Radio and the Jews: The Untold Sto­ry of How Radio Influ­enced Amer­i­ca’s Image of Jews, 1920s-1950s

David S. Siegel and Susan Siegel
  • Review
By – March 5, 2012

The Siegels put their ency­clo­pe­dic knowl­edge of the Gold­en Age of Radio to good use. Their study brings togeth­er vir­tu­al­ly every sig­nif­i­cant men­tion of Jews in pop­u­lar Amer­i­can radio pro­grams from 1920 to 1960. What emerges is a fas­ci­nat­ing por­trait of how pop­u­lar cul­ture both reflect­ed and shaped pub­lic per­cep­tions of who and what Jews were, at once con­tribut­ing to and bat­tling anti-Semi­tism and intolerance. 

The ref­er­ences in the book, and the accom­pa­ny­ing CD, range from bur­lesque dialect com­e­dy to more real­is­tic series like The Gold­bergs and Abie’s Irish Rose, from sober reli­gious and cul­tur­al pro­grams like The Eter­nal Light to the rant­i­ngs of Father Cough­lin. Against the back­ground of the rise of Nazism in Europe, con­sid­er­able atten­tion is paid to the efforts of orga­ni­za­tions like the Unit­ed Jew­ish Laymen’s Com­mit­tee, on the one hand, to pro­mote cer­tain images and caus­es, and net­works and spon­sors, on the oth­er, wary of being drawn into any kind of social or polit­i­cal controversy. 

Writ­ten in a breezy style that occa­sion­al­ly strays into cliche, Radio and the Jews empha­sizes breadth of cov­er­age over depth of analy­sis. But it remains a valu­able work for the vast major­i­ty of us who have no direct mem­o­ry of the Gold­en Age of Radio. CD, index, notes. 

Bill Bren­nan is an inde­pen­dent schol­ar and enter­tain­er based in Las Vegas. Bren­nan has taught lit­er­a­ture and the human­i­ties at Prince­ton and The Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go. He holds degrees from Yale, Prince­ton, and Northwestern.

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