Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio

Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio

EMPIRE OF THE AIR – DVD MovieLike a juicy page-turner, Ken Burns’s two-hour documentary on the history of radio is packed with tantalizing ingredients: power, greed, broken friendships, narcissistic heroes, and tragic players. Adapted from Tom Lewis’s absorbing book, Empire follows three Americans who crafted Guglielmo Marconi’s discovery of radio waves into a powerful component of the 20th century: foppish inventor Lee de Forest; Edwin Howard Armstrong, the engineer’s engineer; and Russian immigrant David Sarnoff, who became head of RCA. This project came between Burns’s mammoth Civil War and Baseball documentaries, and he departs from him usual structure. Instead of having actors read the letters of the participants, Burns relies on narrator Jason Robards. Because the subject matter is relatively new, there’s abundant information on the three men, including on-air interviews with those who knew them. Burns’s ability to marry image and sound (often old broadcasts) is a wonder, making this film as poetic as it is deft. –Doug Thomas

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