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Honoring Michele Hilmes’ Contribution to Radio Studies

Back in February, our Academic Series featured an interview with distinguished radio scholar Michele Hilmes. The interview touched on a variety of issues in Radio Studies, including the lost critical history of radio and the transnational production on sound media.

What I find to be so great about this interview is the way that Michele seamlessly discusses radio across time (both media history and new media) and across space (radio production across the Atlantic, for instance). The interview reflects Hilmes’ significant contribution to the field of radio studies and beyond.

As I type, Michele is completing her last semester at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her retirement has sparked a wealth of blog posts commending her work as a researcher, a mentor, and a colleague. You can find these entries over at Antenna, where the series appears to still be ongoing. Here is a brief sample of what has been touched on so far:

Kicking off the series, Bill Kirkpatrick emphasized Michele’s role in “giving voice” to the discipline of Radio Studies. He writes that a “major part of Hilmes’ importance has been her success in persuading Media and Cultural Studies to recognize the value of Radio Studies and Sound Studies in the face of its original indifference or even resistance.” Kirkpatrick adds that Michele “makes the case for radio scholarship along multiple axes: the interconnectedness of radio and film, the indebtedness of television practices and texts to radio’s precedents, the centrality of radio to questions of cultural politics and the public sphere, the transmedial problem of sound, and many more.” Michele’s contribution extends into writing a textbook for teaching Radio Studies, helping to establish conferences, journals, and in creating networks of radio researchers.

Speaking to Michele’s role as a colleague, Jonathan Gray insists that “Michele has been the most important person in the cultural life of Media and Cultural Studies (MCS) at UW-Madison.” Gray emphasizes that collegiality matters and that Michele’s work behind the scenes of the department has fostered an intellectual community of both junior and senior scholars.

For those who prefer to hear about Michele’s contributions, as opposed to read about them, Andrew Bottomley has written, produced, directed, and hosted a podcast about them (with co-production, editing, and sound mixing by Jeremy Morris). The podcast brings together a commendable list of people who have worked alongside Michele, as well as a number of Old Time Radio clips.

In Josh Shepperd’s first of two posts commemorating Michele’s conceptual and historical approaches to Media Studies, he points to her discursive analysis of residual history. Shepperd writes that Hilmes advocates a historiographical mandate that looks “at the ways that institutions are founded and evolve in relation to each other, deliberately choosing structures of organization novel from other institutions.”

Other posts include (but are not limited to) Jennifer Hyland Wang’s discussion of Michele’s work in amplifying the voices of women in Radio Studies, Norma Coates’ reflection on Michele as an academic advisor, and Danny Kimball’s nod to Michele’s contribution to new media history. Those with an interest in Radio Studies will find this Antenna series to offer fantastic insight into the field – its boundaries, its connections, and its practitioners. This is an immense commemoration for an individual who so richly deserves it.


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