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Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio (1991)

For 50 years, radio dominated the airwaves as the first mass medium. Ken Burns examines the lives of three men who shared the responsibility for its invention and early success.

Director:

Ken Burns

Writers:

Ken Burns (additional), Tom Lewis (book) | 1 more credit »
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Nominated for 1 Primetime Emmy. Another 1 nomination. See more awards »

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
Jason Robards ... Narrator (voice)
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Red Barber Red Barber ... Himself - Radio Announcer
Erik Barnouw Erik Barnouw ... Himself - Historian
Ken Bilby Ken Bilby ... Himself - Biographer of David Sarnoff
Norman Corwin ... Himself - Writer
Susan Douglas Susan Douglas ... Herself - Historian
Frank Günther Frank Günther ... Himself (engineer)
Jeanne Hammond Jeanne Hammond ... Herself - Niece of Edwin H. Armstrong
Loren Jones Loren Jones ... Himself - Engineer
Garrison Keillor ... Himself - Writer
Helen Kelley Helen Kelley ... Herself - Radio Broadcaster
Robert Morris Robert Morris ... Himself - Engineer
Dana Raymond Dana Raymond ... Himself - Friend of Edwin H. Armstrong
Gertrude Tyne Gertrude Tyne ... Herself - Engineer
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Storyline

For 50 years, radio dominated the airwaves as the first mass medium. Ken Burns examines the lives of three men who shared the responsibility for its invention and early success.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Certificate:

TV-G
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

October 1991 (USA) See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Florentine Films See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono

Color:

Color
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

At the end of the credits, there is a message in Morse code that reads "Baseball next". Ken Burns' documentary on baseball did come after this one. See more »

Connections

Featured in Ken Burns: America's Storyteller (2017) See more »

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User Reviews

 
Wonderful!
15 May 2006 | by jbacks3-1See all my reviews

Ken Burns hits another one out of the ballpark! This amazing examination of the genesis of radio reveals the principals for what they really were: Marconi is quickly dismissed for his disinterest and lack of vision (and a knowing nod to Tesla), Lee DeForest, a social outcast with questionable ethics and more dumb luck than genius, David Sarnoff as the cunning capitalist and Edwin Armstrong, the dynamic tragic force behind the medium. Burns reveals DeForest's feet of clay: he stumbled upon the heterodyne circuit yet couldn't explain how it worked! Armstrong, comprehending it's function, vastly improves upon the design, creating the super-heterodyne, virtually invents FM and briefly becomes General Electric's largest stockholder before falling as a pawn to the Machiavellian manipulations of David Sarnoff. This plays like a corporate soap opera set against the dominate mass medium of a the first half of the 20th Century. Small complaint: the introduction is far too drawn out before the story begins. Unless you're a radio buff it's unlikely you'll recognize the names (or voices) of those being interviewed. But this is a minor quibble--- Empire of the Air is an entertaining exercise in history and rates right up there with Burns' Horatio's Drive. 10 out of 10.


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