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Bicycling Across the Atlantic: Artifacts of Mobility in U.S.–French Transatlantic Broadcasting, 1948-1974

Derek W. Vaillant


Cet article explore deux exemples de mobilités radiophoniques ayant eu un impact politique et culturel, avec des productions sonores singulières et exceptionnelles, dont la circulation a rapproché la France et les États-Unis via la radio : grâce à des disques enregistrés et cassettes audio; des représentants de la radiodiffusion américaine et française (et parfois des deux) faisant des allers-retours entre Paris et New York; des directeurs d'émissions aux États-Unis chargés de faire découvrir des émissions internationales aux américains. Ce papier montre aussi comment la mobilité de ces programmes, comment ces échanges ont été possible techniquement, notamment grâce au cyclisme.

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1In spring 1934 the commercial artist Hervé Baille produced a drawing on the eve of the celebrated Tour de France famous bicycle race. The illustration depicts a chiseled cyclist wearing the time leader’s yellow jersey and perched on his bicycle. With beads of sweat bursting from his forehead, he speaks into a radio microphone. He is surrounded by greenery, trees, and flowers. Overhead two pink doves float in the leafy canopy. In the background, three cyclists whir toward a village in the distance, while in the foreground a lone escargot observes the busy scene. Juxtaposing a sturdy rider, a microphone, and images of pastoral France, Baile’s tableau integrated symbols of French cultural tradition, national pride, and technologized modernity. This was intentional since the whimsical piece was commissioned to adorn the souvenir menu of a banquet de radiodiffusion. Held at the offices of Le Journal, a leading French newspaper, the gathering included representatives from L’Intransigeant, Match, et Le Journal along with representatives of the Féderation nationale de radiodiffusion, which represented France’s advertiser-supported radios privées. The partnership between print and broadcasting captured a hopeful moment for interwar France radio and the media industries amid the political chaos in France and Europe. The capability of network transmission to carry up-to-the-minute news of the internationally celebrated Tour de France throughout France and beyond attests to a critical theme in media studies: mobility. Radio’s instantaneous one-to-many affordances represented a promising new kind of information circulation and interconnection that could render French culture mobile and accessible the wider world.

  • 1 The system had already yielded good results for French radio journalists covering the Grand Prix au (...)
  • 2 The technology for live reporting of major political and cultural events had existed since the 1920 (...)
  • 3 On the first transmissions from the Tour, see Christian Brochand and Comité d'histoire de la radiod (...)

2By any measure, radio’s popularity had begun to surge at the time of the banquet de radiodiffusion. In 1929 Jean Antoine had gone into the field with a cumbersome mast antenna shortwave transmission system that often failed to send a clear signal and could not operate in hilly and mountainous terrain, precisely the locations of the most radio-suited dramatic moments of the Tour. Above all, the listening audience was small. In a short span of years, however, L’Intransigeant owned a state-of-the-art mobile shortwave system from the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) that weighed a scant eleven kilos.1 The newspaper’s specially equipped radio cars also carried transcription machines that could cut interviews and reports onto reusable discs for transmission from the site or playback in the studio on a turntable for the best sound quality (See Spohrer, 2003 and Vaillant, 2017)2. No longer were independent/commercial broadcasters (postes privées) as hamstrung by a government wary of commercial exploitation of the airwaves. Public stations (postes publiques) authorized by the Ministère des Postes, télégraphes et téléphones (PTT) were beginning to resemble a true national network. Although as late as 1930, total set ownership in France hovered around 500,000, a relatively low figure with respect to France’s European peers, sets were becoming better and less expensive. The snail’s pace of the 1920s now resembled a speeding cyclist. 3

  • 4 On the historical place of cycling in French life, see Weber (1971).

3Long-distance cycling and racing competitions reflected a popular tradition dating to the late nineteenth century when popular sport and physical culture developed in France as projects to strengthen the male population and symbolically renew in gendered terms France’s national body politic. 4As historian Christopher S. Thompson notes, over the course of the twentieth century, “The French have found the Tour a particularly productive site for competing narratives about France and Frenchness.” While deemphasizing competing narratives, media historians have made similar assertions about radio in France and elsewhere as both projection site and precipitator of national ideals. The conjoining of radio and the Tour de France underscored the popular ideas attached to radio as a medium of mobility and cultural diffusion of French ideals within, but also potentially beyond the national space in the manner of the internationally recognized Tour de France.

Theorizing Radio & Mobility

  • 5 “Mobility” in Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition Online.
  • 6 See Carey (1989); Williams (1975); Morley (2000); Durham Peters (1999).

4“Mobility” is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as an “ability to move or be moved; capacity of change of place; moveableness.” For decades it has occupied a special place in the lexicon of media and communication history.5 As Robert C. Post notes, the fundamental operations of technologized communication involve movements beginning with the transportation of persons and things via water, paths, rail, roads, and air travel (Post, 2003). Moving electrons to produce coded signals, analogue voices, sounds, and images through wires or wirelessly across space maps readily onto this conceptualization. In turn, Benedict Anderson argued for attention to individual and collective historical experiences of consuming media (reading newspapers and novels) as generating mental mobilities and shared temporalities to conjoin geographically dispersed readers into “imagined communities” of national belonging (Scannell, 1996). Numerous scholars have noted how the mobile affordances of electrical communications devices, whether the telegraph, telephone, radio or television have affected public and private conceptions of temporality, liminality, connectivity, and, in the case of broadcasting, as an instrumental means of organized rituals of national belonging.6

  • 7 Williams, Television : Technology and Cultural Form, 19.
  • 8 On mass media rituals of collective engagement, see Dayan and Katz (1992).

5Raymond Williams goes further, however, by sweeping aside object- and institutionally centered technological and social determinism of media technologies and teleological evocations of “mass media” in favor of a comparative, socio-historical and techno-cultural analysis of the rise of radio and TV in England and the United States. As Williams makes abundantly clear, the development of radio broadcasting largely determined television’s future, even as social needs helped gestate broadcasting’s form. Broadcasting conjoined what Williams called “two apparently paradoxical yet deeply connected tendencies of modern industrial living,” which he identified as “mobility” and the “apparently self-sufficient family home.”7 Williams’s analytic of “mobile privatization” encapsulated a complex model of multiple co-productive factors and features wherein broadcasting would ‘alter our world’ amid 20th century industrial capitalism, mass automobility, and suburbanization (see Anderson, 1991 and Williams, 1975).8

  • 9 Key arguments in this tradition in the United States include Susman (1984); Hilmes (2012); Douglas (...)

6Cultural historians of radio foreground the 1930s—the decade that broadcasting became a mass medium in the West and a veritable trope of mobile modern societies affixed into unities. In the United States, the decade saw ‘community redefined in terms of communications,’ the rise of a ‘radio nation,’ and the mass media’s cultivation of an ‘intimate (radio) public.’ Scholars of radio in England and France make similar observations about ‘national audiences’ and ‘radio families,’ wherein the radio audience, the imagined nation-state, and the imagined nuclear family co-shaped one another, each acting as proxies for one another.9

  • 10 Vaillant, Across the Waves : How the United States and France Shaped the International Age of Radio (...)
  • 11 On critiques of the erasure of colonial, postcolonial, subaltern, and counterpublic cultural subjec (...)

7Considering radio’s conceptual and artifactual mobilities can aid scholars working to reimagine the histories of broadcasting beyond the default setting of broadcast history as normatively national in its field of operations and imaginary. In my book-length treatment of U.S.–French radio history I have practiced comparative and transnational media history to illustrate such mobilities as broadcasting developed as part of international/global communications processes. A critical mobilities approach allows us to consider other avenues for treating radio’s transgressive, border-busting affordances, circulations, and episodic eruptions as well as a way to defamiliarize “radio” as a stable technical object or set of techno-social processes.10 It can attune us to the fascinating and paradoxical role of radio in (re)shaping and sometimes blurring lines of difference, power, and authority claimed by nations, states, and cultures. Activating “mobility” as a critical concept can support scholars working against the nationalist grain to produce new media histories that include colonial and postcolonial populations, indigenous people, and the subaltern listeners who also globally experienced and shaped radio’s meaning in their lives and group experiences that were not reducible to national identification.11 Restoring radio’s subversive potentiality through fresh historical investigation can help us recognize different futures for our contemporary new media ecologies around the world.

  • 12 I use these terms as markers for changing conceptions of stratification and difference in the U.S. (...)

8This article examines two examples of radio mobilities marking political and cultural formations as well as distinctive sonic artifacts whose circulation conjoined France and the United States via radio. Recorded discs and audio tapes; representatives of U.S. and French broadcasting (and sometimes both) moving back and forth between locations in Paris and New York; and also program directors around the United States who were responsible bringing international programs to American ears. The institutional players in my analysis include the Radiodiffusion-télévision française (RTF), and later, l’Office de radiodiffusion-télévision française (ORTF), the U.S. State Department, and independent, non-commercial radio programmers across America. The first wave of mobile radio artifacts consisted pre-recorded discs produced in France for distribution to U.S. radio stations for playback. The second consisted of a flow of reel-to-reel audiotapes from France to the U.S. launched in the 1950s that continued until the ORTF broke apart in 1974. Over these years, these mobile artifacts both reflected and reworked U.S.–French relations. Originating in a Cold War ideological framework of soft power to strengthen U.S. support of France, they evolved into more autonomous, flexible, and creative examples of French cultural expression (drama, music, talk) that existed for the benefit of middle and highbrow U.S. listeners seeking alternatives to commercial American radio.12 The paper gets its title from the low-cost method of program distribution used in the era of distributing reel-to-reel recordings via so-called “bicycle networks” of cooperative sharing among independent U.S. radio stations on a shoestring budget. Aided by the U.S. Postal Service, programs bicycling across the Atlantic supported the circulation of different set of sounds and perspectives than those that dominated commercial broadcasting managed by for-profit corporate networks, such as the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) and Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS).

Transatlantic Mobilities 1: Spinning Across America

  • 13 The following passages are freely adapted from Vaillant, Across the Waves : How the United States a (...)

9In the summer of 1949 in New York City, Pierre Crénesse, a Frenchman and head of operations in the United States for Radiodiffusion Française (RDF) and its wing of operations in the United States, the French Broadcasting System in North America (FBS), accepted an international radio “Oscar” from Variety, the leading U.S. media and entertainment magazine.13 The award followed the successful launch of five new French radio series in the United States. The programs aired weekly on some two hundred U.S. stations from coast to coast. By all accounts, Crénesse had pulled the miraculous feat of making French culture mobile and rendering French-produced radio programs appealing and accessible to U.S. listeners. “One of the biggest obstacles in the way of international exchanges has been the great difference between the techniques and the conceptions of radio in the United States and radio in other countries,” declared Variety officials. Despite the flurry of interwar privatization marked by the rise of Radio-Cité in Paris and commercial partnerships between France’s commercial press and radio, such as coverage of the Tour de France, the dominant culture of French broadcasting since the Liberation had been state controlled and public service oriented.

  • 14 Ibid.

10Prior to the Occupation of France, a dominant paradigm of program scarcity, high-brow aesthetic ‘quality’ programming, and deliberate pacing of events defined France’s national broadcast culture, which stood in determined opposition to the market-driven American paradigm of powerful and readily audible transmissions, abundant program choices for listeners, and high-speed delivery of news and entertainment. These warring “conceptions of radio” had complicated interwar efforts at transatlantic U.S.–Fench radio interconnectivity and immobilized program exchanges.14 Trained by Jean Antoine at Radio-Cité before the war, Pierre Crénesse arrived in New York with an aptitude for commercial broadcast culture and a willingness to learn from his U.S. counterparts in the media industries. Crénesse had by Variety’s assessment “shown himself to be one of the rare radiomen competent in this business of microphones-across-the-oceans, and demonstrated a rare talent for providing American stations with French programs that have the rhythm of American radio, without sacrificing either the cultural context or their national flavor.” He had found a strategy for enhancing the mobility of French programs across the waves through a combination of cultural acumen and audio production and pragmatic technical decisions to cut the Gordian knot of live transmission between Paris and New York.

11The five series that Crénesse helped to bring to the U.S. had a complicated pedigree that blended transatlantic cultural production with Cold War geopolitics. The conceptual ground work for the exchange had been laid by Crénesse’s predecessor, Robert Lange, a French national who had been tasked after the war with finding a way to get French-produced broadcasts onto U.S. airwaves. Prior to the Occupation, Lange worked as editor-in-chief of La République, a radical socialist newspaper. A Free French supporter in 1940, he escaped to London, and ended up in New York working for the U.S. government’s Voice of America (VOA) network. Operating as an intermediary for the French and U.S. governments, Lange worked “To rebuild the respect of America” for France via the radio medium. Lange crisscrossed the United States, drumming up support for a reciprocal French–US program exchange. He met with radio executives, station managers, and principals of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the influential trade organization whose members included a significant number of independent stations unaffiliated with the major networks that sought more and better content than the major networks provided.

12Lange suggested two possible technological distribution modes to render French-produced material mobile. The first borrowed from an arrangement the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) currently used, wherein U.S. client stations received direct shortwave program feeds from abroad. Shortwave was the best means to transatlantically transmit a live signal. The feeds could be broadcast live or transcribed for later use. The second offered an alternative to the significant technical coordination issues and uneven sound associated with shortwave transmission. Since most of the interested stations lacked equipment and staff to manage such an operation on a regular basis, if ever, Lange proposed a second idea: A “wax net,” which in industry parlance meant a distribution of prerecorded programs on disc via the post office for use by participating U.S. stations at a time of their own choosing.

13Like the field recordings made by L’Intransigeant during its remote Tour de France coverage, sound-on-disc transcriptions had proven their mettle in both France and the U.S. before the war. They offered a flexible means of capturing and reproducing sound. Unlike phonograph records, which required a multistep manufacturing process to reach a playable form, transcription discs could be cut directly in the field or in the studio and played back instantly. However, they lacked the durability of phonograph records and degraded significantly with repeat use. According to the musical entertainment publication Billboard, “wax nets” represented a minor trend in postwar U.S. broadcasting. Platters appealed to programmers and advertisers interested in reaching niche audiences ignored or overlooked by commercial networks, whether non-English-dominant listeners in cities or in border areas, or, in this case, Francophiles.

14Any sustainable transatlantic wax net would depend on quality programs obviously, but almost as important, consistent air quality and durability of the recorded format. Lange’s advisors on both sides of the Atlantic agreed in principle with the wax net. A system was devised in which transcription masters of programs produced and recorded in Paris would be shipped to New York where they would be professionally mastered at a record plant and pressed into sturdy 33 1/3 rpm discs. The mobile artifactual solution offered technical consistency, ease of use, and flexibility to program directors. Stations would be invited to subscribe to any platter series they wanted and schedule episodes at their convenience without being committed to receiving a shortwave feed at a prescribe time or the demands of capturing the signal with a decent recording.

15A peculiar feature of the platter series lay in the fact that while the sounds of the series came from France and featured French musical artists and other talent, they were not entirely of French make. The creation of the programs depended on mixed teams of U.S. and French nationals working in Paris. Sometimes on behalf of a national broadcast system, but mostly, in the case of the wax net, in a floating space in-between the two. Written and produced in the English language by French and U.S. nationals in Paris and distributed by French nationals in New York, the series reflected a peculiar socio-technical and socio-political amalgamation consistent with the blurred lines of U.S.–French affairs and soft power practices during the Cold War. Ever since the liberation of Paris in 1944, U.S. Army broadcasters and later, the Voice of America (VOA), had run programs out of a Paris for use on French airwaves. The Roosevelt Studios erected around 1945 became a meeting ground of French and American radio producers some of whom were working for the OSS. The release of Marshall Plan aid to Europe included funds for rebuilding France’s infrastructure, which included updating France’s broadcast communications system and establishing points of leverage for U.S. State Department and OSS-guided work. The platter distribution project found support through this foreign aid mechanism.

16Because so many of the U.S. stations interested in French programs were independent and educational, RDF and FBS officials decided to absorb full cost of the platter series and to supply stations free of charge. In spring and summer 1948, the national rollout commenced. Five Centuries of French Music presented French orchestral, choir, and solo classical performances; Songs of France emphasized folk cultural traditions and their music; Gai Paris Music Hall featured popular music curated by the producers of the RDF program Hot Club de France; French in the Air presented language lessons in a humorous vein with a professor, his assistant, and a slow-witted pupil; and Bonjour Mesdames (Hello, Ladies) explored French fashion and lifestyle topics.

17Less than a year into the launch, one or more stations in each of the forty-eight states—along with Alaska, Hawaii, the Virgin Islands, Japan, and the Republic of Panama—ran one or more of the series. Gai Paris Music Hall and Five Centuries of French Music reached more than 220 stations. The results of an anonymous peer review of sixty-one U.S. program directors published in RPM, a broadcast trade magazine, named the FBS the “international organization supplying the best program material” in U.S. broadcasting. RPM praised the FBS “For bringing the spirit and culture of France without propaganda and without political frills [and] for letting us know that the French people like us and vice versa.”

18Accolades from stations receiving the platter distribution arrived from across the country. “I would like to congratulate you on the fine programs you have been sending to WJWL and assure you that they are being well received by our listeners,” wrote a program director from Delaware. “It is our pleasure to air programs of such high caliber over our station.” Another wrote, “[W]e consider the records received from you among the finest available. . . . Many of our listeners tell us that they make a great point of listening particularly to the Masterpieces of France [sic].” A third program director mentioned “many favorable comments” from listeners in reference to Paris Star Time and Masterworks from France. WDET in Detroit reported “a large audience” for the FBS series, as did KAAA in Red Wing, Minnesota, which shared the news that Gai Paris Music Hall and Masterworks from France “have built an exceptionally strong and interested audience.”

19By 1950, the national distribution had increased to three hundred commercial and noncommercial stations, with Crénesse pursuing further subscribers and special projects. In 1952, one hundred NBC affiliates from Bangor, Maine, to Birmingham, Alabama, picked up Stars from Paris, a repackaged version of Paris Star Time with room for commercial insertions. “Mail and station response to the program has been excellent,” wrote an NBC program supervisor. “Our management [in New York], too, is most enthused and delighted with Stars from Paris. Talent appearing on this program is always of the best caliber.” News of the positive reception of the platter series even reached France, where one Parisian journalist wondered half-seriously why France appeared to reserve its best radio programs for foreigners.

20The FBS production formula combining what Variety called the “rhythm of U.S. radio” with French “cultural context” and “national flavor” had required extensive cross-national testing and tweaking. Crénesse modestly attributed much of the success of the series to his advisers in U.S. broadcasting. “It has taken us years to adapt to the American standard,” he told an audience of U.S. radio executives, “but we have finally been able to achieve it, thanks to the advice of our Consultant Committee of Program Directors. . . . we have proved that French producers can create fine entertainment for the American public.”

Transatlantic Mobilities 2: Bicycling Across the Atlantic

  • 15 Unlike the vast majority of licensed American broadcasters operating as for-profit businesses affil (...)

21The platter exchange underwritten by U.S. foreign aid proved an exceptional example of the historical mobilities of U.S.–French radio, but it was hardly the only example. Program exchanges and cooperatives represented another dimension of the American radio paradigm that dates to what Susan Smulyan called the “pre-network era” of U.S. broadcasting (Smulyan, 1994). From ad hoc chains of non-aligned independent stations sharing the costs of telephone line from college football games to stations sharing transcription recordings, non-commercial and independent U.S. broadcasters often devised cost-effective means to bring innovative programs to their listeners (See Vaillant, 2001 and Douglas, 2004). In 1949, WNYC, the municipal (public) station of the City of New York began experimentally sharing programs recorded on magnetic reel-to-reel tape with its partners in a voluntary organization called the National Association of Educational Broadcasters (NAEB) whose roots extended back to the 1920s. In 1951, major grants from the Ford Foundation and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation allowed the NAEB to begin producing and economically delivering programs to cash- and content-strapped nonprofit educational stations.15 The system centered on a state-of-the-art duplicating device that could simultaneously produce eleven broadcast-quality copies of a master tape. The duplicating machine made it possible for the NAEB to copy professionally produced foreign and domestic programs that could be cheaply distributed through the mail to affiliates. Member stations broadcast the pro­grams and mailed the tapes back to the NAEB, to be forwarded to the next scheduled user. Whether named because of its hub-and-spoke distribution concept or its low-tech, postal distribution methods, the “bicycle network” linked French broadcasting to U.S. educational stations to a new extent.

22In spring 1953, WNYC’s Seymour Siegel, head of the bicycle network project, teamed with Crénesse to distribute the first of more than one hundred taped dramatic, musical, and cultural programs produced in Paris by Radio-télévision française (RTF). From New York to San Francisco, listeners were treated to the Great Plays Festival, featuring classic French drama by the Comédie Française. They heard performances of classical dramas in French from Molière, Corneille, Hugo, and Rostand. Modern works by Giraudoux, Pagnol, and Cocteau also circulated. “Actually, there’s a fair-sized audience for this kind of fare,” noted a commentator in Variety, who praised the French-language initiative as a “sock offering” that would be useful to expatriate native speakers and French-language students.

23By the mid-1950s, in addition to the five FBS platter series waves of taped programs produced for French- and English-speaking audiences crossed the Atlantic to become available to more than seventy-five NAEB member stations. These distributions continued steadily until 1974, when the French government dissolved the Office de radiodiffusion-télévision française (ORTF), its public broadcast monopoly. Funding from the Broadcasting Foundation of America (BFA), a Rockefeller Foundation project “to nurture an interna­tional conversation” between U.S. and foreign broadcasters, helped sustain the transatlantic distribution work. U.S. stations participating in the bicycle network could receive up to four major musical series annually and several dramatic series consisting of thirteen half-hour episodes. In all, NAEB affiliates could obtain up to four hours of French programming per week.

24The range of cultural programs demonstrated the colossal output of French broadcasting as it benefited from postwar economic prosperity. The diversity of topics was unavailable to the U.S. audience through any other electronic medium, including cinema. The programs covered the lives of great French poets and actors. They celebrated monuments (Seeing Paris), women (Great Women of France), pioneering scientists (They Showed the Way), and explorers (France Was There). French regions, rivers, and mountains got their due, as did legendary French floods. French radio’s exports included features on esoteric modern music, such as dodecaphonism (twelve-tone composition), explorations of celebrated modernist composer Pierre Schaeffer’s musique concrète, and also scientific and philosophical talks, profiles of French authors, and even the delights of hiking in Yugoslavia. In an ironic inversion of the techno-aesthetic paradigms of U.S. and French broadcasting, France now provided abundant programs, but of unimpeachably high quality, to the resource-scarce and deliberately paced listening communities of the NAEB and BFA bicycle networks.

Mobilities and Immobilities

25This article has shown how international partnerships and transnational solidarities sustained U.S.–French radio mobilities in the second half of the twentieth century. The convergence of French cultural tradition and radio broadcasting that stimulated Hervé Baille’s creative imagination in 1934 conceptualized tradition and new technological means of mobility as compatible elements in a bright future for France. While radios privées did not survive World War II, the dream of harmonizing cultural tradition and modern technology most certainly did. In the aftermath of the Occupation, France and its American ally worked together to rebrand France as a wellspring of cultural expression and aesthetic refinement and to render cultural expression mobile so that it could circulate on U.S. airwaves. The mobilities of the platter series and the bicycle tapes also nourished a marginalized broadcast culture in the United States, namely that of independent, non-commercial radio stations seeking alternatives to the market-driven fare of commercial radio networks. Ironically, it was the powerful and controversial state-controlled French system that would furnish program content to America’s independent airwaves in the decades before the U.S. government created the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) in 1967, and later, National Public Radio (NPR) which thrives today as a public service. The national cultures of French scarcity and American abundance flipped in this instance.

26It would be problematic and historically incorrect to view the legacy of U.S.–French broadcast culture as an unmitigated success and an exemplar of techno-cultural utopia; It was hardly these. As much as the bounty of French radio filled holes in the culture of U.S. broadcasting, it also extended the reach of French state ideology. It utilized the medium of radio to reinforce entrenched stereotypes of French identity, history, and culture preceding the birth of broadcasting. However artistically engaged and earnestly presented as they may have appeared, both the platter series and the bicycle network perpetuated troubling gaps and silences that became ingrained in the transatlantic stream of U.S.–French cultural politics of which radio was a component. Rather than supporting an experimental enlargement of French broadcast conventions, the distributions of the 1950s into the 1960s reflected the tendency of French broadcasting to shy away from sensitive topics, such as French colonial history and the struggles over decolonization throughout the former empire. Nor did the series probe current events or social questions in metropolitan France over equity among French nationals, most concerningly those of ethno-racial minority group. Traditional, curated cultural presentations detached from their history and contemporary politics and social tension marked points of immobility in U.S. and French radio cultures. Marked by such unacknowledged erasures and limitations, the sonic artifacts of Cold War era French broadcast production became the foundations from which U.S. radio listeners came to recognize and think about France and French society.

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1 The system had already yielded good results for French radio journalists covering the Grand Prix automobile race. Fred Muller, "More RCA Transmitters in the Foreign Field," Broadcast News August, no. 12 (1934).

2 The technology for live reporting of major political and cultural events had existed since the 1920s. Telephone lines from the venue to the studio carried the audio signal. Shortwave point-to-point relays moved beyond experimentation into regular use by the 1930s. Another means of capturing live events and sharing the dramatic moments after the fact came via the use of transcription disk technology, which allowed audio recording onto disks that could later be used in a radio studio.

3 On the first transmissions from the Tour, see Christian Brochand and Comité d'histoire de la radiodiffusion (1994) cited in Reed (2015 : 54-5). On Antoine’s contributions to broadcasting in France more generally, see Prot, (1997 : 57). The reasons for radio’s developmental lag in France have been extensively discussed by historians. On the torturous path of interwar broadcast history and policy in France, see Duval (1979); Ulmann-Mauriat (1999) and Méadel (1994). On the migration of French capital outside the hexagon to support broadcasting into France, see Maréchal (1994) and Spohrer (2008). Ownership statistic reported for 1931 in [Church, 1939 #2709] Kingston, “A Survey…” 149, n. 1, 159.

4 On the historical place of cycling in French life, see Weber (1971).

5 “Mobility” in Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition Online.

6 See Carey (1989); Williams (1975); Morley (2000); Durham Peters (1999).

7 Williams, Television : Technology and Cultural Form, 19.

8 On mass media rituals of collective engagement, see Dayan and Katz (1992).

9 Key arguments in this tradition in the United States include Susman (1984); Hilmes (2012); Douglas (1999); Loviglio (2005). In England, see Scannell (1996) and Morley (1986).

10 Vaillant, Across the Waves : How the United States and France Shaped the International Age of Radio. On the theoretical assumptions of speaking of socio-technical and techno-cultural formations, see, for example, Bijker (1995); Bijker, Hughes, and Pinch (1987); and Masco (2004).

11 On critiques of the erasure of colonial, postcolonial, subaltern, and counterpublic cultural subjects and shapers of mediated communication and examples of efforts to produce new histories, see for example Mohanty (1988); Savage (1999); Park and Curran (2000); Casillas (2014); Hughes (2002).

12 I use these terms as markers for changing conceptions of stratification and difference in the U.S. context (after Levine, 1988 and Kammen, 1999).

13 The following passages are freely adapted from Vaillant, Across the Waves : How the United States and France Shaped the International Age of Radio.

14 Ibid.

15 Unlike the vast majority of licensed American broadcasters operating as for-profit businesses affiliated with the major private networks and selling advertising, these stations eked out an existence through ties to colleges and universities or other not-for-profit entities (See Sterling and Keith, 2008).

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Derek W. Vaillant, « Bicycling Across the Atlantic: Artifacts of Mobility in U.S.–French Transatlantic Broadcasting, 1948-1974 »RadioMorphoses [En ligne], 9 | 2023, mis en ligne le 18 avril 2023, consulté le 24 juin 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Derek W. Vaillant

Professor of Communication and Media, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

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