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Federal Radio Commission

In 1927 the Federal Radio Commission was created to license broadcasters and reduce radio interference, a benefit to both the broadcasters and the public. The Radio Act of 1927 superseded the Radio Act of 1912 giving regulatory powers over radio communication to the Secretary of Commerce and Labor. The Radio Act of 1912 did not mention broadcasting and limited all private radio communications to what is now the AM band.

Table of contents
1 The Radio Act of 1927

The Radio Act of 1927

The Radio Act of 1927 (signed into law February 23, 1927) made almost no mention of the radio networks that were in the process of dominating radio. The only mention of radio networks was vague: The Commission {the Federal Radio Commission} shall "Have the authority to make special regulations applicable to stations engaged in chain broadcasting." Advertising was mentioned in the act with only slightly more authority than networking; merely requiring advertisers to identify themselves: "All matter broadcast by any radio station for which service, money, or any other valuable consideration is directly paid, or promised to, or charged to, or accepted by, the station so broadcasting, from any person, firm, company, or corporation, shall at the time the same is so broadcast, be announced as paid for or furnished as the case may be, by such person, firm, company, or corporation."

The act did not authorize the Federal Radio Commission to make any rules regulating advertising. The content of any programming could not have "obscene, indecent, or profane language." Otherwise anything could be programmed, though the Federal Radio Commission could take into consideration programming when renewing licenses. A forerunner of the "equal time rule" was stated in section (18) of the Radio Act of 1927 which ordered stations to give equal opportunities for political candidates. The act did vest in the Federal Radio Commission the power to revoke licences and give fines for violations of the act.

The Radio Act of 1927 divided the country into five zones. Each was to have one person to be on the commission. The Davis amendment to the act required that each zone was to have equitable allocations of licenses, time of operation, station power, and wavelength. This greatly complicated things for the commissioners; e.g. the northeast had a greater population than the southwest, thus a greater need, but it still had to have as many stations as the southwest.

On February 25, 1928 Charles Jenkins Laboratories of Washington, DC became the first holder of a television license from the Federal Radio Commission.

Formation of the Commission

President Calvin Coolidge nominated five men to the commission: Admiral W.H.G. Bullard as chairman, Colonel John F. Dillon, Eugene O. Sykes, Henry A. Bellows, and Orestes H. Caldwell.

The first three were confirmed by the Senate and the first two died soon afterward. Bellows and Caldwell didn't receive salaries, but stayed on anyway. These three did conduct a badly needed reallocation of frequencies. In October Bellows left the commission to return to Minneapolis where he had been a broadcaster. In November 1927 Harold Lafount and Sam Pickard joined the commission. In March 1928 Caldwell was barely confirmed and Ira Robinson became chairman, the commission was finally complete.

Radio Licensing

In the spring of 1928, the commissoners made drastic reallocations and told 164 stations to justify their existence or be forced to stop broadcasting. Eighty-one stations did survive, most with reduced power. Educational stations didn't fare very well. They were usually required to share frequencies with commercial stations and operate during the daytime, which was considered worthless for adult education.

KFKB Milford, Kansas had been renewed several times by the Federal Radio Commission. It was the most popular station in the nation. KFKB was owned by a "surgeon" who, among other things, espoused, over the airwaves, goat glands as a cure for various illnesses. The American Medical Association was very upset over his prescriptions, so in 1930 the Federal Radio Commission denied his request for renewal. Dr. John Brinkley, the "surgeon", appealed on the grounds of censorship. The U.S. Court of Appeals denied his appeal. The court ruled that the Federal Radio Commission could consider past programming content without it being censorship. This, however, didn't stop the ever-popular Dr. Brinkley, who almost won the governorship of Kansas in 1928 by write-in votes. He simply beamed his programs to the United States over 100,000 watt XER Mexico. This was twice the power of any broadcast radio station save one experimental 500,000 watt station WLW Cincinnati.

WNYC, the municipal station of New York City, was assigned a part-time, low-power channel. It appealed and lost. Even though the station was government owned, the Federal Radio Commission said that city ownership did not give the station any special standing concerning the "public interest, convenience, and necessity." This was representative of the decline of public broadcasting. Both cases asserted the right of the Federal Radio Commission.

Federal Communication Commission

In 1934 Congress passed the Communications Act, which remained unchanged for almost sixty years. The Federal Communications Commission, created by the act replaced the Federal Radio Commission.