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Grolier Club Exhibitions

The Show Must Go On: Movie, Radio, and Television Magazines

Prior to 1900, Americans predominantly relied on music, sports, theatre and the written word for entertainment. The technological advances of the early twentieth century introduced the masses to motion pictures, radio and television. New specialty magazines helped to satisfy the appetite for information and fueled their popularity.

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The Edison Kinetogram.

Volume 1, number 1, August 1, 1909. Orange, N.J.: Edison Manufacturing Company. 

The first movie magazines were vehicles of the cartel, including the early in-house publication The Edison Kinetogram and the first fan magazine, Motion Picture Story. As the title implied, the focus was on the stories, but before long circulation of the most popular titles was increased when articles featuring the actors appeared. The most important and long- standing fan magazine, Photoplay, began a few months later.

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The Motion Picture Story Magazine.

Volume 1, number 1, February 1911. Brooklyn: Motion Picture Story Publishing Company. 

At its outset, the American film industry was dominated by Thomas Edison, who went to great lengths to enforce his patents on cameras, projectors, and film. In 1908, a group of competitors succumbed to Edison’s pressure and formed a cartel, the Motion Picture Patents Company to drive rivals out of business. After a legal challenge by several independent filmmakers, most notably Carl Laemmle, the cartel was broken by a landmark Supreme Court decision in 1915. 

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Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Volume 1, number 1, November 1927. Hollywood: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. 

In 1927, a group of thirty-six of the most influential Hollywood artists, directors, writers, and studio executives formed the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with Douglas Fairbanks as its first president. Their elegantly produced magazine featured a cover illustration of a knight by Cedric Gibbons that would soon become the basis for their award for excellence, the “Oscar,” first presented in 1929 to German actor Emil Jannings.

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Dispatch from Disney.

Volume 1, number 1, no date [1943]. Burbank, Calif.: Walt Disney Productions.

Hollywood enthusiastically “did their part” to support the massive World War II effort. This magazine was published by Walt Disney Studios for their employees serving overseas. The cover illustration is taken after their academy award-winning cartoon “Der Fuehrer’s Face,” originally titled “Donald Duck in Nutzi Land.” Despite the accolades, because of the depiction of Donald as a disgruntled Nazi, Disney took the film out of circulation after the war. It was finally re-released in 2004. 

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Modern Electrics.

Volume 1, number 1, April 1908. New York: Modern Electrics Publication.

The first radio magazine, Modern Electrics, was started by Hugo Gernsback, an American immigrant from Luxembourg, in April 1908. In April 1911 he began a twelve-part serial of his futuristic novel “Ralph 124c 41+” (One to foresee for one another).

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The Wireless Age: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine of Radio Communication, Incorporating the Marconigraph.

Volume 1, number 1, October 1913. New York: Marconi Publishing Corporation.

An Italian, Guglielmo Marconi, was the father of “wireless.” A magazine bearing his name, Marconigraph, started in England in 1911. The American edition began in 1912, becoming Wireless Age in 1913.

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Volume 1, number 1, December 1915. Hartford, Conn.: Hiram Percy Maxim and Clarence D. Tuska. 

Amateur radio’s pioneer organization was the American Radio Relay League, founded in 1914 by Hiram Percy Maxim. Its journal, QST, begun in December 1915, was the first and remains the foremost publication in the field. Since its inception, radio amateurs or “hams” have played an immense role in the advancement of American radio and television communications. 

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Radio Stories.

Volume 1, number 1, October 1924. New York: The Constructive Publishing Corporation. 

A very scarce monthly magazine published by the early advocate of physical culture and prolific periodical publisher Bernarr Macfadden. The well-illustrated contents are a cross between a fan magazine and a bedsheet pulp.

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What’s on the Air: The Magazine for the Radio Listener.

Volume 1, number 1, November 1929. Chicago: What’s on the Air Co.

As the number of commercial stations rapidly expanded in the late 1920s, weekly and monthly programming guides began popping up to help listeners find their favorites. This is a well-produced and very early example, containing photographs of performers and program listings of every American radio station. This issue is contained within an embossed leather folder specially designed by the publisher.

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All About Television.

Volume 1, number 1, Summer 1927. New York: Experimenter Publishing Company.

The first magazine exclusively devoted to television. A very scarce publication by the prolific magazine publisher and father of “Scientific Fiction,” Hugo Gernsback. It is mostly technical in content, though with a distinct insight into the future importance of the medium. 

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Phillipp’s Television Weekly.

Volume 1 number 1, January 26, 1948. New York: Robert Phillipps and H. Melville Hicks.

The potential of commercial television was first publicly showcased with a broadcast from the 1939 N.Y. World’s Fair with President Franklin D. Roosevelt as the star performer. As early as 1941, programming schedules were sent directly by mail from broadcasting stations to buyers of TV sets. After a hiatus due to the war, weekly programming guides began to appear in 1948, beginning with Phillipp’s Television Weekly in New York on January 26.

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TV Guide.

Volume 1, number 1, April 3, 1953. Philadelphia: Triangle Publications.

In April 1953, the three most popular “pre-national” titles were combined by Walter Annenberg’s Triangle Publications into the national weekly TV Guide, which rapidly became the best-selling magazine in America in the decades prior to the digital and cable revolutions. The cover illustration features I Love Lucy, which was so popular that water companies noted a significant spike in usage during its commercial breaks!