The Night the Silent Stars Talked: The story of “The Big Broadcast of 1928”

It’s implied yet widely never truly acknowledge that the advent of sound in motion pictures was spurred on by the availability and popularity of radio broadcasting.

It is generally accepted that radio broadcasting and programming started loosely during the 1920s and moguls such as the Warners had brought in music and other types of variety that had ensured its rise in popularity. Not quite the direct competitor of cinema – as indeed television was destined to become from the late fifties onwards – it was obvious that soon its influence would undoubtedly divulge in the film sector.

This fully materialised with the Al Jolson starring musical The Jazz Singer, an important landmark in film history billed as the first full feature talking movie. There had been numerous sound and vision experiments before it, but with this film 1927 had brought on some revolutionary and somewhat threatening winds of change.


“The Jazz Singer” (1927, USA) is regarded as the first commercially released motion picture with synchronized sound.

Many actors feared this change, some were aware of the fact that they were not prepared for it. The change famously ended many careers. The great director Cecile B. DeMille described cinema’s rudest awakening in his memoir and the impact it had on its stars by saying “through no fault of their own, they were finished, washed up, out. The gaiety and glitter of Hollywood was theirs no longer. The adoring crowds would soon forget that they had ever lived, the gorgeous homes would pass into the hands of others who had the right voices.” Okay, so in line with the vast majority of his work, this depiction may have been a little exaggerated and over dramatic…

Some actors, in fact some of the biggest stars at the time, aimed to challenge this modern menace and prove to themselves and the world that no change could remove them from the celluloid Olympus. The most drastic example of inspired ‘uprising’ and proud representation took place on a much publicised event which took place on the radio through NBC broadcasting on the 29th of March.


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