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Educational Radio: An Interview with Brian Gregory

Brian Gregory currently works as an academic technologist at Pace University where he collaborates with faculty, students, staff, and the Pace community in order to implement educational technologies in ways that promote active and engaged learning. I recently asked Brian a few questions about his research in educational broadcasting and the ways in which he implements his research into his educational practice. His answers emphasize the importance of local radio broadcasting for enabling participation and communication within communities.

Brian received his doctorate in Communication and Education from Teachers College, Columbia University in May 2013. During the 2013-2014 school year, Brian taught courses in the Communication Arts Department at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, NY where he also chaired a committee to investigate the possibility of developing a student-run radio station. He is also a research associate for the Radio Preservation Task Force where he helps to coordinate the New Jersey and upstate New York regions.

In the short term, Brian would like to carve out some time to work on and publish some of the work that he discusses below. Down the road, he plans to begin working on a book-length manuscript that will examine the ways that radio, and other sound media, have been (and are being) used in education. In other words, a history of the educational uses of sound technologies.

Radio Survivor: Your work demonstrates a very strong commitment to exploring the educational uses of broadcasting and sound technologies. How did you first come to be interested in educational radio?

Brian Gregory: When I started thinking about what I would write my dissertation on, I was interested in the history of radio and sound technologies, and on how educational technologies have been (and could be) used to promote active, participatory learning. My dissertation sponsor, Robbie McClintock, had written extensively on the history and theories of active learning and suggested that I study the history of progressive education in the twentieth century.

I was introduced to John Dewey’s The Public and its Problems in a yearlong course co-taught by McClintock and Frank Moretti, who was also on my committee. This was a great course – we got to delve deeply into other foundational works including Weber, Bourdieu, Durkheim, Marcuse, Arendt, Benjamin, and many others. Frank and Robbie also suggested that I do more reading on the history of education, most notably The Transformation of the School: Progressivism in American Education 1876-1957  by Lawrence Cremin (1964), whom they had both studied under at Columbia. I then began to seek out as many texts on educational history and educational technologies as I could find.

Radio Survivor: What sort of resources did you find and what archival sites did you consult? What have been some of your most interesting findings?

Brian Gregory: In terms of educational radio, I first became interested in an educational program broadcast on NBC from late 1920s – 1940s called the Music Appreciation Hour (MAH), which was hosted by Walter Damrosch and broadcast to American classrooms nationwide. I did much of my research on Walter Damrosch in the NBC papers at the Library of Congress and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and in the Walter Damrosch collection at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

Much of what I found about Damrosch, including articles, NBC Press materials, and letters written to him by students, focused on his personality. This got me thinking about Damrosch through the lens of Warren Susman’s culture of personality, which Michele Hilmes has written about with radio, and the idea that the educational impetus was on Damrosch as an entertaining public figure rather than on the educational uses of the program. This is not to say that his only purpose on air was to broadcast his personality.

There were many people, including Damrosch, who worked at radio stations, as well as educators, who were interested in using the MAH to teach the appreciation of music, but this seemed almost secondary to me. There were also some very interesting discussions on using the program to develop the aural faculties and emotional intelligence of students, but as I will explain below, these were realized and better implemented by progressive classroom teachers through local educational radio programming.

Next, I began to look at local educational radio and how it was envisioned and utilized by educators and the people who operated educational stations at universities. I did research on the Wisconsin and Ohio Schools of the Air, which were broadcast from WHA at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and WLW at the Ohio State University, respectively.

I found that these local stations had different emphases and objectives than NBC. For the most part, they worked closely with educators and people in nearby communities to integrate educational programming in ways that met their instructional needs. This is where I came across some of the innovative and progressive uses of radio. For instance, Edgar Dale, a professor at OSU, wrote about audio-visual teaching methods. In a number of articles, Dale talked about the potential of the radio to stimulate the auditory senses of students. I also did research on the goals and uses of other sound technologies, specifically the player-piano and the phonograph, in American schools. I concluded my research around WWII, when funding for educational radio was cut.

Radio Survivor: When I was a doctoral student at Concordia University in Montreal, I was a research assistant on a project that was locating privately sponsored educational, instructional, and industrial films in Canada (The Canadian Educational, Sponsored, and Industrial Film Archive), given that so much scholarly attention had been paid to films publicly funded by the National Film Board of Canada. As a radio scholar who has some experience working with educational media, I would be very curious to hear more about the larger goals and aims of your research into educational broadcasting? What would you like readers of Radio Survivor to know about this important topic?

Brian Gregory: The purpose of my research on educational broadcasting has been to explore the ways that radio has been envisioned and utilized as an instructional tool that could promote active and engaged learning – sensory learning not learning through textbooks – something that many educational progressives in the early 20th century, including Dewey, espoused. I have also been influenced by the great work in Sound Studies and research on the creative ways that radio, sound technologies, and educational technologies in general, have been (and are currently being) used in schools (for example, see 1, 2, and 3).

Radio Survivor: What can the history of educational broadcasting tell us about the study of broadcasting today? Or, perhaps, about the radio industries today?

Brian Gregory: Researching educational radio, I have found that the goals of educators and people in local communities have greater potential to be realized by local radio stations, more than through the networks. The local stations seem to be more concerned with teachers’ instructional needs and want to help them to implement and tailor educational radio programs to meet the varied ways that students learn.

I tend to agree with Paddy Scannell, who has argued elsewhere, that local stations play an important role because they provide citizens with access and opportunities to listen to and participate in radio as well as help to challenge tendencies of “cultural standardization” (136).

More voices need to be heard from educational stations that broadcast at the local level. This will benefit other educators who would like to use radio in their classrooms because they will be able to learn about new and innovative ways to use the medium, which, in turn, might inspire them to experiment with and develop their own ways to use radio for educational purposes.

Radio Survivor: Lastly, is there anything else about your work that you’d like to share? What are you working on now?

Brian Gregory: I recently started a job as an Academic Technologist at Pace University. It’s great because I get to implement educational technologies, including synchronous learning tools (e.g. Blackboard Collaborate and Second Life), multimedia programs and platforms (podcasting and Kaltura, for example), and audience response systems (such as Poll Everywhere) in ways that promote active, engaged learning. I am really interested in developing my knowledge and expertise with these and other educational technologies at Pace.

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One Response to Educational Radio: An Interview with Brian Gregory

  1. Mark Jeffries December 22, 2014 at 1:10 pm #

    Walter Damrosch, of course, was indirectly responsible for another radio institution. One Saturday night, WSM Nashville announcer George Hay, finding Damrosch more pretentious than usual, said following the “Music Appreciation Hour,” “Friends, the program which just came to a close was devoted to the classics. Doctor Damrosch told us that there is no place in the classics for realism. However, from here on out for the next three hours, we will present nothing but realism. It will be down to earth for the ‘earthy’.” And then: “For the past hour, we have been listening to music taken largely from Grand Opera. From now on, we will present the ‘Grand Ole Opry’.”

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