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Phil Oppenheim

Phil Oppenheim has worked in the entertainment industry for longer than he would care to admit. For 25 years he toiled in the trenches of cable television, culminating with his role as SVP of Programming for TNT and TBS. More recently, he has joined the growing army of cord-cutters and cord-shavers in exploring the newer world of digital entertainment platforms, currently serving as the Chief Curator for the Comic-Con Subscription-Video-on-Demand service (launching in 2016). He is also working on a doctorate within the Department of Radio-Television-Film at the University of Texas-Austin, focusing his studies on fringe broadcasting phenomena of the 1950s.

“When Tires Go Pop: Listening to the Voice of Firestone”
Corporations, as Mitt Romney infamously declared, are people too. If these faceless financial entities really are people, though, do they have hopes and dreams as well, or do they express their bodiless personalities in art? Do corporations have voices? Can they sing?

Harvey Firestone, founder of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company and, along with his cronies Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, elite member of the “Millionaire’s Club” that epitomized American Capitalism during the early 20th century, gave his eponymous corporation both a voice and a stage to sing from beginning in 1928, with the radio series The Voice of Firestone becoming a singing expression of the tire company’s brand, cultural capital, and “personality.”

The Voice of Firestone may have sprung from Firestone’s savvy as a way to soft-pedal his new line of low-cost tires via highbrow culture, but it was not simply a sales tool. From his direct involvement with the program content of the show, to its famous bookending theme songs—“If I Could Tell You of My Devotion” at the open, “In My Garden” at its close, both written by Harvey’s wife Idabelle–The Voice was a voice, an expression of the synthesis of man and manufacturer. 

This incorporeal-corporate voice changed dramatically during the show’s history. It evolved in its transition from the medium of radio to that of television; along the way, it sang less to its 1920s urban sophisticates and more to its broader, mass-consumption fueled constituency of the ’50s, speaking to the increased buying power and cultural clout of the new middlebrow, middle-class, middle America. The Voice remained on the air for 30 years before TV’s toxic leveler—Nielsen ratings—challenged its format. Finding its elite audience dwindling in the ’50s, The Voice changed in its middle-age, minimizing light opera performances to embrace the new, mass, youthful sound of pop. The story of The Voice of Firestone marks not just one company’s struggle to proclaim its voice in the marketplace then, but acts as an example of the nation’s evolution away from residual elite culture, and finding its new mass American voice—in pop.

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