Discussion paper

DP18207 It’s a Bird, it’s a Plane, it’s Superman! Using Mass Media to fight Intolerance

This paper examines the impact of progressive radio programming on societal change during the early period of desegregation in post-World War II U.S. We investigate the influence of the popular radio show The Adventures of Superman on promoting tolerance and exposing the bigotry of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in 1946. Using state-of-the-art radio propagation models, we map the broadcast's exposure and analyze its effect on various socioeconomic outcomes. We find that counties with higher exposure to the broadcast experienced a significant decrease in support for KKK-affiliated political candidates and opponents of civil rights. Individuals potentially exposed to the Superman program during their youth exhibited more progressive attitudes towards civil rights, racial desegregation and African Americans later in life. These individuals were also less likely to participate in the Vietnam war. Additionally, we explore the long-term impact of the radio coverage by examining outcomes at the county level, such as the presence of active KKK branches, civil rights organizations, and accessibility of non-discriminatory services for African Americans listed in the “Negro Motorist Green Books.” We find significant and progressive effects on all analyzed outcomes. These results underscore the potential of progressive radio programming as a catalyst for social change and contribute to our understanding of how media shapes societal attitudes and beliefs.


Armand, A, P Atwell, J Gomes and Y Schenk (2023), ‘DP18207 It’s a Bird, it’s a Plane, it’s Superman! Using Mass Media to fight Intolerance‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 18207. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp18207