programs used only as a background for other activities—and to what extent and why? What time is spent in radio listening, and what time in reading by different groups of people? What topics do people prefer to have broadcast and what things would they rather read in newspapers and magazines? It may be seen readily that answers to all of these questions would be propaedeutic to the main problems at hand. And on the basis of these answers it would be possible to determine not only what programs are of value and why they are valuable, but what the future direction of program building should be to provide listeners of various types with both entertainment and education suitable to their capacities and interests.

If the objectives of a program were clear, Cantril argued, the following steps might be followed:

1) Investigate the listening habits of a representative community served by a radio station carrying one or more programs on which economic, social and political problems are discussed regularly.
2) Select a representative group of the regular listeners to the type of program mentioned in Step 1 (Experimental Group) and an equal number of representative non-listeners (Control Group).
3) Measure the attitudes of both groups on topics to be covered in subsequent broadcasts.
4) After the topics have been presented or discussed by radio, remeasure both groups to determine the influence of the radio presentations. Unless the Control Group have been affected in the same general direction by printed or verbal discussions of the radio material one should expect to find no changes in the attitudes of the non-listener group …

The major research emphasis was thus on radio’s ability to change minds, to transform and improve persons. The measure of radio’s efficacy was to be its ability to change thinking and opinion. Although Cantril explicitly rejected the FREC model of researching only ‘educational’ programming, his assumption was that the changes in opinion would be positive ones.1 The civic paradigm was characterized by a research interest in how to make radio better, and how radio made better people.

1 Letter Cantril to Marshall. 31 Dec. 1936. Folder 3233, Box 271, ‘Princeton University—Radio Study’. Series 200 R, Record Group 1.1, Rockefeller Foundation Archives.

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