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Science on the AirPopularizers and Personalities on Radio and Early Television$
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Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780226467597

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: March 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226466958.001.0001

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Illusions of Actuality

Illusions of Actuality

(p.211) Chapter Ten Illusions of Actuality
Science on the Air
University of Chicago Press

In the television era, science programming survived at the network level only if it conformed to a fast-paced, irreverent, time-conscious context. Communication of scientific information via television became fragmented and dominated by entertainment values. Popular science was shuttled to the sidelines by network executives unconcerned about altruistic goals of public education. During the 1950s and 1960s, the proportion of television's daily schedule allocated to explaining science declined at the same time that science's accomplishments were gaining ever greater relevance to society. American television viewers never demanded otherwise, and the scientific community turned back to the laboratory with only sporadic, token, and generally ineffective complaint. Two types of programs from that early decade of television demonstrate broadcasting's rapid shift toward entertainment. The first, exemplified by The Johns Hopkins Science Review, adapted radio's educational approaches to a visual context. These presentations retained radio's tone of control and dignity. The second, introduced by a group of one-hour specials underwritten by the Bell Telephone System, altered the landscape of broadcast science. The Bell-funded programs demonstrated to the television industry that science need not be dull. They introduced exciting visual techniques for presenting science, and, perhaps most important, they raised audience expectations for popular science.

Keywords:   television broadcasting, science programming, popular science, television shows, The Johns Hopkins Science Review, Bell Telephone System, television programs

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