Television and radio Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Since the early twentieth century inventions of radio and television, broadcasting media for immigrant communities in the United States have gained importance in forging and maintaining cultural identities, meeting the specific needs of immigrant groups, promoting acculturation, and fostering ethnic enterprises.

Television and radio broadcasting for immigrant communities in the United States–which might be called “ethnic broadcasting”–targets specific groups with unique cultural and ethnic identities, which are defined by common languages, histories, religious faiths, traditions, and, often, countries of origin. The broadcasting media play a significant role in the development and maintenance of group identities by facilitating the preservation of immigrant languages and traditions. They also provide information on medical services, cultural performances, financial services, and other topics of interest to specific ethnic groups. In addition to news from and about the communities, the ethnic media disseminate information about events occurring in the homelands of immigrants, thus fortifying the immigrants’ bonds with their parent societies.TelevisionRadioTelevisionRadio[cat]COMMUNICATIONS;Television and radio[cat]JOURNALISM;Television and radio[cat]CULTURE;Television andradio

Immigrant broadcasting may also have a surveillance function in trying to protect communities from external threats. For example, it provides information about the legal rights of immigrants, such as civil rights violations, changes in U.S. immigration laws, and crimes against immigrants, and often serves as a channel for mobilization. At the same time, the broadcast media facilitate the process of Acculturation;and broadcast media[broadcast media]acculturation and assimilation of the immigrant communities in American society. Radio and television programming often offers English-language lessons. It also provides information on the values and norms of the host society and promotes citizenship and naturalization. Finally, ethnic broadcasting creates platforms for the development of economic enterprises in the ethnic enclaves.

Early History

Radio broadcasting developed at such a fast pace at the beginning of the twentieth century that a number of unregulated business arrangements between manufacturers of radio equipment and broadcasters arose. The threat of a broadcasting market monopoly developing prompted the U.S. government to pass a series of regulations designed to assign broadcast wavelengths and licenses, starting with the [a]Radio Act of 1927Radio Act of 1927. As a result of the government’s antitrust actions, four major radio networks were created–the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), the Columbia Broadcasting Company (CBC), the Mutual Broadcasting System, and the American Broadcasting Company (ABC). Television broadcasting emerged around this same time. NBC launched a television station in 1928. However, significant television broadcasting did not begin until shortly after World War II, when CBS and ABC started their television networks.

One of the most successful sitcoms of all time, I Love Lucy (1951-1957) starred real-life couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, a Cuban-born bandleader, who played Ricky Ricardo, a Cuban bandleader much like himself. The series frequently called attention to Ricardo’s Cuban origins and found humor in cultural misunderstandings.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

During the early days of radio broadcasting, there were several programs with an emphasis on the immigrant experience–the documentary series Americans All, Immigrants All, the comedy series The Goldbergs (or The Rise of the Goldbergs), the situation comedies Abby’s Irish Rose and Life with Luigi. Throughout the 1940’s and 1950’s, television shows addressing the immigrant experience included the situation comedies I Remember Mama, I Love Lucy, and Hey, Jeannie! Television versions of the radio series Life with Luigi and The Goldbergs gained popularity during the early 1950’s. The emphasis of these series changed gradually from the economic conditions of immigrants during the Great Depression to their lives within the exigencies of consumer society in the 1950’s. Toward the end of the 1950’s, American television slowly began to replace immigrant-oriented sitcoms with white, middle-class family situation comedies.

Special Programming for Immigrants in Radio

The major modifications in U.S. immigration law brought by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 prompted the broadcast media to introduce programming aimed at a number of specific ethnic and foreign-language groups. These programs mostly targeted African Americans, Spanish speakers, Native Americans, and some groups of European descent. American radio stations began offering “special programming” for groups from Asia and the Caribbean. Between 1965 and 2000, the number of radio stations offering ethnic and foreign-language formats rose from 170 to 877. At the same time, the number of hours of such programming rose from 4,384 per week in 1965 to 8,500 hours per week in 2000.

Since the 1960’s, commercial radio for immigrants has increasingly responded to the tastes of particular communities. Similar preferences in the radio programming often act as a reconciliatory mechanism that unite audiences from different ethnic and racial communities. For example, despite the inherent conflict-based relationship among Asian Indians, Pakistanis, Nepalese, Bangladeshis, and Sri Lankans in Asia, immigrants from all these societies consume the same media products in the United States.

Because public radio receives substantial funding from the federal government, it is subject to governmental regulations written to ensure that “special programming” is provided for immigrant communities. According to the [a]Public Telecommunications Act of 1988Public Telecommunications Act of 1988, the only radio services required by law are those that respond to the needs of immigrants and other minority groups. Since 1986, the Radio Program Fund of the Corporation for Public BroadcastingCorporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) has funded programs designed to increase diversity on public radio. As a result, independent producers whose programs target minority communities have received about 75 percent of the radio production awards from the CPB radio fund. In addition, the incentive of public radio to educate competent journalists and improve its human resources was extended during the 1980’s to include a special program that addressed minority employees–Minority Recruitment and Specialty Development Initiatives.

Television Programming for Immigrants

Throughout 1970’s and 1980’s, the federal government’s deregulation of cable channels and the development of satellite television challenged the dominance of the three major broadcast television networks–ABC, NBC, and CBS. The emergence and increasing popularity of new channels reflected the need of commercial television to address specific cultural groups of the society. Consequently, during the 1990’s, special networks targeting particular ethnic communities emerged, such as the Black Entertainment TelevisionBlack Entertainment Television (BET), the Spanish-language UnivisionUnivision and TelemundoTelemundo.

Two special challenge facing television have been portraying members of ethnic and immigrants groups properly and ensuring representation of immigrant communities on television–both objectives that have proven difficult to regulate. One of the first bodies to address proper representation of minority groups was the Kerner CommissionKerner Commission, which was created in 1967 in response to social disorders arising from racial issues. It concluded that broadcasting played an important role in perpetuating the discriminatory attitudes toward African Americans and members of other minorities. The commission strongly recommended that the broadcasting media do more to reflect the nation’s racial and ethnic diversity. However, the federal government was constrained from taking stronger action by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which effectively prohibits government from directly influencing the content of programs on commercial television. Despite this constraint, the Federal Communications CommissionFederal Communications Commission (FCC), the principal federal agency involved in the regulation of broadcasting in the United States, has established regulations that have an indirect influence on minorityemployment, ownership, and advertising in the media.

The case of American public television is completely different. Since its inception, it has striven to maintain a programming scheme that represents the full ethnic and racial diversity in the nation. In fact, it is the only television service in the United States required by law to serve minority communities. Public television has produced such programming in all its programming categories: children’s, public affairs and news, education, cultural documentaries, performing arts, and science and nature. Examples from children’s programming on public television have included such popular shows such as Sesame Street, and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.

African American Radio and Television<index-term><primary>African Americans;and broadcast media[broadcast media]</primary></index-term>

Throughout the 1920’s, 1930’s, and 1940’s, African American radio played an important role in the establishment of black communities emerging in the midwestern and northeastern regions of the United States. Although it was not addressing the needs of African Americans in its early days, commercial African American radio contributed significantly to the acculturation and cultural transmission of the community and to its resistance to racism. Music programming was its main early format. During the 1960’s, black radio broadcasting reflected the radical changes then taking place in the African American community. As a result of the Civil Rights movement, more African Americans became owners of radio stations and produced their programs. In 2000, 140 African American-owned radio stations were operating through the country. Listeners also associated specific music genres with black radio: jazz, urban contemporary, blues, gospel, and hip-hop.

During the 1970’s, African Americans finally gained positive representation on television. An outstanding example was the 1977 miniseries Roots, which strengthened the identity of the black community and helped improve attitudes toward minority racial and ethnic groups generally throughout the country. During the 1980’s and 1990’s, the exposure of African American issues became more prevalent. Talk shows addressing problems of people of color emerged, as did popular series starring African Americans, such as The Cosby Show, Different World, and In Living Color. Meanwhile, entertainment programming began offering more information about African Americans.

However during the early 1990’s, the representation of African Americans on commercial television actually decreased. Moreover, some shows with African American characters, such as Out All Night and Rhythm and Blues, tended to contribute to Stereotyping, ethnic;African Americanfortifying rather than destroying negative stereotypes of African Americans. In 1979, a special network emerged to address the needs of African American audience–Black Entertainment TelevisionBlack Entertainment Television (BET).

Asian Radio and Television

Since the 1990’s, the Asian community has been the fastest-growing immigrant population in the United States. In 2000, 10.5 million people of Asian descent were living in America. The Asian broadcasting media have served many different ethnic groups–Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, South Asians, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians, Pacific Islanders, and some groups from the Middle East. In 2000, twelve mainly AM stations had formats that targeted the Asian community, and eighty-one other stations provided 254 hours of special programming for Asian-speaking groups in the United States. During the early 1990’s, the dominant format on Asian radio was music programming, along with some ethnic advertisements. Asian Indian immigrants;radio programming forAsian Indian radio, serving a community of at least 1 million listeners during the late 1990’s, offered more diverse programming formats: music, talk shows, drama, news and information programs.

As the Asian American population has grown rapidly, so too has the number of television channels targeting Asian viewers. In 1995, only six national cable networks catered to Asian immigrants. By 2001, that number had risen to eight. During the early 1990’s, the International Channel Networks (ICN) launched via different cable operators the International Channel, which targeted speakers of Asian Pacific languages. ICN later offered programs in seventeen different languages.

Spanish-Language Radio and Television

As with the Asian community, the rapid growth of the Spanish-speaking population in the United States that began during the last decades of the twentieth century has increased demand for broadcast media in Spanish. Between 1990 and 2002, the number of radio stations offering primarily Spanish-language programming grew from 261 to 687. Most of the stations operated in areas with large Spanish-speaking populations, particularly in Texas, California, Florida, Arizona, and New Mexico. The dominant format in Spanish-language radio has been music programming, which have accounted for more than 80 percent of all programs. Music programming is more cost-effective than other formats, but more importantly, it appeals to all segments of the diverse Spanish-speaking population in the United States. Some radio stations, however, have targeted much narrower audiences. For example, Caracol Radio in Miami, Florida, broadcasts to South Florida’s small Colombian immigrants;radio broadcastingColombian immigrant community amid a local Spanish-language broadcasting industry dominated by Cuban immigrants.

In 2006, about 165 U.S. television stations offered programming primarily in the Spanish language. Like Spanish-language radio stations, the television stations are concentrated in states with large Hispanic populations. UnivisionUnivision Communications is the leading Spanish-language broadcast television network in the United States, with about twenty-three stations that reach 97 percent of the country’s Hispanic households. The next-largest Spanish-language network is TelemundoTelemundo, whose stations reach about 88 percent of Hispanic households. It is followed by the TeleFuturaTeleFutura Network and several small networks, such as Azteca AmericaAzteca America. In addition to these mainstream broadcast networks, the American Hispanic community also has access to other Spanish-language networks that transmit signals over cable lines and satellites.

Radio and Television in the Internet Age

The information revolution of the 1990’s and the subsequent rapid development of information technologies have marked a significant change in the delivery of radio and television services to the immigrant communities in the United States. Satellite and cable services have considerably improved the TV and radio choices of the ethnic groups. The emergence of the World Wide Web and other new communication technologies has provided immigrants with an array of ways to gather information about their homelands. Today, immigrants can watch television and listen to radio stations from their country of origin on the Internet. In addition, a number of companies sell equipment that provides users with access to satellite bandwidth unavailable from the geographic position of the United States, thus giving diverse immigrant communities an opportunity to watch channels and listen to radio stations produced in their homeland.TelevisionRadio

Further Reading
  • Cambridge, Vibert C. Immigration, Diversity, and Broadcasting in the United States, 1990-2001. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2005. Historical analysis of how broadcasting catered to the multicultural environment in the United States during the late twentieth century.
  • Gumpert, Gary, and Susan J. Drucker, eds. The Huddled Masses: Communication and Immigration. Cresskill, N.J.: Hampton Press, 1998. Collection of articles examining the social implications of immigration using a multidisciplinary approach.
  • Kamalipour, Yahya R., and Theresa Carilli. Cultural Diversity and the U.S. Media. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998. Detailed analysis of the relationship between culture, media, and communication with a focus on race and ethnicity and their representation in American media.
  • Nuñez, Luis V., ed. Spanish Language Media After the Univision-Hispanic Broadcasting. New York: Novinka Books, 2006. Overview of the Spanish-language media in the United States, with a detailed survey of the patterns of the U.S. Hispanic viewers and an analysis of relevant public policy issues.
  • Torres, Sasha, ed. Living Color: Race and Television in the United States. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1998. Collection of essays exploring representations of race on American television utilizing media studies, cultural studies, and critical race theory.
  • Wilson, Clint C., and Félix Gutiérrez. Race, Multiculturalism, and the Media: From Mass to Class Communication. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1995. Collection of essays investigating the representation of racial minorities and the construction of racial identity in mainstream American media.

Chinese American press

Filipino American press



Huffington, Arianna

I Remember Mama

Japanese American press

Jennings, Peter



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