Charles A, Sipeman. Radio, Television, and Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 1950.
Radio and TV rapidly changed human relations, according to the author. More people obtained the same information instantly than before the days of radio and TV. The author raised questions as to what information should be provided that people need and who gains from providing information as well as whether their interests are good or bad.
KDKA bega broadcasting to a few listeners in 1920. By 1922, there were 600 radio stations. There were no government regulations. Thus, some stations interfered with others’ broadcasts. This problem was so bad that Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover believed something should be done. Hoover invited the parties involved to a conference. Yet the parties involved in the radio industry could not agree what should be done. In 1923, Hoover, lacking the legal authority to do so, stepped in and assigned frequencies to nearly all station. In 1926, the courts determined Hoover lacked the ability to issue these frequencies and these assignments were nullified. A resulting mess led Congress to create the Federal Radio Commission.
Early radio do not have advertisements. The radio stations existed to sell radios. Over time, these companies realized there were continuing costs of maintaining broadcasts. David Sarnoff, the General Manager of RCA, sought endorsements for radio programs similar to those provided to other cultural institutions. Sarnoff saw radio as a nonprofit entity financed by 2% of sales of RCA, General Electric, and Westinghouse radios and radio equipment.
WNYC researched selling subscriptions to its listeners.
Some broadcast had sponsors beginning with WEAF in 1922. The idea of sponsored programs met with resistance that included Secretary Hoover. Hoover opposed radio becoming “drowned in advertising matter.” Even shows that were sponsored mentioned the sponsor only at the beginning of a show and sometimes at the end.
The Radio Act of 1027 brought Federal government restrictions on the radio industry. The National Association of Broadcasters affirmed that radio should devote broadcasting time for purposes of education, religion, and agriculture.
The Federal Radio Commission moved to restrict advertising. It denied renewing the license of WERW because it mainly used advertising for income.
RCA formed two National Broadcasting networks, the Red and the Blue. It was forced to sell the Blue network in 1942. The Columbia Broadcasting System began in 1927. THe Mutual Broadcasting System began in 1934. Local independent stations gave part of their offerings to a network. Network shows often had sponsors.
Congress passed the Communications Act of 1934 with the stated purpose of protecting the public interest. They created a permanent Federal Communications Commission. The Commissioners were to have no financial stake in the radio industry, have no foreign influence, and were to be non-political. The Commission would control the use of channel transmissions. Thus it was determined air wave lengths were public property. The Commission decided who could use them and had disciplinary powers if regulations were violated. Aliens and foreign governments could not have a radio station. No one could monopolize communications or radio apparatus sales, Political candidates were to receive fair play.
Congress recommended that a quarter of frequencies be given to cultural broadcasters, including colleges, schools, and churches. The Commission decided instead that commercial broadcasters would provide part of the programming for cultural purposes.
The Federal Communications Commission was limited in acting due to its small staff of 1,327 as of September 1949. The FCC regularly monitored that broadcasts were at the proper wavelengths. It searched for illegal broadcasts. The author notes “whatever the cause, the fact is irrefutable that, since its inception in 1934, the FCC used its powers with a discretion that, except in rare occasions, has pleased the industry, as it has provoked the dismay and indignation of radio’s most exacting critics.”
The FCC has the power to revoke or suspend a license. Two licenses had been revoked (as of circa 1950). Neither case concerned programming issues.
The FCC regulates to prevent monopoly. The author in 1950 saw the industry as moving “toward semi-monopolistic controls.” The Justice Department had failed to act on several “good prima facie cases” that NBC and CBS had controlling interest” and “restrictive” agreements with their affiliates, according to the author. RCA held thousands of patents and its two NCB networks “resisted competition.”
The Mutual Broadcasting System had more stations yet many of their stations has low power that reached fewer customers than did NBC and CBS.
Networks then insisted on territorial exclusivity. If an affiliate declined to carry a network program, that program could not be broadcast by another station in that same broadcast territory. Networks also had the option of placing network programming over local programming time with 28 days notice.
The FCC in 1946 issued a report on Public Service Responsibility of Broadcast Licenses, which was known as the Blue Book.
As of January 1945, 19.7% of broadcast time was for li e and wire service programmig.
A mid-1940s survey found 50% knew government regulated radio stations. 34% did not know this, and 16% believe government had no radio regulations. 22% were aware England had another system. 32% liked program advertising, 31% did not like advertising, and 35% “don’t particularly mind them.”
The author notes Kate Smith’s 1943 8 am to 2 am marathon appeal to buy War Bonds was successful because the public believed Kate Smith had good virtues. Yet she was reading from scripts written by others. The author notes the government’s main impetus on selling the bonds to combat inflation was never mentioned.
Soap operas attracted 20 million regular mostly female listeners. Some stated they enjoyed them for “emotional release” or for “wishful thinking”. These shows provided fictional guidance on what proper behavior was like whereby listeners’ faults were transformed to a “perfect efficient woman who possesses power and prestige” as portrayed by soap opera characters, according to the author.
People in England, Sweden, and the USA were found to have similar programming tastes despite their cultural differences.
The government controlled radio programming in the Soviet Union and Denmark. The government participate without controlling programming in Sweden. England and France had monopolistic radio systems without government determination of programming. The US operated on private enterprise with less government regulations Canada, Australia, and New Zealand had a government station along with commercial stations.
The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) egistered as a private commercial company in 1922. It derived revenues from radio set purchase royalties, It was licensed by the Post Office. Advertising on broadcasts was not permitted although program sponsorship was allowed. In 1927 the government bought out the shareholders. The BBC became a public corporation under a Royal Charter. The Postmaster General had the authority to halt any improper broadcasting. This has happened only once in 1932 when a broadcast of a World War I German submarine commanders and a British officer who had held him prisoner was prevented from airing.
The BBC had a Board of Directors of up to seven members appointed by the Prime Minister, although official appointed by the King. The appointees were nonpolitical. The appointees were mostly public school graduates. The author sees the most bias was from their public school backgrounds.
British radio set owners obtained an annual license from the Post Office. This cost one pound circa 1950. 85% of these fees were given to the BBC. The BBC received supplemental income from selling a weekly publication “Radio Times”. This publication had 7 million circulation in 1948. The publication raised about $1 million pounds annually. BBC operated on about $10 million pounds annually. By comparison, US stations raised ten times this from advertising.
England had the problem of congestion of frequencies from nearly countries. It had an advantage over the USA in that it could have a minimum of stations available to reach 95% of its population
England allowed its five regional stations to offer regional programming in place of BBC programming. The BBC presented more educational, serious drama, and classical music programming than existed in the USA.
In Canada, a radio station was first licensed by the Department of Marine in 1922. Since 80% of Canadians live within 100 miles of the US border, listening to US stations slowed the creation of new Canadian stations. The Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission began in 1932 and was replaced in 1936 bu the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Canadians paid $2.50 annual license fees for their radios which produced $5,135,375 in Fiscal Year 1948-9. By comparison, American advertising raised $400 million.
Circa 1950, the CBC owned 18 stations. The Trans-Canada Networks consisted of 14 CBS and 26 private stations the Dominion Network was 1 CBC and 37 private sttions. The French network in Quebec consisted of 3 CBC and 8 private stations.
In Fiscal Year 1948-9, the CBC raised $2,217, 130 from advertising. This represented about 30% of its total income.
The CBC could reach 96% of Canadian families, 80% of programming was produced in Canada. Several American shows were broadcast as well as British and French shows.
The CBC both broadcast and regulated the radio industry. A Minister issued licenses. The CBC could suspect licenses for up to three months. It could buy out or even seize stations in considered redundant.
The concentration of radio station ownership posed a danger of mass communication exploitation of a few delivering messages to many, warned the author.
In 1941, the FCC issued its “Mayflower Decision” in stating the Mayflower Broadcasting Corporation in Boston could not advocate for candidates while not allowing opponents to use its facilities. The FCC sated a license was a public interest and not public property to be used to “advocate”. In 1949, the FCC stated that a station could editorialize so long as an opposing side was similarly treated.
In 1949, there was 103 educational college and university stations. Most broadcast at ten watts to local listeners.
There were 6 TV stations in 1945 and 98 in January, 1950 within the US. In 1945 there were 7,000 TV sets and in 1950 there were over four million TV sets. There were 29 TV set manufacturers in 1947 and there were 100 in 1950.
The FCC briefly stopped approving new TV licenses in 1948 due to interference problems and a backlog in applications As of March 1950 there were 330 applications for TV stations before the FCC
Coaxial cable and microwave relay existed in 1950 between Boston to Richmond and the East Coast to St. Louis. A microwave system existed between New York and Chicago. This helped speed creating TV network programming.
England and France required a better TV picture quality than did the US in 1950.
Airborne television transmission was under consideration in 1950. 33 planes could circle a 20 mile radium at 20,000 to 25,000 feet and transmissions could reach 98.9$ of the US population. There were fears that whoever controlled this Stratovision service could have too much control.
In 1950, some sought to create a system of scrambled images that could be viewed with a corrective electronic signal over a phone wire to the TV that could b purchased, This would be added to the monthly phone bill.
In 1950, it cost about $20,000 to create a one time drama TV show. It cost about $15,000 to create a vaudeville how with bout half paid to the show’s star. The TV rights to broadcast the World Series then cost $140,000.
TV had 23,000 advertisers during January 1950. By comparison there were 1,141 advertisers at the end of 1940 and 236 advertisers in September 1948.
66% of those surveyed stated that watching TV was bringing families together more. 92% stated family members had watched TV together.