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 8
December 1933-January 1935: The Statutory Consolidation of the Status Quo

Although the network-dominated, advertising-supported system of U.S. broadcasting largely had stabilized in an economic sense as an industry by 1932 or 1933, its legal status remained indeterminate considering the temporary basis of regulation mandated by the Radio Act of 1927 through the FRC. Given the generally accepted nature of the ether as a public resource subject to public control, this was hardly a tenable situation for the two major chains and the other major beneficiaries of what was routinely termed the status quo. These groups wished to see permanent legislation enacted that would crystallize commercial broadcasting, thereby removing substantive broadcast policy issues from the range of legitimate topics that could be addressed by Congress and the public in subsequent years.

During the course of 1934 the broadcasting industry accomplished its legislative agenda, primarily with the enactment of the Communications Act of 1934, which is still the primary regulatory broadcast and telecast statute in the United States. The route to statutory consolidation, however, proved to be far from the primrose path that might have been thought likely in the autumn and early winter days of 1933. Although seemingly battered into oblivion and outmaneuvered on every front by the commercial broadcasters, the broadcast reform movement found new and mostly unanticipated sources of support in 1934. As the commercial broadcasters feared, the road to permanent legislation required a brief window of opportunity for public hearings and debate over the nature of commercial broadcasting; their goal was to see this window opened for as brief a historic moment as possible and to assure that as little of Congress or the public as possible could take advantage of its existence. It was during this brief "window-opening" that the reformers mounted an assault on the status quo that revealed surprising

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