MED4106 Radio & Popular Music Reading Response Week 1

Industries, Institutions & Histories of Radio & Popular Music

In ‘On Air: Methods and Meanings of Radio’ (1998) Shingler and Wieringa discuss the history of UK radio, including the vast expansion and development that occurred from the development of Morse Code in the 1840s until 1997. They also discuss the ethical considerations and progress compared to the USA stations.

Simon Frith’s ‘The Industrialization of Music’ (1998) discusses the implications that the development of technology has on music production, distribution and consumption which turned the music industry into a ‘complex system of money making,’ aided by the ease at which people with little musical talent can produce and sell songs.

Frith’s idea that technological developments make it easier for producers to make money by digitally altering voices or adding music supports Shingler and Wieringa’s as they also discuss the negative impact it has for radio companies; the growth of cheaper and more user friendly equipment led to the expansion of Pirate radio. Unlike the lack of talent Frith believes results from technological advances in the music industry, Pirate radio stations could have benefitted consumers with the lack of diverse radio content in the 1960s. However, this did result in the 1967 Marine Offences Act; the first to outlaw offshore Pirates.

With the development of the music industry, more companies emerged in the music industry selling both new music and audio equipment. More choice for consumers led to competition between different record labels and companies meaning that members of the music industry began viewing artists as ‘commodities’ that could make them money. This was also a cause of the more active role in computer generated music as it was cheaper to produce. Similar competition occurred in the radio industry with the expansion of the BBC leading to ethical considerations to ensure that the station maintained their high standard and ranging audience.

As Frith’s essay criticises the standard of popular music in the 1980s, this made me consider how this is still addressed today. Many artists who regularly appear in the UK top 40 have been criticised for their use of auto-tune and miming during live performances. I find this interesting as the popular music from this era is often considered better in comparison to the current popular music, yet these artists with very little talent are no longer considered an issue from that period. As well as similarities with the current structure of radio, I felt Frith’s writing remains relevant today.

If I was to research this area of the music industry I’d analyse artists from a major label in a variety of genres and with varying degrees of success to compare the promotion they each received and their reception from the public. This would look at whether the development of technology has led to more competition at record labels and corner-cutting in the production of music and how it compares to the 1980s. I would hold focus groups with people of different age groups and analyse footage, promotional items and chart figures as partial memory could make the interviews unreliable.


Frith, S, (1988). ‘The industrialisation of Music’. In: (ed), Music for Pleasure: Essays in the Sociology of Pop. 1st ed. e.g. England: Routledge, Chapman & Hall, Incorporated. pp.(11-23).

Shingler, M & Wieringa, C, (1998). ‘Radio time-line: History at a glance’. In: Martin Shingler & Cindy Wieringa (ed), On Air: Methods & Meanings of Radio. 1st ed. London: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC. pp.(1-29).


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