In the 1930s and 1940s, when radio still was regarded as a new medium, special children's programs were broadcast in order to attract young listeners. As such programs became popular, production increased. Children and teenagers took pleasure in listening to programs specifically aimed at children as well as other programs. By this time, American children aged nine to twelve listened to radio approximately two to three hours a day, especially during the evening. Girls preferred romantic and historical dramatizations and boys listened more to popular and novelty programs, but one study came to the conclusion that the differences mattered less than the similarities. With some variations, comedy and mystery radio plays were preferred above others by both boys and girls of all ages. Thus children enjoyed a variety of programs, including those produced for adults.
As with other electronic media, radio was met with worries from the adult world. In Sweden, as in other countries, it was a common anxiety that too much listening could make children passive and less eager to play. In the 1940s, Swedish teachers expressed worries about being regarded as mere "loudspeakers" by children accustomed to passively listening to radio. However, compared with reactions to other electronic media, radio seems to have incited relatively few "moral panic" attacks. Partly this can be explained by radio's supposed usefulness in education (discussed below).
In the 1950s, when TELEVISION was introduced, researchers in Britain came to the conclusion that television reduced radio listening more than it reduced any other activity. In spite of this, one in three children said that if they had to do without radio they would miss it quite a lot. The study also noticed that children who had been watching television for several years listened a little more often to the radio. This was described as a revival in line with reports of adults' media behavior. While radio plays could not compete with television plays, other types of programs held listeners' interest, including panel games, discussions, music, and sports commentaries.
Other studies have arrived at the similar conclusion that, with increasing age, children spent more time with radio than with television. TEENAGERS in particular have been found to be regular radio listeners. Researchers have attributed this to the socialization effects of radio, although explanations of what those effects are have varied over time. In the 1970s socialization to political virtues was considered to be an important factor, while in the 1980s, radio was seen as a source for identity formation in a peer group. This change can be related to the shift of content in programs addressed to teenagers. In the 1980s and 1990s teenagers listened more to music than to anything else on radio.
From the start, in both Europe and America radio was greeted with hopes for its pedagogical value. Radio had the power to bring the world to the classroom, and programs could be presented as textbooks of the air.
In America, commercial and educational stations received licenses starting in the 1920s to produce classroom broadcasting, and eventually national networks also provided educational programs. Even though most programs were in line with traditional school subjects, some attempted to connect this content with progressive ideas about education and democracy. Radio allowed children and teachers to engage in the production of programs, preparing talks on, for example, automobiles, farming, and science. Together with the fact that parents supplied schools with radio receivers, this reflected a certain degree of local engagement in the implementation of radio in schools. However, this is not a perspective that has been emphasized in research. On the contrary, the organization of radio in education in America has been described as top down implementation. One example of this was the fact that superintendents, not teachers, were supposed to answer questionnaires, indicating that teachers were not included in the implementation process.
In contrast to America, broadcast systems in Europe were organized as nationwide networks that could be used for the inculcation of national values and virtues. Issues regarding educational as well as social and cultural policy were included in the broadcast organizations–in other words, they became part of welfare policy. In this context, children became a special interest.
In Scandinavian countries and Britain, special departments for educational programs were organized in the late 1920s or early 1930s. In general these programs were in line with the overall curriculum. However, a study on the use of radio in classrooms in Sweden reveals that there were contrasts between the content of ordinary schoolbooks and the content of radio programs. Radio programs emphasized contemporary progressive ideas on education and progressive political notions that were not represented in schoolbooks at that time. Citizenship, a new subject, was also given a particularly radical formulation in the school programs. This meant that children who listened to educational programs on the radio, discussed the programs, and did assignments on them, encountered views of society that differed from prevailing traditional middle-class representations. Reoccurring subjects included the everyday lives of the working or lower-middle classes as well as the need for health reform and an expanded welfare system.
In Sweden, educational broadcasts addressed children not only as future citizens but also as active contemporary citizens. Children were included in the actual broadcasts, where they were displayed, with references to famous scientific explorers like Sven Hedin, as competent explorers of their own society. Further, these children were enlisted to represent various parts of society in accordance with notions of society proposed by progressive policymakers. Each pupil was supposed to have his or her own program sheet where each program was presented in texts and pictures. The notion was that the material should help children to create "listening pictures" (hörbilder) when listening to programs. This practice was implemented out of a strong belief that a will to change the way people thought had to start with strategies that changed the way they talked.
In contrast to America, and in spite of the centralized organization, in Sweden teachers were included in the implementation of radio in education. They participated continually in surveys where they reported their own and the pupils' responses to programs. Active teachers were invited to annual conferences about the use of radio in classrooms. It was argued by teachers and by the organizers of school broadcasts that elementary schoolteachers were more competent than academics and experts in communicating with pupils and therefore were invited to produce programs.
In Britain, educational radio programs were regarded as an important way to influence individual children and adolescents when they had problems or needed guidance in societal matters. Radio was also used to inculcate new notions of citizenship.
Studies of children's radio programs, particularly educational programs, offers an area of research that brings new perspectives to social, cultural, and political history. Such research also expands investigations of children's increased visibility and status as a special group in society, for instance as reflected in the UN CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD (1989). Children's programs provide material for inquiries into children's place in society as well as representations of childhood from a historical perspective, particularly during the period from 1920 to 1960, when radio was regarded as the major electronic medium in society. It is also a field well attuned to further developments of theoretical and methodological issues. In addition to actual programs, manuscripts, program sheets, and other documents concerning children's broadcasts, a number of studies measure children's reading and comprehension skills in relation to radio. Such materials could be used to investigate the systems of knowledge and meaning that have affected the child in different decades of the twentieth century.
See also: Media, Children and the.
Christenson, Peter G., and Peter DeBenedittis. 1986. "'Eavesdropping' on the FM Band: Children's Use of Radio." Journal of Communication 36, no. 2: 27-38.
Cuban, Larry. 1986. Teachers and Machines. The Classroom Use of Technology since 1920. New York and London: Teachers College Press.
Lindgren, Anne-Li. 1999. "'Att ha barn med är en god sak': Barn, medier och medborgarskap under 1930-talet" ("Including children is a good thing": Children, media and citizenship in the 1930s). Linköping Studies in Arts and Science 205.
Paik, Haejung. 2000. "The History of Children's Use of Electronic Media. In Handbook of Children and the Media, ed. Dorothy G. Singer and Jerome L. Singer. Thousand Oaks, CA, London, and New Delhi: Sage.
Palmer, Richard. 1947. School Broadcasting in Britain. London: BBC.