Originally published: November 15, 2010
Last updated: November 15, 2010 - 6:39pm
It was 1926. Broadcast radio was all the rage. But most stations barely resembled the kind of outlets we listen to today. The majority were run by colleges, civic organizations, and in some instances, labor unions. Only 4.3 percent could be classified as "commercial broadcasters." Less than a decade later, the situation had more than reversed itself. By 1934, nonprofit broadcasting added up to a mere two percent of all air time. Although in the early 1920s most prominent voices agreed that commercial broadcasting would be the worst possible way to fund radio, the Federal Radio Commission (the precursor to the Federal Communications Commission) now concluded that advertising was the only way to support the big range "clear channel" licenses that the agency had given to forty signals across the country.
Was this the right call? Eighty years later, the FCC still isn't sure. "Although commercial radio produced a Golden Age of programming in the late 1930s, the question remains whether the FRC's decision to favor corporate-sponsored networks—rather than the multiplicity of diverse non-commercial stations—best served the public interest," the agency concludes in its newly published essay, Transformative Choices: A Review of 70 years of FCC Decisions, written by FCC senior attorney Sherille Ismail.
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