May 28, 2012 Leave a comment
Casey McCormick asked me to post this so that she could use it in a class. Thanks for motivating me to share, Casey!
Reception Problems: Postwar Television and the Amateur Experimenter
The figure of the amateur experimenter performs a well-defined historiographic function within revisionist histories of twentieth century media technologies. Consider the teenage wireless operator, the short wave ham, the hi-fi audiophile, and the computer hacker: historians have highlighted the activities of these and other amateurs to complicate and contest the distinctions that top-down, single-ledger histories often draw between the so-called producers and consumers of media technologies. What of television’s amateur experimenters? A handful of scholars have discussed hobbyists’ dalliances with mechanical television in the 1920s and 1930s (Sewell, 2012; Boddy, 2004), but few have traced these activities beyond the medium’s post-World War II relaunch. Exceptions exist: for instance, Lisa Parks (2000) has traced the circulation of technical knowledge about television amongst consumers and professional repairmen during the 1940s and 50s. But for the most part historians have relegated the amateur experimenter to the television’s pre-war “pre-history,” overlooking the various forms of experimentation that viewers and would-be viewers engaged in the decades following the medium’s commercialization. These experiments are the subject of this paper. In what follows I offer a perspective on 1950s television that stresses the mutability of its technologies and the resourcefulness of its viewers, and that furthermore is sensitive to the hyper-local variations that characterized the medium’s early reception practices.
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