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Reviewed by:
  • Sound Streams: A Cultural History of Radio-Internet Convergence by Andrew J. Bottomley
  • Michael J. Meindl (bio)
Sound Streams: A Cultural History of Radio-Internet Convergence By Andrew J. Bottomley. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2020. Pp. 325.

For many practitioners and scholars, the emergence of the internet had (and continues to have) a large impact on media. Supposed new forms of media have arisen, often touted as unique from what has come before. In his book, Sound Streams, Andrew J. Bottomley strongly resists this narrative in his exploration of sound-based media in recent decades. Instead of seeing things such as podcasts or other streaming formats as completely new and fundamentally changing audio, he crafts an argument around what has not changed from the origins of radio to today. To accomplish this, Bottomley takes a wide view of what radio is and includes a number of different media platforms under this umbrella term. By taking this approach, he separates himself and his work from radio scholars like Chris Priestman. Bottomley "define(s) radio as any sound medium that is purposefully crafted to be heard by an audience—even if it is only an audience of a few people" (p. 14). Building on Bolter and Grusin's idea of "remediation," Bottomley examines how internet radio/online streaming audio "negotiates" between what he sees as the core of radio and new technologies. This center is built around the idea of "sociability," which "transcends a particular technology or platform" (p. 233). What makes radio special for Bottomley is its "capacity for facilitating community and human connectedness and for bringing the listener a sense of participation in a community" (p. 233). Ultimately, he sees "internet radio [as] less a 'revolution' than … simply a new transmission platform for the already expansive options in the radio universe" (p. 232). He accomplishes this through a mixture of "discourse analysis, ethnography, and textual analysis" and connections with "media and cultural studies, communication studies, science and technology studies, cultural history, oral history, cultural anthropology, and the digital humanities" (p. 244). Overall, he provides an interdisciplinary look at how the convergence of the internet and radio developed in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. [End Page 293]

Bottomley takes a chronological approach to his investigation of internet radio and streaming audio. He begins in the early 1990s with Carl Malamud and the founding of the Internet Multicasting Service and then proceeds to college radio stations that also used the internet to stream material. Next, he moves into the late 1990s and looks at audio platforms/formats, such as RealAudio and AudioNet. His focus then shifts to the 2000s and audio-blogging. To highlight new abilities for interactivity, Bottomley examines The Brian Lehrer Show. Following this, he tackles the rise and format of streaming services such as Pandora. He ends by looking at what he calls the "third wave" of podcasting (2015–present) and various audio storytelling approaches.

Bottomley's desire to create a strong thread through the history of radio is admirable. His focus on the sociability of radio, and its centrality in the definition of radio, which is crucial to the larger, historical argument he makes, is interesting. While his focus on sociability makes sense when thinking about conversational programs such as Stuff You Should Know, this can feel like a normative view of radio (though notably his concept of sociability goes beyond performance style). Bottomley strongly connects the chapters, which makes them an accessible read. His use of diverse sources, including interviews, helps to strengthen his argument and bring the history to life. Bottomley states that this book is meant for a wide audience, "including undergraduate media studies students, radio and podcast professionals, and dedicated ratio and podcast listeners" (p. 6), as well as academics. He organizes the book in such a way that caters to this diverse audience, evidenced through his choice to move deeper discussions of theory and method into an appendix that is relatively accessible. This is a user-friendly book for undergraduate courses that tie into media history or even audio production, as well as for established media/audio and history of technology scholars.

Michael J. Meindl



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pp. 293-294
Launched on MUSE
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