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1 Pulp publishing mogul Hugo Gernsback kicked off the June 1927 issue of Radio News with an editorial proclaiming, “With the official recognition of Television by the Radio Commission, as well as the actual successful demonstration early in April by the American Telegraph and Telephone Co., it may be said that television has finally arrived.”1 This was not television’s first moment of arrival, and it was far from the last. Gernsback’s pronouncement and the editorial that followed do, however, point to some significant matters. First, that the United States’ most widely read radio magazine and its editor-in-chief were heralding television’s arrival several decades before it became a domestic commonplace testifies to a long period during which television existed as an object of conversation and imagination rather than a device in the home for (most of) the public. Second, the variance in capitalization between the first and second uses of the word television may be a sign of lax or eccentric copyediting, but it also hints at an uncertainty about usage that was in fact typical of articles about TV in the 1920s. Third, that Gernsback framed this arrival in terms of corporate display and governmental sanction suggests the matrix of institutional claims that would be made on and for the medium. Finally, since this was but one of many arrivals, Gernsback’s declaration indicates that what credibly constituted television and its moment of accomplishment and recognition was subject to change and dispute. All of these circumstances stem from the roles that culture and language—particularly as manifested in systems of authority and evaluation—play in making and managing a social, technical, and economic phenomenon such as television. In the case of early television those roles were played on a number of stages as individuals and institutions thought and talked about television. This book explores the very real impact that language and culture have on our world and how we live in it, taking as its case study the role that imagination Introduction The Substance of Things Hoped For 2 TELEVISION IN THE AGE OF RADIO played in effecting television as a technology, industry, and medium in the United States. In particular, it focuses on the ways in which culture shaped the understandings of and aspirations for television in the period from the mid1920s to the late 1940s. Those knowledges and hopes matter not only because they worked to coordinate a host of human activities that were crucial to the development of television but also because they demonstrate some of the ways in which people made sense of and a place for themselves in industrialized modernity. Writing about television became a mode of public thought and speculation about intersecting systems of capital, gadgets, values, and power that not only worked to define or dispute television as a technology or industry or system of communication but also projected cultural concerns from one seemingly distinct domain of thought onto another. For instance, later in Gernsback ’s editorial he uses the example of being able to see opera or the president as an index of the medium’s significance, thereby setting aesthetic and political goals for a technology that could not yet achieve them, while imagining television ’s users as people with serious tastes and interests. This was not random. Discourses of evaluation and systems of authority for talking and thinking about television were fashioned from a range of earlier habits of thought and allocations of cultural power in order to articulate a notion of what television should be. The specific ways and circumstances in which such notions were developed and contested are the subject of the individual chapters that follow, but as a general matter, conceptions of what television should be were instrumental in both creating television and constraining its possibilities. On the one hand, they worked to facilitate the planning necessary for the development of television as a complex technical and textual system, providing goals and measures. On the other, working toward one specific notion often meant foreclosing alternatives, excluding certain uses and users, and quite often fashioning the medium in the interests of powerful institutions. Imagination has a repressive side. As communications scholar James Carey argues, “Once the blank canvas of the world is portrayed and featured, it is also preempted and restricted.”2 In both their productive and repressive aspects, considerations of television tied it to broader expectations about the modern world and deeply moored values. Television...


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