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

By Robert W. McChesney | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
The Broadcast Reform Movement II: Nonprofit Broadcasters, Civic Organizations, and Intellectuals

While the activities sponsored by the Payne Fund, the NCER, and the Ventura Free Press radio campaign would play a paramount role in the broadcast reform movement of the early 1930s, they were by no means alone. The broadcast reform movement enjoyed the participation of three other displaced and harassed nonprofit broadcasters: the Chicago Federation of Labor's WCFL, which was the official station of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), the New York-based Paulist Fathers' WLWL, and the Pacific- Western Broadcasting Federation of Pasadena, California. Each of these three stations began in the 1920s with lofty ambitions for public service, only to face in short order the same financial and political crises that decimated the ranks of the university broadcasting stations.

The opposition to commercial broadcasting was not limited to nonprofit broadcasters. The ACLU established a Radio Committee in 1933 to address what it regarded as fundamental flaws in the commercial broadcasting setup for free expression and democracy. This chapter will examine the activities of these groups in the reform movement and then discuss the broader response of U.S. intellectuals to the emerging contours of commercial broadcasting in the early 1930s. As will be seen, the trajectory of this response was decidedly negative and the intellectual community, accordingly, helped the broadcast reformers. Finally, moving from the sublime to the ridiculous, the chapter will profile Harris K. Randall and his assorted efforts at broadcast reform that, although fruitless, were energetic and may have tarnished the public image of the broadcast reform movement.


Edward Nockels, WCFL, and Organized Labor

Unlike colleges and universities, labor unions did not embrace radio broadcasting with widespread enthusiasm. The AFL first considered the idea of

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