Facts and Fictionalizations

in Science on the Air

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print October 2008 | ISBN: 9780226467597
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226466958 | DOI:
Facts and Fictionalizations

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Radio programs whose titles promised “new horizons,” “adventures,” “explorations,” and “science on the march” harmonized well with 1930s political rhetoric and the New Deal ethos. Science popularization too was infected by this spirit of social optimism. Eager to seem dynamic and forward-thinking, many of the creators of science series began to adopt dramatizations and similar entertainment techniques in the service of what Smithsonian secretary C. G. Abbot dubbed “ultra-popularization.” Corporate and government radio initiatives began adding dialogue and fictionalization to accounts of great experiments, employing professional actors to read the words of revered scientists, and using orchestral accompaniment and sound effects to evoke dramatic moods. The most notable projects—DuPont's Cavalcade of America and the Smithsonian Institution's The World Is Yours—relied on substantial corporate and government underwriting. Others, such as the American Museum of Natural History's New Horizons, combined private initiative with network production. The more listeners were drawn to such series, the more other programs imitated their approaches.

Keywords: science popularization; radio programs; entertainment techniques; New Horizons; C. G. Abbot

Chapter.  8707 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Media Studies

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