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Western Radio Listening Circa 1940

There was something about the West back in the 1930s and 1940s that made radio ownership and radio listening more popular here than just about any other region in the United States. What that "something" was remains a mystery.

In advance of the 72nd anniversary of the War of the Worlds broadcast today, I was thumbing through Hadley Cantril's 1940 book about the phenomenon, called The Invasion From Mars.

A table in Cantril's book (on page 57) shows regional differences in the percentage of the total available audience who actually tuned in to War of the Worlds. It shows the West leading the way by several percentage points, and I'm still not satisfied that anyone can explain why the percentage was so high here:

Mountain and Pacific: 20%
Middle Atlantic: 15%
West North Central: 12%
East North Central: 11%
South: 8%
New England: 8%


The table is followed by this paragraph:

"The high percentage of Mountain and Pacific states is undoubtedly due to the fact that listening in general is highest in the far western part of the country (italics mine). The low figure for the New England states is due to the fact that Columbia's Boston outlet (WEEI) did not carry the program."

This assertion about Western listening cites a then-forthcoming book by Frank Stanton (later president of CBS) called Measuring the Listening Audience. I have not been able to locate a copy of (perhaps the title changed?). Do you know if this book was actually published or if Stanton's material appeared elsewhere? Please let me know.

On a related note, I wrote a post a few months ago for I STILL Love Radio about high levels of radio ownership in the West around this same time (which obviously makes possible the high levels of listening Cantril cites, but the "why" remains unclear).

(Posted by Feliks Banel)



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