Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Radio and Rock: Recommended Reading

I often write about broadcast history, and I'm always pleased to find a book that can add to my knowledge of the subject. Such a book is Something in the Air by Marc Fisher. This 375-page hardcover is a look at the growth of radio in the 1950s and 1960s, the emergence of the star deejays, storytellers, rock, underground radio, and more.

But it's not just a chronicle of who did what to whom. It's loaded with well-written anecdotes of the "Wow--that's something!" variety. The tale of the hoax book I, Libertine, perpetrated by Jean Shepherd and ghosted by one of fiction's master writers, Theodore Sturgeon, is worth the cost of the book.

But don't mistake this for a simple collection of stories of freaky people who made their names in radio. Those stories are there, but the book as a whole is concerned with following the evolution of radio--in the public perception, legally, commercially, and ethically. As such, it is an important work. And for the writers out there, Something in the Air is a fine example of how to create a social chronicle using personal stories as building blocks, cemented by facts, narrative and a touch of one's own viewpoint.

Fisher gets a few of the facts wrong, but you can overlook those in favor of the history and the enlightening, entertaining anecdotes. The whole thing reads smoothly--Fisher's a fine writer, skilled at narrative. If you're looking for a good non-fiction read, one of those books that draws you in and keeps things fascinating, this is it.

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