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Government Regulation of Radio

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Federal Radio Commission (FRC) created by the Radio Act of 1927, this commission’s purpose was to issue radio licenses to those who applied for them, and to bring order to the nation’s radio airwaves

Radio Act of 1912 passed by Congress in 1912, this act gave the Secretary of Commerce the right to issue licenses to parties interested in radio broadcasting, and to decide which radio frequencies should be used for which types of services (that is, public broadcast, military use, police use, etc.)

Federal Communications Act of 1934 the Congressional act that turned the Federal Radio Commission into a larger Federal Communications Commission, with responsibilities for regulating the telephone and telegraph industry as well as the radio broadcasting industry

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) a federal agency specifically mandated by Congress to govern interstate and international communication by television, radio, wire, satellite, and cable



The growth of advertising and the birth of NBC made it clear that radio was becoming a big business. For radio executives in the mid-1920s, though, radio's newfound popularity meant that a large number of small broadcasters were creating havoc on the airwaves, interfering with the ability of commercial stations to get their signals into homes reliably.

THE RADIO AKT OF 1912. In response to this problem, Congress passed the Radio Act of 1912. It empowered the Secretary of Commerce to issue licenses to people who wanted to broadcast, and to decide what frequencies should be used for what kinds of services (for example, maritime use, military use, police use, and public broadcast). Once the available public frequencies had been established, the Commerce Department allowed individuals and companies to pay a small fee for a license to start up their broadcast operations. The broadcasters could use any frequency they wanted, as long as the frequency they used was within the designated range of public frequencies.

From the standpoint of broadcasters wanting to turn radio into a big business, the result was chaos. In the 1920s, a large number of stations came on the air across the United States—many on the same frequencies. Because they interfered with one another, it was difficult for audiences to hear any of them consistently. More and more radio executives complained that the airwaves had to be put in order if advertisers were to get their money's worth and radio was to grow as an industry.

They appealed to the federal government to stop giving out licenses. However, in 1926, the U.S. attorney general ruled (and the courts concurred) that the 1912 law did not allow the Secretary of Commerce to refuse a license, assign broadcast hours, or assign specific frequencies. Undefeated, the radio executives then demanded a rewrite of the Radio Act of 1912 to include the right of stations to have exclusive fre­quencies. They wanted predictable places on the consumer's radio dial.

THE RADIO AKT OF 1927 AND THE ADVENT OF THE FEDERAL RADIO COMMISSION In 1927, radio executives got that rewrite. The Radio Act of 1927 created a Federal Radio Commission (FRC) to issue radio licenses and bring order to the airwaves. The FRC kicked some stations off the air and told the remaining ones the maximum power at which they could broadcast. The stations that were the most powerful and had the best technology got the best frequencies with the maximum power allowances. These stations were generally commercial broadcasters, and often they were network affiliates. Educational and religious stations were consigned to inferior positions on the dial, if they stayed on the air at all.

However, even though a station received a dial position, it did not mean the station owned that position. Rather, the new Radio Act noted quite clearly that the airwaves belonged to the public and that the station was receiving its dial position through a license that would be renewed as long as it acted “in the public interest, convenience and necessity." Just what that phrase meant, no one was exactly sure. As the 1920s were a time when many people around the nation were nervous about the potential of mass media to carry content that might harm the morals of youngsters and cheapen the American culture, it's likely that this message was inserted into the law to induce broadcasters to keep their programming in good taste.

THE FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS ACT OF 1934 It was a message that would become the pillar of the government's approach to all broadcasting: the ability of business interests to develop the public airwaves for commercial purposes would be protected, but only if their programming or other activities did not create public controversies. The message was repeated in the Federal Communications Act of 1934, which turned the Federal Radio Commission into a larger Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with responsibilities for regulating the telephone and telegraph industries as well as the radio broadcasting industry.


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