Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2018

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Communication Studies

First Advisor

McLeod, Kembrew

First Committee Member

Peters, John Durham

Second Committee Member

Havens, Timothy

Third Committee Member

Zajacz, Rita

Fourth Committee Member

Harvey, Trevor


This dissertation explores the history and culture of a mobile communication device and practice that has been superseded by today’s networked communication devices. The pager—known later in the 1980s and 1990s as a beeper—has a longer history than most assume. In the early 1950s the device was not a distinct technology in its own right, but a haphazard combination of existing communications technologies: telegraphy, telephony, radio broadcasting, answering services, and hearing aids. These technological origins, and the cultures that support them, are important for broadcast and telecommunications historians, as well as media history and theory in general, for three reasons.

First, research on the pager fills a gap in telecommunications history that typically begins with Bell’s wired telephone and ends with wireless mobile car-phones and, later, cellular telephones. Second, the pager’s history contributes to the limited scholarship that has emphasized radio’s many directions after the major broadcast networks left radio for larger television audiences in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Being in-between telephone and radio technology has given the pager somewhat of an identity crisis for historians. Yet this is a silver lining for communication theorists to think about the connection between a medium’s physical form (e.g., a radio is a receiving device that can’t talk back) and its communication form (e.g., a pager was once known as a radio that you would use with the telephone to talk back).

Lastly, the pager is not just a technological device, but the embodiment of a rarely discussed form of communication: paging. This project investigates the history of paging as a cultural technique and communication practice. While early pagers utilized both broadcast and telecommunications techniques, paging as a form of communication does not fall clearly within either of those categories. Like being paged over a public intercom system, early paging systems broadcast a message (from one to many) in order to grab the attention of a single individual (one out of many). This form of communication, this project argues, is fundamental for understanding the many contemporary discussions over the publicly-private and privately-public nature of today’s social media services.


communication, communication theory, media, mobile phone, paging, technology


viii, 186 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 172-186).


Copyright © 2018 Benjamin Allen Morton

Included in

Communication Commons