A McLuhan View of the Radio

In a world of ever-changing technological advancements, the radio is one of the few forms of media that has persisted. When the radio initially became popular among typical home consumers in the 1920’s, it was a cutting-edge device. Rather than replacing or building on an outdated technology, like many new forms do today, the radio was the first of its kind and provided a service that many people did not realize they needed.

As one of the original forms of mass media, the radio was used for widespread dissemination of news, music, and other entertainment. It became the first link between American households and breaking news. In Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage, forms of media are analyzed based on their superior importance over the actual content of a particular medium. The radio as a medium of information falls into many of the descriptions that McLuhan depicts.

McLuhan puts much emphasis on the role of a written language as a way of creating a dependence on the visual. He writes that “Until writing was invented, men lived in acoustic space: boundless . . . in the world of emotion.” Prior to a written language, thought was expressed solely through sound. In today’s society, a much greater dependence is put on the ability to see. The radio is one of the few remaining mediums that continues to rely on only the sense of hearing. Rather than provide pictures or images that allow the user to passively absorb the information, the radio requires active listening. It also causes the user to create a mental image of what is being heard, which results in every listener having a different “picture” of what they are hearing.

It is not difficult to see how advanced forms of technology have brought the world together and intertwined the concerns and relations of people from all over. McLuhan’s reference to the “global village” emphasizes how modern media allows humans to live in “a simultaneous happening.” He goes on to describe how guilt is now felt as a widespread feeling shared by a larger population; private guilt is no longer felt by a single person or affected group of people. The radio has been an influential part of creating this global village.

Throughout the entire lifespan of the radio, its sole purpose has been to distribute news over wide areas in a quick manner. The unique thing about the radio is its ability to create a sense of community based on what it is broadcasting.1 Unlike many modern media forms, which encourage individual thought and action, the radio actually serves to unite the people of a given community. By sparking a conversation or aiding discussion in a particular pertinent topic, the radio often creates a sense of unity rather than alienation by technology.

The conduction of sound is also an important method of learning. As is stated in McLuhan’s work, learners who rely on the visual “will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves . . . “ This provides a vital connection to the radio, which offers an auditory form of learning. People who listen to the radio are more likely to remember and learn, because they are focused on hearing the material rather than passively seeing it. The radio, with its ability to encourage active listening, create a global village, and result in more effective learning, fulfills many of the roles of modern media forms.


1Giannara, Giannakoulopoulos, and Evenis, “Audio on Demand: Radio’s Future Format and its Impact on the Communication Procedure,” http://www.academia.edu/306235/Audio_on_demand_Radio_s_future_format_and_its_impact_on_the_communication_procedure

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2 thoughts on “A McLuhan View of the Radio”

  1. Your post was very interesting. I never knew that the radio was a one of its kind, and did not build on some other form of technology. Another great point you brought up was that today’s society relies more on the ability to see rather than hear with the radio, and also while listening to the radio we can create an image of what is being heard. I also agree with your point when you said that people who listen to the radio are more likely to remember because instead of always seeing information you actually have to listen and concentrate on what is being said.

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  2. My interest was peaked when you mentioned how different people have to create their own ideas and pictures of what they hear on the radio. It made me realize that while we all receive the same information in the same exact manner, we can all take something different away form it. In a way. that is how the radio is able to create a sense of unity. We are able to discuss differences we discovered from hearing the same message. I had never thought of something as common as the radio in such a way before.

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