Storytelling: The Rise and Fall…and Rise Again? of American Design

As a lifetime listener (truly) and longtime producer in the radio vineyard, I’ve heard lots and lots and LOTS of stories.   But every now and then one comes along that stops you in your tracks.  Like this two-part series on Marketplace, which has it all:  powerful writing, editing, and delivery, terrific use of audio, and an original and important topic that almost never gets discussed in the mainstream media.

And what personalities, and what sound bites the give us!  Entrepreneur Jim Jacoby:  (“A company that needed to be profit driven and hit certain numbers… and I was trying to [save] the world… those two things are hard to square,”)  obsessive motorcyle designer JT Nesbitt, (“If Jim hadn’t shown up I would be serving you lunch,” and design expert David Lenk, who utters perhaps my favorite lines in all of Part 1:

 “You can walk through any flea market aisle today and find a Sunbeam blender or an Emerson fan or Bakelite Zenith radio from the late ’40s to early ’50s and, not only do they look good, they probably still work.”

But, said Lenk, things started to change in the mid-50s. “The Harvard MBA grads started fanning out with their evangelizing of planned obsolescence, and finance became more important than corporate traditions of design or quality. And by the mid 60s it was all gone. It’s just junk.”

Gratifying to see that I’m apparently not alone in my thinking, either — these are at the moment the top two most-popular stories on the show’s site. Kudos to all involved for a great piece of radio.

Two obsessed guys and a radical motorcycle design

And, yeah, I remember picking up lots of old Zenith radios in the yard sales of my youth…and they all worked splendidly!

Zenith radio

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