Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio

Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio is a non-fiction book by Tom Lewis, which traces the early development of radio broadcasting in the United States, published by HarperCollins in 1991.[2] The book was adapted into both a 1992 documentary film by Ken Burns and a 1992 radio drama written and directed by David Ossman.[3] The source of the title is from a quote by Lee DeForest.

Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio
AuthorTom Lewis
CountryUnited States
PublishedSeptember 1, 1991
Media typePrint
ISBN978-0-060-18215-1 (Hardcover)
Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio
Empire of the Air.png
DVD release cover
Directed byKen Burns
Produced byKen Burns, Morgan Wesson, Tom Lewis [1]
Screenplay byGeoffrey Ward
Based onEmpire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio
by Tom Lewis
Narrated byJason Robards
Edited byPaul Barnes
Florentine Films, WETA-TV
Distributed byPBS
Release date
  • January 29, 1992 (1992-01-29)
Running time
100 minutes
CountryUnited States


Ken Burns' documentary first aired on PBS on January 29, 1992, narrated by actor Jason Robards.[4] The film focused primarily [5] on the three pioneers[6] of radio in America: Lee DeForest, Edwin Howard Armstrong, and David Sarnoff.[7] The program interspersed audio and musical highlights of "old time" radio with the stories, achievements, failures, scams and bitter feuds between each of the main protagonists.[8] Among the interviewees featured are radio and television historian Erik Barnouw, dramatist Norman Corwin, and sportscaster Red Barber.[9]


Broadcast on public radio, the Ossman radio drama originated in 1992 from Washington's WETA. The cast included Steve Allen as narrator, John Randolph as DeForest, David Ogden Stiers as Armstrong, and Harris Yulin as Sarnoff.[10]

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