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Journal of the Music & Entertainment Industry Educators Association

Volume 21, Number 1 (2021)

Riding the Solar Wind: AM Radio, the Skywave Effect, and the Mainstreaming of Rock & Roll

Paul Linden
University of Southern Mississippi


The birth of rock & roll is a topic with a rich history of scholarship rooted primarily in the liberal arts. However, one relatively unexplored aspect is the impact of long-distance radio transmission on its movement into the mainstream of popular culture. A geoscientific perspective reveals how this phenomenon, known as the skywave effect, is associated with AM as opposed to FM transmission, favoring nocturnal broadcasts in particular. This technical point of view informs existing discourses regarding cultural appropriation and the rise of the independent record labels. We invite a reading of the serendipitous broadcast of songs, voices, and recordings arising from marginalized communities as a gesture of liberation. The skywave effect reveals disruption of ideological and economical status quo as well as the propagation of late 1940s rhythm and blues music spreading over the following decades into new forms including Caribbean ska and early rock & roll.

Keywords: skywave effect, rock & roll, radio history, AM radio, music business, race records, ionosphere, twentieth century popular culture

Linden, Paul“Riding the Solar Wind: AM Radio, the Skywave Effect, and the Mainstreaming of Rock & Roll." Journal of the Music and Entertainment Industry Educators Association 21, no. 1 (2021): 65-89. https://doi.org/10.25101/21.3

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