Active Radio: Pacifica's Brash Experiment

Active Radio: Pacifica's Brash Experiment

Active Radio: Pacifica's Brash Experiment

Active Radio: Pacifica's Brash Experiment

Excerpt

For the first time in the history of American broadcasting, an opportunity is offered listeners to maintain a radio station distinguished by its candor, the unique quality of its programs, and its freedom from commercials.

KPFA FOLIO, AUGUST 1951, READ ON THE PROGRAM “KPFA'S SIXTEENTH BIRTHDAY”

Active Radio begins with the early history of broadcasting in the United States, outlining the circumstances in which a small, powerful group of corporations came to control the vast majority of “our” radio channels. How did commercial stations succeed in convincing both the government and early listeners that they, not the educational, religious, and civic broadcasters, best served “the public interest”? During the 1920s, pioneering noncommercial broadcasters faced immense difficulty keeping their bearings as the federal government via its newly formed Federal Radio Commission (1927) transferred nearly all broadcasting licenses to commercial stations.

Between 1920 and 1934, a contest over control of the airwaves occurred, one often occluded from research and textbooks in media history. Without the full means of producing a “consensus” they would over time obtain, corporate broadcasters needed to muster all their resources to convince the American listener and the U.S. government that their oligarchic control of the airwaves was inherently democratic and based on public service.

One vital site of this struggle occurred over licensing. Consider that approximately one quarter of the broadcast licenses distributed by the secretary of commerce between 1920 and 1925 were for noncommercial stations; many university channels in particular offered their audience an eclectic if erudite schedule that provided for an all too brief moment a viable, partial alternative to the entertainment of the corporate media. In his important work Telecommunications, Mass Media, and Democracy, Robert McChesney has argued that the corporate control of the airwaves was not decided until the defeat of the Hatfield-Wagner Amendment . . .

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