Creating Links between British and American Broadcasters in the 1930s

by Michele Hilmes

Jan 1, 2009
My research project centers on the links that the Rockefeller Foundation created and supported between British and American artists and institutions in the field of broadcasting. Though much of the groundwork here has been admirably laid by William Buxton1 and Brett Gary2 , my week in the archives allowed me to bring out the British element, notably in the initiatives undertaken by John Marshall, a long-time program officer in the Humanities Division of the Rockefeller Foundation. I focused on three aspects of this work: fellowships provided to allow American broadcasters to study at the BBC and British broadcasters to visit and study in the United States; the support that the Rockefeller Foundation and members of the Rockefeller family provided to station W1XAL in Boston; and the project headed by Archibald MacLeish at the Library of Congress from 1939 to 1941. A thread that ties all three of these projects together, besides the work of John Marshall, is the career of Charles Siepmann, a BBC executive who came to the US under Rockefeller Foundation auspices and was involved in all three arenas (and several more as well). Another significant figure is John Grierson, the British documentarist 2 who advised on some of these projects. My tentative conclusion is that Marshall's cultivation of links with British broadcasting had an enormous impact on the shape and direction of radio in the United States, and that this influence lingers significantly today.
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