Audio Quality and Technological Innovations: Marketing Radio Sets and Gramophones in Lebanon and Palestine, 1930s-1940s

By Andrea L. Stanton
Submitted to Session P3731 (Making Sense of Sound in Middle Eastern History, 2014 Annual Meeting
Lebanon; Palestine;
LCD Projector without Audio;
The 1930s and 1940s were a crucial time for the development of Middle Eastern radio broadcasting – particularly in the Levant. The 1930s saw the replacement of small, amateur broadcasting with state-controlled, national stations broadcasting entertainment and news on medium wave, which meant they could be heard in neighboring states. The 1940s saw the maturation of these stations and mid-century radio listening practices, despite World War II censorship, and the important transition from colony or mandate territory to nation-state. At the same time, these decades were also ones in which the use of gramophones for recorded music became more common, and both products became more affordable, at least for middle- and upper-middle class consumers.

This paper examines gramophone and radio set newspaper advertisements from Arabic-language dailies in Lebanon and Palestine – two territories with consistent radio station broadcasting as well as urban fora for live music and cinemas – from the 1930s through the 1940s. It assesses the variations in boiler plate ad copy provided by the manufacturer, as well as Arabic or French language copy produced by the local seller to determine the extent to which local retailers emphasized sound-related issues like audio quality and ease of tuning or operation versus other product-focused claims, and the lack of related claims like loud volume or treble versus bass sounds. What do these emphases suggest about the retailers’ view of their consumers and the latters’ interests, expertise, and listening preferences? It also considers advertisements’ efforts to create a mood or image that sold the “benefit” of these products: modern living, access to news or other content from the outside world, improved leisure time, or access to religious services or readings. What do these foci suggest about the target consumers? It contextualizes these advertisements by noting their frequency and prominence relative to those of other, non sound-related products.

Overall, this paper argues, the prominent but not exclusive focus of 1930s-40s radio set and gramophone advertisements in Lebanon and Palestine suggests a perception among local retailers that audio quality and technological innovation mattered to consumers, highlighting their increasingly sophisticated relationship to these sound-producing appliances. It also suggests consumers’ increasingly diverse listening interests, as well as the degree to which listening opportunities and occasions were expanding, thanks in particular to the increasing familiarity of radio broadcasting.