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Thread: Before Net Neutrality: The Surprising 1940s Battle for Radio Freedom: The Atlantic

  1. #1
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    Before Net Neutrality: The Surprising 1940s Battle for Radio Freedom: The Atlantic

    The country’s media infrastructure has undergone periodic confluences of technological, political, and social changes—what historians sometimes call “critical junctures.” These moments create rare windows of opportunity for activist interventions and radical ideas. By crystallizing a social contract between commercial media institutions, government, and the public, policy decisions at these junctures can profoundly shape our information system’s trajectory.

    One such inflection point occurred in the 1940s during policy battles over radio, which resulted in America’s preeminent medium being largely captured—and some would say degraded—by commercial forces. With the public airwaves marred by excessive advertising and low-quality programming, many felt that radio’s revolutionary promise was being squandered to over-commercialization. This growing anger was experienced most acutely among African Americans, labor unions, and intellectuals who felt excluded and powerless as commercial media neglected or misrepresented their voices and viewpoints. To advance their politics they needed to change the system, and to do so they needed to change media policy.
    Read more here . . . then come back and discuss

  2. #2
    Other than the original experimental stations in the 1918-1926 time frame, radio started as nothing more than a means of promoting products from major manufacturers. Westinghouse licensed some of the first stations in the country to promote Westinghouse products. Powell Crosley built his stations to sell his radios. None of this is new and no popular media comes for free, whether delivered by phone lines or over the air. News flash: It's popular for the masses, that's the idea. These self-proclaimed pseudo-intellectuals that claim media should be free and satisfy their particular need for intellectual stimulation all the time, need to go back and actually discover what the motivation of licensing a radio station was, before they pontificate on how messed up things have become.

  3. #3

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    Kelly, there is another part of this story, maybe to call it the other side of the story would not be the best way to say it.

    Yes, some of "the big boys" of American business had very well defined business interests driving their participation in the birth of broadcasting, but across the nation, the more rural parts and the smaller cities of America had their first stations because some family, some "tinkerer", some compulsive business man said: "I'm not sure what this radio-thing is going to become, but our community should have one.

    People who owned the local funeral home were among the early licensees. Home town newspapers were among the early licensee. There was a scattering of small town bankers who got into the business. Some early radio stations operated out of the basement of churches. A number of young men came home from WWII and after seeing radio stations near some of the military bases where they served, said "Heck, I could do that, and my home town needs one.

    My first job in radio was in 1956. I moved around a bit from station to station, and where ever I was, I would visit as many nearby radio stations as I could. My estimate of that era is that for every hard-driving, business-is-my-life, milk-every-dollar-you-can station owner, there were at least three more who almost looked at operating a radio station much the way a minister would look at pastoring a church: "This is what I do, this is my calling."

    And out in what we today call "fly-over country".... the clients of radio stations, the people we sold advertising to, often looked at their hardware stores, their ladies ready-to-wear shop, their automobile repair garage in much the same way. "Yeah this business has been in my family for three generations now and it is my duty, my calling to see that it is good shape to pass along to MY children." Those advertisers and potential advertisers did not look with favor up folks who came to town, built or bought the radio station, and then set about to demonstrate: "The DOLLAR is MY god!"

    Yes, there have been a lot more books written about the Sarnoffs and the Crosleys and the McClendons and the Storz and the people who built and nourished the national networks. But communications law and attitudes in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s was also shaped by rural congressmen who came from families where they, too, were responsible for businesses that had been in their families for three or more generations.

    Today we are a different nation. People who have MBA's have different dreams for their family and their business than did our grandfathers who never got past high school. Today in our political world there is a lot bellyaching about "revisionists" who are rewriting our history text books. It is very easy to rewrite the history of broadcasting.
    Life is too short to waste time dancing with ugly posts

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Goat Rodeo Cowboy View Post


    And out in what we today call "fly-over country".... the clients of radio stations, the people we sold advertising to, often looked at their hardware stores, their ladies ready-to-wear shop, their automobile repair garage in much the same way. "Yeah this business has been in my family for three generations now and it is my duty, my calling to see that it is good shape to pass along to MY children." Those advertisers and potential advertisers did not look with favor up folks who came to town, built or bought the radio station, and then set about to demonstrate: "The DOLLAR is MY god!"


    And so when the consolidators came to town in the 80's and 90's to buy up the local trash haulers, car dealerships; to squeeze out the local retailers with huge Wal-Mart big-box buying power, small towns and cities began to lose control of their destinies.

    This illustrates the ongoing conflict between concentration of economic power and trust in market based solutions vs. limiting such concentrations by political means. I don't trust anyone who has total faith in only one side of the continuum.

    Fairness Doctrine or laissez-faire, Citizens United "money is speech"? How fair was the Fairness Doctrine for broadcasters when the print media could editorialize at will? For that matter, how fair was it that broadcasters could only own seven stations per broadcast band while the print media could own as many newspapers as they could get their hands on?

    We've seen that PICON was mostly about the CON. Mostly lip service. The media is run by "such a lot of fools who want to anesthetize the way that you feel." Except they aren't fools.

    There would be a lot more freedom and more diverse viewpoints if there were stricter limits on how many media outlets an entity can own, broadcast, print or online. (Good luck defining online outlets.) Government's role should not be about limiting or controlling content, but it does have a role in limiting economic power.

  5. #5
    Attempted to read the article but Atlantic's spam pop-up irritated me so much I didn't bother.

    Joebtsflk makes some good points RE fairness doctrine.

    The consolidation of industries, big brands taking over the little ones has been going on since the late 1800's. Seems to be an American tradition.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by boombox4 View Post

    The consolidation of industries, big brands taking over the little ones has been going on since the late 1800's. Seems to be an American tradition.
    I agree. I don't know how this writer seized on the 1940s as some watershed decade. Herbert Hoover was really once of the first, as far as a governmental policy maker, to recognize the power of the media. It's why the government created the Federal Radio Commission in 1927. The FRC formalized the technical standards, and basically kicked the amateurs out of the broadcast band. Certainly the big corporations, like Westinghouse, GE, RCA, and AT&T had a lot to do with all that. Radio in this country was a commercial operation basically from the start.

    Of course the article also ignores the handwringing of the 1960s that led to the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967. So this country actually has an alternative system with government funding that is meant to provide services that aren't commercially motivated. It bothers me when someone who is supposed to be an educator has such a limited view of the media landscape. He must be a sociologist.

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