|History :: Federal Radio Commission|
Radio History |
- Radio Invention
- 1902-06 US Navy
- 1906-08 Interference
- 1908 Early Reg
- 1912 Titanic
- 1913-26 WWI
- FRC to FCC
- Unlicensed / WiFi
- - Theft
- - Proceedings
- - WISPs
- 700 Mhz
- Internet History
- Wireless / Radio
- Common Carrier
- - Communications Act
- - Telecom Act
- - Hush a Phone
- - Computer Inquiries
- - Digital Tornado 1997
- - Steven Report 1998
- - Broadband
- - Universal Service
- - VoIP
- - Mergers
- - Network Neutrality
Derived From: Captain Linwood S. Howeth, USN (Retired), History of Communications-Electronics in the United States Navy, Bureau of Ships and Office of Naval History, Chapt 42 (1963) (Govt Work: public domain)
Federal Radio Commission
The perception was that the prior radio legislation had failed, that interference continued to be a significant problem, and radio spectrum coordination had reached a chaotic situation. [Messere, Davis Amendment]
"Immediately following the edict issued by the Department of Justice a new bill establishing a Federal Radio Commission, with authority to allocate commercial frequencies and hours of usage as well as to prescribe and supervise radio discipline, was agreed upon. This action was taken too late for the bill to be enacted into law prior to the adjournment of Congress. It was considered and passed in early 1927 and was signed by President Coolidge on 25 February 1927. The new established commission consisted of five members. The President immediately nominated Rear Adm. W. H. G. Bullard, USN (retired), as chairman and Messrs. Orestes H. Caldwell, Eugene O. Sykes, Henry A. Bellows, and John F. Dillon as members. Three of the Commission's members were confirmed on 4 March. One of the other two, Mr. Bellows, resigned on 8 October prior to confirmation. Colonel Dillon, one of the three early confirmed, died on that day and the chairman, Rear Adm. Bullard, died of a heart attack on Thanksgiving Day of the same year. The organization meeting was held on 15 March 1927.
Federal Radio Act of 1927, Public Law 632
That this Act is intended to regulate all forms of interstate and foreign radio transmissions and communications within the United States, its Territories and possessions; to maintain the control of the United States over all the channels of interstate and foreign radio transmission; and to provide for the use of such channels, but not the ownership thereof, by individuals, firms, or corporations, for limited periods of time, under licenses granted by Federal authority, and no such license shall be construed to create any right, beyond the terms, conditions, and periods of the license. That no person, firm, company, or corporation shall use or operate any apparatus for the transmission of energy or communications or signals by radio (a) from one place in any Territory or possession of the United States, or from the District of Columbia to another place in the same Territory, possession or District; or (b) from any State, Territory, or possession of the United States, or from the District of Columbia to any other State, Territory, or Possession of the United States; or from any place in any State, Territory, or possession of the United States, or in the District of Columbia, to any place in any foreign country or to any vessel; or (d) within any State when the effects of such use extend beyond the borders of said State, or when interference is caused by such use or operation with the transmission of such energy, communications, or signals from within said State to any place beyond its borders, or from any place beyond its borders to any place within said State, or with the transmission or reception of such energy, communications, or signals from and/or to places beyond the borders of said State; or (e) upon any vessel of the United States; or (f) upon any aircraft or other mobile stations within the United States, except under and in accordance with this Act and with a license in that behalf granted under the provisions of this Act.
. . . . .
SEC. 4. Except as otherwise provided in this Act, the commission, from time to time, as public convenience, interest, or necessity requires, shall--
(a) Classify radio stations;
(b) Prescribe the nature of the service to be rendered by each class of licensed stations and each station within any class;
(c) Assign bands of frequencies or wave lengths to the various classes of stations, and assign frequencies or wave lengths for each individual station and determine the power which each station shall use and the time during which it may operate;
(d) Determine the location of classes of stations or individual stations;
(e) Regulate the kind of apparatus to be used with respect to its external effects and the purity and sharpness of the emissions from each station and from the apparatus therein;
(f) Make such regulations not inconsistent with law as it may deem necessary to prevent interference between stations and to carry out the provisions of this Act: Provided, however, That changes in the wave lengths, authorized power, in the character of emitted signals, or in the times of operation of any station, shall not be made without the consent of the station licensee unless, in the judgment of the commission, such changes will promote public convenience or interest or will serve public necessity or the provisions of this Act will be more fully complied with;
(g) Have authority to establish areas or zones to be served by any station;
(h) Have authority to make special regulations applicable to radio stations engaged in chain broadcasting;
(i) Have authority to make general rules and regulations requiring stations to keep such records of programs, transmissions of energy, communications, or signals as it may deem desirable;
(j) Have authority to exclude from the requirements of any regulations in whole or in part any radio station upon railroad rolling stock, or to modify such regulations in its discretion;
(k) Have authority to hold hearings, summon witnesses, administer oaths, compel the production of books, documents, and papers and to make such investigations as may be necessary in the performance of its duties. The commission may make such expenditures (including expenditures for rent and personal services at the seat of government and elsewhere, for law books, periodicals, and books of reference, and for printing and binding) as may be necessary for the execution of the functions vested in the commission and, as from time to time may be appropriated for by Congress. All expenditures of the commission shall be allowed and paid upon the presentation of itemized vouchers therefor approved by the chairman.
"The lack of understanding of the radio situation by most of our legislators is evidenced by the provision of this Radio Act of 1927 which envisioned that the licensing authority of the Commission would be returned to the Department of Commerce at the end of one year and thereafter the Commission would only act in an advisory and appellate capacity.No engineering staff was provided to assist the members in their gigantic task. In order to provide such assistance, and to eliminate the chaotic conditions which were rendering naval radio communications on and near our coastlines practically impossible, the Navy Department volunteered the services of the Radio Division of the Bureau of Ships. This proffer was accepted.
"The initial action taken by the Commission occurred on April 17, 1927 when it ordered 129 stations, which had been operating on unassigned frequencies, to return to the frequencies previously assigned them by the Department of Commerce.
1927, May 18 FRC General Order 10:
"For the purpose of facilitating wider and better reception of daytime service programs, such as those of educational and religious institutions, civic organizations and distributors of market and other news, the Federal Radio Commission will consider applications from holders of broadcasting station licenses, for the use, between the hours of six am and six pm, local time only of a larger power output than is authorized by such licensees. Applications for this daytime privilege must be made to the Commission in writing, and shall specify the maximum daytime power to be used, the approximate daytime broadcasting schedule, and the reasons why, in the applicant's estimation, the granting of such privilege would be in the interest, convenience or necessity of the public..."
1927, May 21 FRC General Order 11
"Having established the Commission, Congress immediately proceeded to make it a political football. Broadcasters sought more favored frequencies and enlisted the support of their Congressmen as well as their listeners. The latter were encouraged to write directly to the Commission as well as to their Congressmen imploring that the station of their choice be given most favorable consideration. The Commission was quickly buried under an avalanche of letters and affidavits. One station, alone, is purported to have filed 170,000 affidavits collected from its listeners. Constant congressional pressure was brought to bear upon each member of the Commission. Lawrence F. Schmekebier stated, "Probably no quasijudicial body was ever subject to so much congressional pressure as the Federal Radio Commission. Much of this, moreover, came at a time when several members of the Commission had not been confirmed."
"Even under favorable conditions it is doubtful that the Commission could have executed its licensing responsibility within the alloted year. Faced with outside interference and loss of membership, it made slow progress and even that was subject to the most severe criticism. Congress, in March 1928, reluctantly extended the Radio Commission's authority for another year but curbed its authority by providing for five broadcasting zones and "a fair and equitable allocation among the different States thereof in proportion to population and area." Known as the Davis Amendment, it was subject to different interpretations by the several Commission members and hindered them in carrying out their responsibilities. This resulted in additional legislation being enacted in 1929 and thereafter such legislation became increasingly frequent. [Howeth] [Messere, Davis Amendment]
“Proper separation between established stations was destroyed by other stations coming in and camping in the middle of any open spaces they could find, each interloper thus impairing reception of three stations—his own and two others. Instead of the necessary 50 kilocycle separation between stations in the same community, the condition soon developed where separations of 20 and 10 kilocycles, and even 8, 5, and 2, kilocycles existed. Under such separations, of course, stations were soon wildly blanketing each other and distracted listeners were assailed with scrambled programs.” Federal Radio Commission, First Annual Report, 1927, pp. 10-11 (FRC Commissioner Orestes Caldwell).
Derived From: Sherille Ismail, Transformative Choices: A Review of 70 Years of FCC Decisions, FCC Working Paper Series #1, p 2-3 (Oct. 2010)
"Congress then enacted the Radio Act of 1927, establishing the Federal Radio Commission (FRC), to which it granted authority to issue licenses and regulations governing broadcasting"
What did the FRC do?
The Federal Radio Commission created a new structure favoring commercial broadcasting. Specifically, the FRC:
- adopted a series of orders widening the broadcast band to the entire spectrum between 550 kHz to 1500 kHz and removing portable stations from the air;9
- allocated 40 nationwide high powered (generally 25,000-50,000 watts) "clear channels" on which only one station operated at nighttime, plus other regional and local channels;10
- set a preference for commercial use over stations representing religious, political, social, and economic viewpoints.11
The FRC's rationale for its actions
The main stated reason for regulating spectrum use was to bring order to the chaotic situation where stations operated without licenses and interference was a major concern.12
Though national networks could have been created by interconnecting (using telephone lines) a chain of lower-power local stations, the FCC at that time favored networks consisting of high power, 'clear channels' that had nationwide coverage at nighttime.13
Commercial broadcasters pushed for national radio networks which they saw as "the only plan" for successfully financing radio broadcasting because it would permit the development of national advertising.14
The FRC initially steered away from endorsing these proposals to create a national advertiser-financed broadcasting system. The FRC's chief engineer described the channel allocation plan as entirely an engineering matter: "The reason for this is purely physical fact."15 Indeed, the FRC stated in 1928 that its allocation plan was not intended for the primary benefit of advertisers.16 By 1929, however, after having created 40 national clear channels and other regional high powered stations that depended on advertiser financing, the FRC acknowledged that the system it had created would need to be financed by advertising: "without advertising, broadcast would not exist."17
The FRC also said it was driven by spectrum scarcity to favor “general purpose” commercial stations over the non-profit (“propaganda”) stations. In regard to “propaganda” stations, the FRC stated:
“There is not room in the broadcast band for every school of thought, religious, political, social, and economic, each to have its separate broadcasting station, its mouthpiece in the ether.”18
In practice, the FRC issued licenses to well-financed commercial stations rather than to non-commercial stations.19
Impact of the decision: the long view
- The FRC’s decisions brought an end to the chaos in the airwaves that had existed in the mid-1920s and set the structure of the broadcasting industry for decades.20
- Commercial broadcasting replaced non-commercial broadcasting as the dominant force in radio.21
- “Although more than 200 educational AM stations had been started in the early 1920s, almost all of them left the air by the end of the decade.” Sterling, and Kittross, Stay Tuned, at 115-116, 124-127.
- “Nonprofit broadcasting accounted for only 2 percent” of all air time by 1934. McChesney, Telecommunications, Mass Media, and Democracy, at 30 -31).
- National radio networks rose in prominence. In 1926, the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) was created, with 22 affiliates. This became known as the Red network. NBC‘s second network, known as the Blue network, had 6 affiliates. These added up to 7 percent of all stations. By 1933, Red had 28, Blue had 24, and 36 were supplemental, for a total of 88 NBC affiliates, nearly 15 percent of all affiliates. The Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) had 17 affiliates in 1928 (4 percent of the total) and rose to 91 affiliates in 1933 (16 percent of the total).22 More significantly, NBC and CBS were affiliated with all but 3 of the 40 “clear channels” and accounted for 97 percent of nighttime broadcasting (when the smaller stations were not allowed to operate).23
- Advertising became the principal source of broadcasting revenue. Radio advertising, a marginal factor in 1927, rose to $100 million in 1930. 24 Radio stations’ income rose from less than $5 million in 1927 to $56 million four years later.25
© Cybertelecom ::
Communications Act of 1934
The Communications Act of 1934 merged the Federal Radio Commission and all of its responsibilities into the new independent agency, the Federal Communications Commission.
- 1941 Regular FM and TV broadcast service initiated.
- 1934: Federal Communications Commission
- 1933: Edwin Armstrong developed FM radio. [Rescue at Sea]
- 1927-32: Radio Division, Department of Commerce
- 1927: 733 Broadcast stations, 96 broadcast channels between 550 and 1500 khz
- 1927: Federal Radio Act / Federal Radio Commission
- 1913-27: Radio Service, Department of Commerce
- 1911-13: Radio Service, Bureau of Navigation, Department of Commerce and Labor
- 1910 Radio Station in Arlington Virgina (Ooooops), Cybertelecom 4/16/2010
- Ken Burns, Empire of the Air, PBS
- Clifford Doerksen, American Bable, Rogue Radio Broadcasters of the Jazz Age (U of Pennsylvania Press 2005)
- Radio Pioneers & Core Technologies, FCC History
- History of Wireless Communications, IEEE
- Sherille Ismail, Transformative Choices: A Review of 70 Years of FCC Decisions, FCC Working Paper Series #1 (Oct. 2010)
- Thomas Hazlett, The Rationality of US Regulation of the Broadcast Spectrum, The Journal of Law & Economics, Vol. 33, No. 1 (April 1990)
- Captain Linwood S. Howeth, USN (Retired), History of Communications-Electronics in the United States Navy, Bureau of Ships and Office of Naval History (USPO 1963) Library of Congress Catalogue Number: 64-62870 (Govt Work: public domain) (copy at earlyradiohistory.us)
- Lee de Forest
- Henry Bradford, Marconi's Three Transatlantic Radio Stations in Cape Breton, (1996)
- Marconi in Oxford, Museum of History of Science, Oxford
- Biography of Guglielmo Marconi, Guglielmo Marconi Museum.
- Guglielmo Marconi, The Nobel Price in Physics 1909, Nobel Foundation
- Titanic Tragedy Spawns Wireless Advancements, US Marconi Museum of Radio Communications
- PBS A Science Odyssey, Guglielmo Marconi
- Marconi Calling
- Fritz Messere, Documents of the Federal Radio Commission, Federal Radio Commission Archives
- The Davis Amendment
- Remarks of Michael K. Powell, Chairman, Federal Communications Commission, at the Silicon Flatirons Telecommunications Program University of Colorado at Boulder, Broadband Migration III: New Directions in Wireless Policy (Oct. 30, 2002), ("From 1927 through to today, interference protection has always been at the core of federal regulators' spectrum mission. The Radio Act of 1927 empowered the Federal Radio Commission to address interference concerns.")
- Rescue at Sea, American Experience, PBS
- Is This the Most Famous Radio Transmission Ever Made, G3YRC (with transcript of Titanic's distress transmissions)
- Dwight A. Johnson, The Radio Legacy of the RMS Titanic (Last Revised December 28, 1998)
- Wireless World: Marconi and the Making of Radio: Titanic, Museum of History of Science, University of Oxford
- Titanic Facts
- Secrets of the Dead: Titanic's Ghosts, PBS
- Titanic, The Legend Below: Collision, Thinkquest (1998) (noting interference caused by RMS California and RMS Titanic's rebuff)
- The Titanic Sinking, Solar Navigator (recount of communications situation and regulation at the time)
- Allan Brett, Wireless and the Titanic, Radio Reading Room (last visited July 26, 2008)
- Stephanie L. Barczewski, Titanic: A Night Remembered, p. 14 (Continuum International Publishing Group 2004)
- NOAA History, Wireless Seen as Coming Thing
- Vision of Years Achieved, French Army Officers in Eiffel Tower Verify the Results, NY Times (Oct 22, 1915)