Moving Sounds

A Cultural History of the Car Radio

by Phylis Johnson (Volume editor) Ian Punnett (Volume editor)
©2019 Textbook XXII, 182 Pages


Moving Sounds explores the unique animating symbiosis that develops whenever previously unrelated technologies become intertwined and form a mutually invigorating relationship. When "car" and "radio" became permanently inculcated, it changed how both cars and radio were designed and experienced. Moving Sounds is the first book-length study exploring the relationship between the car and the radio. While much scholarship has been devoted to the general history of radio, radio’s unique relationship with the open road has been largely overlooked. The nascent interconnectivity between the early car and radio developers, and what they did to help each other, is another aspect of cultural history that is explored in Moving Sounds.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Figures
  • Moving Foreword: Why This Book Matters (Robin Bertolucci)
  • Preface: How to Use This Book (Phylis Johnson / Ian Punnett)
  • A Few Words and Acknowledgments (Phylis Johnson)
  • Chapter 1: Moving Sounds: An Introduction (Phylis Johnson / Ian Punnett)
  • Chapter 2: The Road Trip in the Making (Phylis Johnson)
  • Chapter 3: On Women and Radio: Women in the Driver’s Seat (Donna Halper)
  • Chapter 4: Got Jesus in My Car Radio: Evangelism on the Road (Phylis Johnson)
  • Chapter 5: From Airplane to “Zeppelin”: A Quick Primer on Radio Traffic Reporting (Wafa Unus)
  • Chapter 6: Enter the Forties: Riding on Fumes, and Traveling with Talk and Tunes (Philip Jeter)
  • Chapter 7: Cadillac Radio (Lady Dhyana Ziegler)
  • Chapter 8: A Tidal Wave of Change: Surfin’ the Sixties on the Dashboard (Jenny Johnson / Phylis Johnson)
  • Chapter 9: Los Angeles, Popular Music, and the Automobile (Justin A. Williams)
  • Chapter X: Car Trek: Morning Drive Radio … in Space! (Ian Punnett)
  • Chapter 11: Blackout: Testing the Airwaves and Hanging on by a Thread (Phylis Johnson / Jonathan Pluskota)
  • Chapter 12: The Silver Age of AM/FM/Tape Car Stereos: An Oral History (Tim Hendrick)
  • Chapter 13: Role-Playing on Virtual Highways: Simulations and Soundscapes: What’s Inside the Connected Car of Tomorrow? (Phylis Johnson)
  • Appendix: “Blacktop: The Radio Play” (Jay Needham)
  • Contributors
  • Index

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Figure 1.1. The first car radios.

Figure 1.2. Music for the traveler.

Figure 2.1. Charles Herrold broadcasting his radio concerts live.

Figure 2.2. George Frost, 18, claims the first radio equipped car.

Figure 2.3. Leppert and his sister display a do-it-yourself car radio.

Figure 2.4. Standard Radio Guide’s U.S.’s broadcasting map of U.S. stations.

Figure 2.5. Car radio installed for a 40K mile trek in 1922.

Figure 3.1. “Automobile Girl.”

Figure 3.2. Babe Didrikson’s Dodge print ad.

Figure 3.3. Eleanor Roosevelt at the wheel.

Figure 5.1. KNX/CBS radio reporter Tom Hanlon reports on Los Angeles-area traffic.

Figure 5.2. WWJ-Detroit’s “Expressway Reports” were called in every 10 minutes from a WWJ news desk.

Figure 5.3. WGN Radio’s “Flying Officer” Leonard Baldy, Chicago’s first traffic news celebrity.

Figure 6.1. Smithsonian photo of African-American family travelling during the Jim Crow Era. ← xi | xii →

Figure 6.2. The Negro Motorist’s Green Book (1937–1964).

Figure 7.1. Unnamed African-American women on a windy day in 1930s Harlem.

Figure X.1. Starman drifting toward Mars in a cherry red Tesla Roadster.

Figure 12.1. Early, bulky AM/FM stereo 8-track tape player with 5 radio presets and a few limited controls.

Figure 12.2. Another under-dash, after-market AM/FM stereo 8-track unit.

Figure 12.3. AM/FM stereo 8-track player goes uptown.

Figure 12.4. Ad featuring Ray Charles.

Figure 12.5. “Traffic Jam” ad by Clarion.

Figure 12.6. Ringo Star’s car stereo.

Figure 12.7. Example of a co-promotional tie-in ad from Clarion Car Audio.

Figure 12.8. His and hers sports cars co-promotional tie-in ad from Clarion Car Audio.

Figure 12.9. “The Fine Art of Car Audio” ad by Alpine Car Audio Systems.

Figure 12.10. Cellular phone unit.

Figure 13.1. Big Iron—Car Radio in Game Worlds.

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Why This Book Matters

Robin Bertolucci

As our culture sits idling, waiting for the shift to autonomous vehicles, what an interesting time to reflect back on in-car radio listening. As a large-market radio programmer, I don’t program exclusively for in-car listening, but for all listeners wherever they are, whatever they’re doing. Radio does do different things at different times of the day for different reasons, however. For example, in the morning you need to know what’s going on—what did I miss while I was asleep? Radio’s mission is to get the listener up to speed and ready for his or her day. No one wants to be that person that walks into the office and says, “Huh, what happened?”

Where I live and work in Los Angeles, drive time starts weekday mornings by 5 a.m. and can go until 10 a.m—or later—while afternoon drive can mean anything from 2 p.m. until 8 p.m. It seems like there’s always a crowd on the freeways, whatever the time of day! Even still, every time of the day has its own energy and its own needs. Midday radio has a completely different energy than mornings. When the midday shows start, the average listener probably already knows the big stuff that went on so there is more time for side stories, a deeper dive on info, new perspectives and entertainment. Afternoon drive feels very different than mornings, too. PM drive can be a way to blow off steam, get away, decompress, or focus on a particular issue. So, every ← xiii | xiv → “daypart” has its own rhythm and style based on what the majority of people out there are doing at that hour, yet, because the morning and afternoon commutes bring the highest number of ears to radio, morning and afternoon drive radio remain synonymous with peak listening times. But soon, our rush hour experience could become something altogether new. When our in-car radio choices are no longer limited by the responsibility of operating the autonomously driven vehicle we are in, we’ll be able to not only listen to the radio, but also read, watch, and interact—Apple has even patented a virtual reality headset so that future passengers will be able to transport themselves beyond their cars during their commutes.

This is only a suggestion of what the future might look like. As this book illustrates, so much has changed already for radio in general and specifically people listening to it in their cars. We’ve gone from the days of cars with just AM radios to AM/FM, and on to HD channels, satellite radio, apps, streaming audio, and in-car wifi hotspots. We are no longer limited by what radio signals are in our particular geographic region, we can now listen to virtually anything from anywhere.

As a program director, even in this wildly competitive landscape, I have to believe that great content will always win. History shows that audio connects us in ways that other media do not. Audio is captivating and liberating at the same time. Audio engages us but simultaneously frees the listener to do other activities such as drive, work or work out. Radio is not just a connection with other people but with the community. You are not sitting in that car alone when you are connected to people that you “know” on the radio and that makes the medium so powerful and connective.

Down the road, it’s only my guess, but what will have the greatest value to the radio listener will be hearing content based on great stories because, since the beginning of time, human beings have connected to each other through storytelling. It’s what we do. We are communal and we need to tell and hear stories. Radio, really, is just another in a long line of story-delivery mechanisms, a great device to share audio content over a large area but ultimately the device itself is irrelevant; the content is truly what matters.

Looking forward, I would guess that all audio content products such as terrestrial radio, satellites, podcasts, and streams will continue to get more and more diverse, fragmented, and/or focused. Whereas radio traditionally has been BROAD-casting to the largest groups possible, we may see many more radio NARROW-casters following the podcast model. The power of podcasts is not simply about driving a massive audience—although they can—it’s about ← xiv | xv → targeting a specific segment of the population that is really into “that thing.” For instance, what bicycle advertiser wouldn’t want to buy spots in a podcast produced for 1000 highly passionate cyclists who own bikes over $4000 and race them on the weekends? Meaningful content can be derived just as much from the interests of small but passionate tribes as larger ones.

In the end, forward thinking suggests that with all these changes, in-car radio listening may take unpredictable forms, but always continue in some fashion. In many American cities like Los Angeles, despite so many attempts to get people out of their single-occupant vehicles and into public transportation, it has not yet been feasible or desirable for everybody to give up the ease and flexibility of a car, so drive time terrestrial radio still dominates—for now. Until the shift to autonomous vehicles goes into high gear, or large stations start thinking smaller, as makers of live audio content, it remains the obligation of everybody on the air to remember the listener stuck in their car, probably alone, and bring the creative energy needed to breakthrough to them. That personal relationship may never change.


XXII, 182
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2019 (February)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Vienna, Oxford, Wien, 2019. XXII, 182 pp., 28 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Phylis Johnson (Volume editor) Ian Punnett (Volume editor)

Phylis Johnson, Ph.D., Southern Illinois University Carbondale, is Professor and Director of Journalism and Mass Communications at San Jose State University, and Emeritus Professor of Sound & New Media in the College of Mass Communication & Media Arts at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. She is the outgoing editor of Soundscape: The Journal of Acoustic Ecology and the past editor of the Journal of Radio and Audio Media. She has authored four books in media studies, numerous research chapters and journal articles, as well as arts reviews and magazine features on gaming, sound and new media, particularly virtual and mixed reality. She has presented internationally and has more than 20 years of professional radio experience. Ian Punnett, Ph.D., Arizona State University, is a former nationally syndicated radio personality, morning show host, media personality, and author of such books as Toward a Theory of True Crime Narratives. He is the past managing editor of the Journal of Radio and Audio Media.


Title: Moving Sounds