Thursday, February 23, 2012

George A. Richards

Much has been written about the pro-fascist, antisemite radio preacher Father Coughlin. (prior post here.) Very little has been written about the man that put him on the radio. The comparisons between Coughlin  and Bill O'Reilly and/or Glenn Beck while sometimes thoughtful, really don't do justice to the vitriolic candor of Coughlin. Today it's unthinkable, but even back then Coughlin's brand of explicit racism was considered unseemly.  Beck, Hannity, O'Reilly et al. rate as merely fear-mongers when compared to Coughlin—who was a genuine hate-monger. But it is sometimes forgotten that there was a money-man behind it all: George A. Richards. If you compare Glenn Beck to Coughlin, you must also compare George A. Richards to Roger Ailes.

 In 1926 WJR-AM was purchased by George A. Richards and associates from the two shareholding companies: Jewett Radio and Phonograph Company and the Detroit Free Press. (Those associates were Leo Fitzpatrick, John Patt, P. M. Thomas and M. R. Mitchell.)  Richards was the president of Pontiac Automobiles for Southern Michigan. He relocated the station  to a street-level studio in his showroom on the Cass Avenue side of the General Motors Building in Detroit. At the time it was still a time-share with WCX-AM. Richards put an end to that in 1929 with an offer to buy them out. and even increased power to 10,000 watts in 1932. He called it the "Goodwill Station."  It wasn't meant to be ironic, but it was.

Set on expansion, he bought WFJC-AM in 1930 from William F. Jones. The station had been founded in 1924 in Cleveland by Stanley Broz as WDBK-AM. It had been moved to Akron in 1927 by Jones who changed the calls to WFJC. Richards moved it back to Cleveland and rechristened it with his own initials WGAR-AM. It signed on in Cleveland December 15, 1930 as a part of the Goodwill Station group.
In June of 1934, Beverly Hills Broadcasting went belly up. It's assets were bought up by the Pacific Southwest Discount Corporation and the sold to in  1936 to Beverly Hills Broadcasting Corporation. Beverly Hills Broadcasting sold one of those assets, KMPC-AM to George A. Richards. It too became a part of the Goodwill Station group.Richards now had stations in Cleveland, Detroit and Los Angeles. But with exposure comes scrutiny. The antisemitism that was considered "acceptable" prior to WWII became associated with the Nazis, and became unacceptable. Richards didn't budge. His radio stations espoused his beliefs. George A. Richards hated Jews, unions, blacks, communists and possibly most of all...President Roosevelt.

It began to unravel in 1948. A cadre of his own former employees complained to the FCC about his authoritarian tactics. In 1949, Jewish civic organizations began petitioning to revoke The licenses of George A. Richard's stations. The National Community Relations Advisory Council (NCRAC) specifically went after him. They were a coordinating body of eight national Jewish organizations. Richards, savvy as ever, tried to dodge a bullet and transfer control to a trustee board of his own selection. The opinion of NCRAC was that transferring the control from Richards, to the puppets of Richards, was no change at all. More here.

In response, the FCC released a report titled Report on Editorializing by Broadcast Licensees. It took a dim view of such monomania. The FCC began hearings to consider suspending Richards's licenses. Lawyers argued that he had not acted in the public interest. The FCC took testimony from 177 witnesses, the minutes are some 3.5 million words in length. Richards spent millions defending himself. Before a decision could be reached, he died on May 25th 1951. Printers Ink wrote that it was of a "heart condition." His widow began selling off the stations within just a few years. These events set the stage that allowed the Fairness Doctrine to come into existence, something that Richards would have despised.