A previous post from my other blog, “At The Matinee.”
As a person who is interested in classic/contemporary film, I always enjoy watching the documentary films of Ken Burns (which are telecast from time to time on PBS). “The Brooklyn Bridge,” “The Statue of Liberty,” “The Congress,” “The Civil War,” “Baseball,” “Frank Lloyd Wright,” “Lewis & Clark,” “Jazz,” “Mark Twain,” “Horatio’s Drive,” “The National Parks,” “The War,” “The Dust Bowl,” and “The Roosevelts.”
One of his documentaries, “Empire of the Air,” examines the pioneers of radio broadcasting (originally telecast in 1991). Narrated by Jason Robards (1922-2000), Ken Burns’ documentary showcases three iconic innovators – Lee DeForest, inventor of the audion vacuum tube; Edwin Howard Armstrong, inventor of the regenerative circuit, the superheterodyne radio receiver and “frequency modulation,” or FM radio broadcasting; and David Sarnoff, who created one of the biggest communications companies.
“Empire of the Air” goes through the innovators’ triumphs and struggles, programming during radio’s “golden era”, early FM broadcasts, radio’s role in the Allied effort during World War II and early television technology. The documentary features interviews (and recollections of radio) with noted radio dramatist Norman Corwin (1910-2011), sports commentator Red Barber (1908-1992), Jeanne Hammond- niece of Edwin Howard Armstrong, broadcast historian Erik Barnouw (1908-2001) and Garrison Keillor, writer and host of public radio’s “A Prairie Home Companion.”
Ken Burns’ “Empire of the Air” is an insightful documentary about the pioneers of broadcasting and communications. If you’ve never seen the film before, see it when you have the chance. It is available on DVD (also part of the “Ken Burns’ America” box set) and streaming through Amazon Instant.