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The Melodrama Continues from the Printed Pages to the Airwaves

In the twentieth century, radionovelas and photonovelas were predecessors to the televised narrative (Cambridge 1992; Rogers & Antola, 1985). While Europe was the first to diffuse the printed serialized drama, the United States was the first to explore radio for the narration of daily stories.

By the late 1920's, broadcast radio in the United States had become a commercial venture. Advertising interests dominated the airwaves and most programs were created in order to draw sponsorship (Hagedorn, 1995). The fundamental goal of the industry was to attract large audiences since they depended on the financial support of advertising sponsors. On the other hand, the advertisers themselves began getting involved in the production and the scheduling of programs (Hilmes, 1990).

Radio programming, which consisted mostly of music and talk shows, got help from famous stars such as Fred Allen and Will Rogers who were brought in to host variety shows (MacDonald, 1979). However, "Amos'n'Andy" was the most popular show by the end of its first year, in 1929. NBC's Blue Network broadcasted the comic show, sponsored by Pepsodent, which attracted 40 million listeners, six nights per week. . This fifteen-minute show was the first incursion of serialized programming in radio broadcasting and proved that this format had the power to attract large audiences (MacDonald, 1979). Radio also became a form of affordable entertainment. CBS estimated that in 1934, ninety percent of urban families owned a radio.

According to Allen, (1985), the radio soap opera officially started on October 20, 1930, with the launch of "Painted Dreams", by Irna Phillips. The stories aired for fifteen minutes and were centered on domestic problems and emotional conflicts. This radio soap lasted less than a year, but it began the practice of targeting women consumers using dramatic serial narrative linked to a corporate sponsor (Hagedorn, 1995). The formula proved to be successful. The ten major radio programs one decade later were soap operas. The sponsorship for this kind of program encompassed ninety-two percent of the advertising at the time (Allen, 1985). This was a fertile ground for companies such as Procter and Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, and Lever Brothers to advertise their products. They started to produce daytime drama serials targeted to housewives in order to sell cleaning products, personal health and hygiene products, and beauty products (Ortiz, 1991).

Allen (1985) points out the inevitable link between the creative production of the soap operas and their commercial objectives. The soap companies had total control over the production of the serials, contracting the writers, actors, and producers. Keeping audience ratings high at a cheaper cost was one of their objectives. However, the main goal was to influence housewives, the primary consumers, to buy their products. In 1932, audience research found that the female audience preferred entertainment shows instead of educational programs while doing their chores. More importantly, it showed that the woman of the house was the one who made the purchasing decisions for the household (Cassata, 1983). The female-targeted audience influenced the subjects and themes of the story lines, which were filled with family and marriage conflicts. During the depression era, protagonist characters such as Ma Perkins, Mrs. Moran (Today's Children) or Mrs. Moynihan (Painted Dreams), represented women's courage and determination overcoming the hardships of the time. Therefore, we can understand the female role as a double fold. First as a central character in the household, the one that determines what to buy, and the ultimate consumer, second as the role of central protagonist of a feminine universe that landed in a territory explored by the fictitious narrative (Ortiz, 1991). For Robert Allen (1985), the soap opera's characteristic as a specific female narrative genre is at the center of the paradox of its status in the United States. While highly valued by advertisers and broadcasters, critics continuously underestimate soap operas as a woman's format. Undoubtedly, North American Radio soap operas were also an important part of radio programming in the Latin American countries.



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