Cover image for Redeeming the dial : radio, religion & popular culture in America
Redeeming the dial : radio, religion & popular culture in America
Hangen, Tona J.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
ix, 220 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm

Format :


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Home Location
Item Holds
BV656 .H36 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Blending cultural, religious, and media history, Tona Hangen offers a richly detailed look into the world of religious radio. She uses recordings, sermons, fan mail, and other sources to tell the stories of the determined broadcasters and devoted listeners who, together, transformed American radio evangelism from an on-air novelty in the 1920s into a profitable and wide-reaching industry by the 1950s.

Hangen traces the careers of three of the most successful Protestant radio evangelists--Paul Rader, Aimee Semple McPherson, and Charles Fuller--and examines the strategies they used to bring their messages to listeners across the nation. Initially shut out of network radio and free airtime, both of which were available only to mainstream Protestant and Catholic groups, evangelical broadcasters gained access to the airwaves with paid-time programming. By the mid-twentieth century millions of Americans regularly tuned in to evangelical programming, making it one of the medium's most distinctive and durable genres. The voluntary contributions of these listeners in turn helped bankroll religious radio's remarkable growth.

Revealing the entwined development of evangelical religion and modern mass media, Hangen demonstrates that the history of one is incomplete without the history of the other; both are essential to understanding American culture in the twentieth century.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this engagingly written and accessible study, Hangen provides a window into both the development of evangelical Christianity in the 20th century and the understudied world of radio, which she says helped cement evangelical conviction. "Radio-paradoxically-prevented the decline of old-fashioned religious belief," she argues. It was a highly contested medium, and Hangen does readers a great service by fleshing out the main characters and contentions of radio's heyday. Separate chapters explore the contributions of Paul Rader, Charles Fuller and Aimee Semple McPherson, who plied the airwaves with slightly variant versions of an American revivalist folk religion. Conservative radio preachers, Hangen explains, had to buy commercial airtime in an era when mainline Protestant denominations often were awarded "sustaining" (free) time in prime slots. Hangen has a keen eye for irony, as when she explores the idea that radio-a very public instrument-functioned as a uniquely intimate religious community, granting preachers unprecedented access into hearers' living rooms, bedrooms and kitchens. She is a highly skilled and innovative writer, with a remarkable talent for description and for employing primary sources to invite readers into the story. She also makes her mark on how evangelical history is told, challenging the oft-touted thesis that evangelicals simply retreated after the humiliation of the 1925 Scopes Trial and suddenly resurfaced in 1976 with the Carter presidency. Instead, she shows, they used that half-century to build their coalition, learn new technologies and define the limits of their theology. (Oct. 28) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Religious broadcasting, born with radio itself in 1921, became a big business by the 1940s. Hangen (history and literature, Harvard Univ.) writes engagingly about a topic that scholars have neglected in favor of religious television programming. She focuses on conservative Protestants who embraced the modern mass medium of radio, changing both the message and the medium. Hangen profiles Aimee Semple McPherson, who made religion "a form of popular culture entertainment," but the author's most valuable contribution examines two careers that spanned the "golden age" of radio. Paul Rader, pioneer radio evangelist of the 1920s, set the pattern for subsequent religious broadcasters who walked "the narrow line between doctrines palatable to conservatives and modes of religious expression acceptable on the mass medium of radio." Charles Fuller's Old Fashioned Revival Hour was the leading religious program from the 1930s through the 1950s. Fuller "defined the evangelical mainstream: embracing modern means but hewing to traditional doctrines." Fuller's broad influence included significant roles in founding the National Association of Evangelicals and encouraging the early career of Billy Graham. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty. W. B. Bedford Crown College

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. vii
Introductionp. 1
1 Religious Radio Before 1939p. 21
2 Paul Rader and the Creation of a Radio Revival Genrep. 37
3 Aimee Semple Mcpherson on Radiop. 57
4 Charles Fuller, Evangelist to the Worldp. 80
5 Interreligious Struggle for Radio Access in the 1940sp. 112
6 Radio and Postwar Popular Culturep. 142
Notesp. 159
Biblographyp. 189
Indexp. 209