Telecommunications, Mass Media, and Democracy: The Battle for the Control of U.S. Broadcasting, 1928-1935

Telecommunications, Mass Media, and Democracy: The Battle for the Control of U.S. Broadcasting, 1928-1935

Telecommunications, Mass Media, and Democracy: The Battle for the Control of U.S. Broadcasting, 1928-1935

Telecommunications, Mass Media, and Democracy: The Battle for the Control of U.S. Broadcasting, 1928-1935

Synopsis

This work shows in detail the emergence and consolidation of U.S. commercial broadcasting economically, politically, and ideologically. This process was met by organized opposition and a general level of public antipathy that has been almost entirely overlooked by previous scholarship. McChesney highlights the activities and arguments of this early broadcast reform movement of the 1930s. The reformers argued that commercial broadcasting was inimical to the communication requirements of a democratic society and that the only solution was to have a dominant role for nonprofit and noncommercial broadcasting. Although the movement failed, McChesney argues that it provides important lessons not only for communication historians and policymakers, but for those concerned with media and how they are used.

Excerpt

The roots of the battle for the control of U.S. broadcasting lay in the 1920s. This chapter reviews the major developments of this decade, first looking at the nature of U.S. broadcasting as it emerged in the years 1920-1927, and then discussing the deliberations surrounding the passage of the Radio Act Of 1927. The chapter concludes by evaluating the important general reallocation of the airwaves instituted by the Federal Radio Commission (FRC) in 1928, which effectively laid the foundation for the future of U.S. AM radio broadcasting. The general reallocation also provided the spark to the movement that arose to do battle with commercial broadcasting in the United States in the early 1930s.

American Broadcasting Through the Passage of the Radio Act of 1927

Most histories of U.S. broadcasting in the 1920s agree on a few basic points. First, almost all research emphasizes the manner in which radio communication was dominated by a handful of enormous corporations, most notably RCA, which was established in 1919 under the auspices of the U.S. government. RCA was partially owned by General Electric (GE) and Westinghouse. By the early 1920s the radio industry--indeed, the entire communications industry--had been carefully divided through patent agreements among the large firms. RCA and Westinghouse each launched a handful of radio broadcasting stations in the early and mid--1920s, although the scholarship tends to emphasize the American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T) Company's WEAF of New York because it was the first station to regularly sell airtime to commercial interests as a means of making itself self-sufficient.

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