Mass Media In The 1632 Universe

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This article is to run in conjunction with Chris Penycate's discussion of the material technology required to produce down-time records and record players. In addition to Chris' hardware, this article discusses the software of the media industry down-time, the challenges and the requirements to create a “mass media” in early modern Europe.

In the days, weeks, months and years after the Ring of Fire, the people of Germany will, in one way or another, be increasingly exposed to modern mass media. The VOA goes on line not long after the Ring of Fire. Crystal radio sets can and will be made by down-timers, based on a pamphlet. The pamphlets are being printed and distributed before the first year turns over. Some people believe these pamphlets. Some don't. Of those that believe that you can make a device to listen to voices from miles and even hundreds of miles away, some will build the device—and some of them will work. Some won't, either because they are built wrong or because they are set up in a broadcast shadow. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter at all. Enough will work.

Most that do work will be listened to by dozens of people. More crystal sets will be made. Expertise will develop in the making and setting up of crystal radio sets. More people will listen. More people will believe. Those people will make still more crystal sets. For the first time in history—that history—all the people within the footprint of the VOA are going to have a new place to get news. Not all of them will use it, but enough will. This will be news from the wider world. News that is not days or weeks old, either. If it's from Grantville, the news will be delivered fresh and piping hot.

How much is rye selling for? Well, in Grantville it's selling for so many dollars a bushel. Not was selling for that price three weeks ago according to cousin Adolph's father-in-law. Is selling for that much as of last nights' commodities report. The result? Comments that go much like this: "Don't try to con me, Adolph. I listen to the radio."

That isn't the only effect. Aside from news, there is entertainment. Characters in radio plays and singers will become popular. Within Grantville there will be cablecasts not only of old movies that people have on tape, but live broadcasts of plays and tapes of new video movies made since the Ring of Fire. Will all this cause seventeenth-century Germany to produce its own stars? Look at Becky in the book 1632.

This isn't going to go away anytime soon. In the year 2000, when the Ring of Fire happened, there were probably a couple of dozen video cameras in Grantville as well as a thousand VCRs and twenty thousand video tapes. Most of them had Aunt Josephine's wedding anniversary or the latest action adventure movie. Tape cassettes, video and audio can be erased, reused, and even repaired. It will be years—or decades—before Grantville TV either goes off the air or loses the ability to video tape what it feels it needs to.

The same is true of audio tape recording of music. Even more true, there are more audio recorders than VCRs. Which means more audio tapes. As of the Ring of Fire, the formerly disposable tapes became worth repairing.

Within the Ring of Fire, the ability to record and preserve sound and sight, not to mention the ability to broadcast—or in the case of TV, cablecast—is not going to go away. The most fragile of technologies, the TV cameras and tapes, will last for at least a decade. Audio reproduction, and broadcast are permanent fixtures of the new time line.


That just leaves the rest of the world as the problem area. Minnie and Benny. Reba Macintyre. Various and sundry down-time musicians. All of these can be heard over the VOA radio anywhere within a hundred miles of Grantville. Two hundred miles on a good day. Grantville TV is available anywhere the cable goes. Teleplays can, and will, be made for that limited market. By 1634 or 1635, the Voice of Luther goes on the air out of Magdeburg, changing yet another 100 mile footprint. (There's a slight overlap. Some lucky folks will have to decide which radio station to listen to.) But . . . recordings that can be played outside the Ring of Fire? Movies that can be shown outside the Ring of Fire? That will be harder.

Not that much technically harder, but cost harder. Marketing harder. It's called "mass media" for a reason. Mass media needs a massive audience to work.

There is already one form of mass media in the seventeenth century; printing. Printing has a couple of advantages over the other forms. First, of course, printing is already there. Second; printing doesn't need a player of some sort. When you buy a book or a newspaper, you don't have to stick it in anything to find out what it says. You can just read it. That means the potential market for any given book is limited to those who can read. Not to mention, those who can afford to buy books.

A record, a tape, a movie on video tape or film, all require a special piece of equipment to be of any use. Radio would seem, at first glance, to have the same problem. It doesn't, though. Once you buy or build a crystal radio you get the content for free, which makes it a better deal than buying a book. The same is true of buying a TV, if you're somewhere the cable goes.

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