Thursday, October 05, 2006
The Radio Act of 1912 required that all radio transmitters be licensed by federal government and that operators have a license. Seems straight forward enough. Just like a drivers license right? So why did things change? Why does the FCC even exist?
The problem was that the law didn't give the secretary of labor and commerce discretion on whether to issue a license or not. He couldn't refuse them and he couldn't even limit them. That was a teensy oversight in teh drafting of the law. Eventually there were too many radio stations.
It was really coming to a head in the early 1920s. In 1923 Secretary Herbert Hoover (before he was president) refused to grant license to an qualified applicant. Hence Hoover v Intercity Radio Co. went down. The court ruled he had exceeded his authority under the law and ordered him to grant the license.
But he kept it up. the law didn't afford him the authority to limit licenses, but they damn sure needed limited. And some broadcasters supported him. Without some kind of license limits, reception was just destroyed by interference. Hoover continued to act beyond his authority even after the 1923 lawsuit. He regularly issued wave-length assignments and times for broadcast.
He got suedby Zenith Radio Corp. again that year by WJAZ in Chicago and he lost evvery time beacuse what he was doing was outside the law. Broadcasting fell into chaos. If a staiton didn't like their license limitations... they sued Hoover. And in the end it was decided that he had to give out licenses, and his obligation when there was no available channel, was to license them for the one that caused the least interference... this was not good.
Around 1927 Congress woke up after the post-coital haze of voting themselves a pay raise worse off. Finally Congress acted. They drafted the Radio Act of 1927. It began the Federal Radio Commission. It's powers were broader it assigned wave lengths, assigned hours and at assigned levels of power as Hoover did but also regulated licensing and renewal and to a limited extent programming.
Thsi was the law that asserted that the RF spectrum belongs to the public and that licensed broadcasters merely use this public resource under an obligation to operate "in the public interest, convenience or necessity. " at all times.
It had taken more than a decade. But here was a system that could work. Then less than seven years later in 1934,the FCC was founded. The Federal Communications Act was approved, regulating radio, telephone and telegraph industries under one broadcast media-focused entity, the Federal Communications Commission. That act... was questionable. Like regulating guns, alcohol, explosives and tobacco in one commission. Why the hell do that?
Hoover stayed a popular figure in media. In 1927, the Bell System sent live TV images of Herbert Hoover, still just the Secretary of Commerce, over telephone lines from Washington, D.C. to an auditorium in Manhattan. It was the first public demonstration in the U.S. of long-distance television transmission.