American Radio after the War


By Commissioner PAUL A. WALKER of the Federal Communications Commission

Delivered before the Third Annual Radio Conference, Sponsored by Stephens College, Columbia, Missouri, November 18, 1944

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 151-155.

COMMUNICATIONS have come a long way since King Agamemnon by means of beacon fires reported to his Greek subjects his victory over Troy. Contrast his ancient method of communication with that used to report the Invasion of France. In the early hours of last June 6, people throughout the world were almost instantly informed by means of radio that the campaign of liberation had begun. They received dramatic accounts of the vast and complex air and amphibious operations from first hand observers. It was almost like being at the scene of battle.

The most remarkable developments in communications have come in the past fifty years. In 1887, Heinrich Hertz unlocked the secret of the elusive wireless waves. In 1901, Marconi proved that these waves could be used as a means of communication. By 1912, the Government was making definite assignments of frequencies and in 1920, KDKA in Pittsburgh went on the air as the first commercial station. By 1930, the radio spectrum had been extended and services assigned above 50,000 kilocycles. The Federal Communications Commission is now considering the problem of assigning frequencies as high as 30,000,000 kilocycles.

Today more than 900 standard stations, 46 FM stations and 6 television stations are operating in this country.

We in America can be proud of the rapid development in radio in the past half century. You who are here tonight can share in that pride. But it is not the past that is of chief concern to us. It is the future that should engage our major attention. We stand on the threshold of awe-inspiring developments in the ether. War research and experimentation have brought about marvelous technological improvements. Once the curtain of secrecy is lifted and materials and manpower become available for civilian uses, we shall see a phenomenal growth in radio services.

As you know, the Federal Communications Commission recently conducted an extensive hearing to secure information and advice for the assignment of frequencies to the various classes of non-governmental services. We listened to more than 200 experts from industrial, scientific and educational fields and received about 5,000 pages of testimony and more than 500 exhibits. I wish that all of you might have been there to hear the informative reports and glowing prophecies as to the growth of radio after the war.

The evidence showed conclusively that Frequency Modulation broadcasting will expand rapidly. Better able to avoid static than standard broadcasting, FM is likely to have a stronger appeal generally. Since a number of these stations can operate in closer proximity on the same channel without objectionable interference than is possible with standard stations, can probably be constructed more economically, many more localities will be able to have them. This will provide a greater access to the microphone among the masses of the people. An increase in the number of stations will possibly mean a corresponding growth in the number of networks.

There was considerable testimony at the hearing regarding the future of television. It do not believe the average citizen is fully aware of the technical progress made in this field in the last few years. The television pictures after the war are expected to be much better than those prior to Pearl Harbor. They are likely to have superior definition, be much brighter and larger and may have color as well. With the use of mobile television units, it will be possible to send pictures of important events from many different places; and with the development of networks, large numbers of people will be able to view these pictures.

Add to FM and television the possibilities of facsimile and we have a most attractive outlook for communications. The transmission of writing, printing, photographs and other images is now a well-established art according to experts who appeared before the Commission. While we are told there are still technical problems to work out, progress is being made and we may soon have effective simultaneous transmission of sound and facsimile images.

Out of this development will come new conveniences for the American people. By means of facsimile the man in the office can receive continuously complete and graphic news reports to aid him in his business or profession. The rancher in Montana who now may wait as long as a week to get his newspaper, may get the latest news with pictures directly recorded in his home.

Radio after the war will revolutionize and improve American industry. Application of high frequency radio to industrial operations has had a rapid growth in recent years. As a means of effective, intensive heating, it is highly useful in woodwork, plastic, textile, rubber and chemical industries. Experts urge that it will become increasingly important after the war as an aid to production. In this connection, problems of radiation and interference with communications will call for careful study and may necessitate new legislation.

The telephone industry will make increasing use of radio. For example, the Federal Communications Commission recently approved conditional grants for the American Telephone and Telegraph Company to construct two experimental stations which are to be used as terminal points for a proposed wide-band, point-to-point radio repeater circuit capable of relaying telephone and other types of communication between New York and Boston. Similar grants have been made to other industries.

Under the proposed wide bands, many telephone conversations can be carried on simultaneously over the same circuit. The development of such a system may make possible a considerable expansion in telephone service at lower costs.

Another post-war prospect is the use of radio for rural telephone service. A report of the Federal Communications Commission issued this week shows that 3 out of 4 of our farms are without telephones. In Missouri, 61 per cent of the farms have no telephones; in Kansas the number without service is 49 per cent; in Oklahoma the figure is 81.9; in Arkansas 94.8; in Texas 86.9; in Illinois 50.5; in Kentucky 84.2; in Tennessee 86.9; in Iowa 33.4; in Nebraska 56.8; in some other states the percentage runs as high as 96 per cent.

So while we recognize that this country has the finest telephone system in the world, there is still a large portion of our people who do not have any service at all. These farmers who have done so much on the production front to speed the day of victory and will be so essential to our nation after the war are entitled to economical telephone service.

It is significant to note that during the thirties, while ingeneral the telephone industry was expanding tremendously, the number of telephones on farms decreased nearly 30 per cent. During much of the same time there was a substantial increase in the use of electric service on farms. In fact, while the number of rural telephones decreased 30 per cent, the number of electrified farms increased more than 200 per cent. If industrial enterprise with all its resources cannot or will not provide telephone facilities at reasonable costs, then the millions of farmers in America may well resort to their own collective efforts to secure them as they have secured electricity through the Rural Electrification Administration.

Could radio be the answer to this problem? Could radio meet the economic difficulties which some say is the obstacle to the development of land line telephone systems in rural communities? Whether or not the use of radio telephony is economically feasible for farms in the near future, here is a real challenge to the ingenuity and public spirit of American industry.

There are other telephone developments which may come sooner than most of us realize. It is not visionary to predict that in the future television and facsimile may be combined with telephony. Two people talking long distance may be able to see as well as hear each other. Or if we call and fail to get an answer, we may, by means of facsimile, convey a message which the party called will find at his telephone when he returns. These operations are technically possible now. Further experimentation may effect economies which will bring these services within the reach of us all.

Another important industry which has begun to use radio is the railroad industry. Just recently the Commission held a special hearing on the use of radio in railroad operations. A wealth of valuable data was received.

As you well know, we have had an appalling number of train wrecks within the past few years. More than 150 people were killed and more than 300 injured last year on one railroad alone. It has been alleged that one of the chief causes of these wrecks has been a lack of up-to-date, efficient communication facilities. More than 30 years ago, radio communication was required for all ships at sea and for more than a decade, airplanes have used it for dispatching and safety purposes. Yet most of our railroads are still using flags, lanterns and other conventional methods. Representatives of the industry showed a keen interest in the problem and the evidence introduced at the hearing clearly showed that radio communication from front to back of train, from train to train, as well as from train to railway station may soon be a reality on many of our railroads. This, along with other methods now in use, will definitely contribute to the efficiency and safety of train service.

What I have said in regard to railroads may be applied to buses, taxi cabs and trucks. The installation of radio communication on these common carriers will improve service, cut down the accident rate on the highways and facilitate first aid treatment in cases of emergency.

This post-war expansion of radio should be financially profitable for both industry and labor. In 1937, the total broadcast revenue, including networks and independent stations, was $114,222,906. In 1943, this figure had leaped to $215,317,774, a gain of almost 100 per cent. Net revenue from broadcast service in 1937, after all operating expenses but before Federal income tax, was $22,566,595. Last year it was $66,475,586, almost three times as much. With the tremendous expansion of radio after the war there is reason to believe that this level of net revenue will be materially increased. Some manufacturers are estimating that 5,000,000 FM receiving sets will be made and sold during the first five years after the war. Some industrialists believe we may have as many as 2,000 FM stations operating within that period. The fact that there are already 268 applications for FM stations on file with the Federal Communications Commission tends to confirm this prediction.

Add to FM broadcasting, the expansion of television and facsimile and the prospects for business enterprise in the radio field are most encouraging. As I have previously mentioned, television is likely to move fast after the war. Some manufacturers are saying that they will be able to sell television receiving sets for as low as $150 and predict that the price may drop even below this figure. If this is true, there should be a good market for television receivers.

The faith that industry has in television is evidenced by the fact that as of November 15 of this year there were 87 applications for commercial television stations on file with the Federal Communications Commission.

Economists tell us that the big post-war problem will be maintenance of employment. The choice we face is one of high production, full employment and general prosperity or low production, widespread unemployment and depression. Our production for the past year has run about 200 billion dollars. If, after reconversion, our national annual production were to fall as low as 108 billion dollars, which is the 1939 level with allowance for increase in prices through 1943, we would have between 12 and 20 million people without jobs. This would constitute a serious threat to our whole economy and to our political institutions. The expansion of the electronic field, along with other technological advances, will help to provide new enterprise and new jobs. This will have a stabilizing effect on our economy.

Another factor to which I should like to call your attention is that a large number of the American people do not receive adequate radio service. While no one disputes the fact that we have one of the finest radio broadcasting systems in the world, the truth is that one-third of the United States is still outside the daytime primary service of any station. This means that about 10 million or 8 per cent of our people are not enjoying the abundance of radio facilities which we have. Perhaps technological improvements will effect economies that will make it possible for many of the isolated communities in the West to have better radio service. FM stations which can be set up more economically than standard ones may be a partial answer to the problem but they will not be the complete answer. If a community or section of the country must have a large market for the sale of goods advertised on the radio, then many sparsely settled areas will not have satisfactory radio service unless non-pecuniary as well as profit incentives have a place in radio operations.

There is a fertile field for expansion here in the noncommercial side of radio. Public schools and institutions of higher learning, adequately supported by public funds, could serve a real need, and particularly in those sections where private industry has not found it profitable to provide adequate radio service.

Educators are manifesting an increasing interest in the possibilities of FM broadcasting. Striking evidence is the fact that a large number of educators testified before the Federal Communications Commission in the recent hearing, urging that additional frequencies be assigned for this type of broadcasting.

On July 18 of this year, the Federal Communications Commission announced its willingness to give careful consideration to proposed state-wide plans for the use of educational frequencies. It was reported at the hearing that 28 states are now planning state-wide networks for educational FM radio.

In view of reports from educators who have used FM,there is no question as to its superiority over AM in the educational field, if transmitting and receiving installations are well constructed. Free from static and possessing high fidelity, it is ideal for group listening in the class room. Cleveland, Ohio schools, for example, have successfully used FM on a city-wide basis.

Facsimile will be a further aid to educational broadcasting. We are told that after the war, we may be able to buy FM receiving sets equipped with attachments on which images are reproduced from the broadcasting studios. This may mean the broadcasting of illustrated lectures in the fields of music, art, geography, etc. The music teacher in the studio may write out the notes for her students to study and play. The geography teacher may draw maps as he discusses the lesson. The language teacher may not only pronounce the words but write them as well. The art instructor may transmit pictures and drawings to illustrate a lecture. The use of these visual aids should greatly enhance the value of educational programs and stimulate wider interest in them.

Envisioning the possibilities of the use of television in the American schools of tomorrow, we may see important events brought to the class room, the dormitory, and the fraternity house. The actual reproduction of class room activities may be brought to homes throughout the country. Students may see as well as hear outstanding speakers throughout the world. This will give impetus to such programs as junior and senior town meetings and roundtable discussions. In fact, every important phase of life can be brought to the class room and correlated with the instructional program.

I wish to mention briefly some special public services which will result from the wider use of radio after the war. With the further development of state-wide as well as nation-wide police systems which will include facsimile transmissions, we may expect more effective detection and apprehension of criminals. In the case of fire and other emergency situations, much property and many lives will be saved. In the fields of journalism, medical science, motion pictures, geophysics and others, radio is destined to play an increasingly important part and bring new comforts and benefits to the American people.

With new technological developments and improvement in radio services, we shall face new problems and responsibilities after the war. The basic problem will be to make radio as well as other communication mechanisms operate in the public interest. These new and expanding media can effectively serve democracy or they can completely destroy it. We have seen in other countries what can happen when the press and radio become the instruments of a clique or group who uses them for the propagation of one ideology to the exclusion of others. With access to the microphone limited to a sinister few and the people's freedom to listen restricted, democracy dies and dictatorship triumphs.

An enlightened public opinion is essential to successful democracy. Keep facts and truth from the people, bar the free expression of opinion, and you have a situation which breeds autocracy and leads to social chaos. As Justice Holmes so well stated, the ultimate social good is best reached through "free trade in ideas," and one of the best tests of truth is "the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the open market." We should, therefore, "be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death, unless they so imminently threaten immediate interference with the lawful and pressing purposes of the law that an immediate check is required to save the country."

Fortunately, the framers of our Constitution protected the American people from political domination of communication media by the 1st Amendment which provides for free speech, and this protection is specifically set forth in the Communications Act of 1934 which created the Federal Communications Commission. Some have had the erroneous impression that the Commission has the authority to determine what shall or shall not be said on any particular radio program. But to those who fear that the government may exercise undue power in this regard, I refer them to section 326 of the Act which reads:

"Nothing in this Act shall be understood or construed to give the Commission the power of censorship over the radio communications or signals transmitted by any radio station, and no regulation or condition shall be promulgated or fixed by the Commission which shall interfere with the right of free speech by means of radio communication."

The language of this section is very clear. Congress has wisely established a safe-guard which must be respected. Should any Commission ever unwittingly violate this provision, the courts are available for redress.

Government control of communications has been successfully avoided in this country. We have also sought to prevent the undue concentration of power in the hands of private interests. As early as 1937, Congress showed concern over the growth of monopoly in the radio field. Representative Wigglesworth of Massachusetts, speaking to the House in July of that year, said:

"It appears that we are confronted by a virtual monopoly in the hands of the three big broadcasting companies of the nation. . . It appears that we have failed to eliminate private ownership or its equivalent in radio channels. It appears that we have failed to eliminate undesirable trafficking in radio licenses, with all the possibilities with which we have been familiar in the past in other fields, for the capitalization of earnings and profits to the detriment of the American people. . ."

The investigation by the Federal Communications Commission shortly thereafter revealed that of the 660 standard broadcast stations operating in 1938, more than half were affiliated with the major networks. Through contractual relations, the networks were controlling and using a large percentage of the broadcasting time of outlet stations. While the stations were owned by a large number of people they were being controlled by a comparatively few.

Today we have over 900 standard stations and more than two-thirds of these are affiliated with one chain or another. While we recognize the great value of chain broadcasting in a country as large as ours, at the same time we have the problem of maintaining a diversification of control that will allow greater freedom of choice in programs and greater access to the microphone on the part of the people.

Under our democratic system, the responsibility for determining what types of programs shall or shall not be broadcast rests with the broadcaster. We have been heartened recently by the fact that station managers generally are manifesting an increasing sense of social obligation in this regard. It is my earnest hope that this trend will continue, and that broadcasters, in providing programs will think increasingly in terms of the best interests of the community and the nation, and loss in terms of private interests who may wish to exploit radio for selfish ends.

Evidence of this growing social consciousness on the part of broadcasters is the fact that more attention is being given to educational programs than was the case a few years ago. Networks as well as local stations are moving in this direction. But we need more roundtable discussions and town meetings of the air which bring out facts and points of view on important public questions. We need more educational programs which help the citizen to solve his personal problems and discharge his civic responsibilities. We need moreobjective and accurate news reports which give the listener a rational basis upon which to formulate opinion.

I cannot over-estimate the importance of these needs. If democracy is to achieve its maximum effectiveness, we must have more of this type of broadcasting. Many crucial problems face the American people today. For example, as I have mentioned previously, one of the vital questions which we must settle in the near future is how best to make the change from a war time to a peace time economy. How can we effectively maintain production and employment after the war so that our democracy will be secure? Our people and their political leaders are concerned and the more enlightened discussion we can have in local and national forums, the easier it will be for us to solve this problem. Networks and local stations can contribute much by providing plenty of time on the air for the broadcast of facts and varying points of view on matters of public concern.

In recent months, I have listened to a number of educational programs designed to give the listener a better understanding of democratic processes, to bring out what democracy really means, and arouse a deeper appreciation among our people for the American way of life. We need more of such broadcasts. There is no better way to meet the challenge of foreign ideologies than a full and open discussion of the virtues of democracy. I am not talking about emotional outbursts but have in mind informative and stimulating talks and discussions which appeal to the intellect of the people. With four major networks and nearly a thousand radio stations in this country, my feeling is that we need to tap a great potential here which has been neglected.

With the new developments in radio, stations should have more time during the best hours of the day to sponsor programs of local interest. While network broadcasts serve a useful need in America, they should not be permitted to crowd out those of a local character. It seems reasonable to say that a station owes its first obligation to the immediate community it serves. I recall that a number of years ago when the President of a large state university sought time on a commercial station to discuss an educational problem about which there was much concern in his state, he was told that he would have to broadcast during the late afternoon hours because the evening time was taken up with network programs. This University president took the time offered him but only a small portion of the people in the community could listen when he spoke. A situation of this kind is not a healthy one. In a nation as large as ours, it is imperative that citizens and groups in every community have greater access to the microphone for the discussion and promotion of civic affairs. I earnestly feel that more of the best listening time could be devoted to local school and church broadcasts. More time could be given to local town meetings and round-table discussions dealing with such questions as to whether a new high school should be built, whether more playgrounds should be provided, how the needs of local business enterprise and labor can be met, et cetera.

Radio stations could give greater attention to improvement of community health needs, conservation of natural resources, and the stimulation of interest and pride in local tradition and institutions. By sponsoring enlightened discussion and providing information about such problems, radio can furnish a real service to these areas. Broadcasting chains, by permitting more network programs to emanate from local communities could serve a valuable educational purpose. Network programs originating from various sections of the country, featuring the best talent from these areas, can help to break down sectional prejudices and contribute to national unity.

Also, there is a real opportunity for radio to bring to the American people the finest entertainment in the fields of drama, music and the other arts. I believe the American people want more of such programs and will respond when they are provided.

Of course, in the last analysis, the achievement of these objectives of which I have been speaking calls for the cooperation of advertisers and others who financially control American radio. Sponsors who insist an deleting material which may be of a controversial nature, or who prohibit the broadcasting of facts which they think may offend some people, or who insist that all of the best morning hours should be devoted to soap box operas, defeat the attainment of a free and effective radio.

As to the place of government in the radio picture of the future, we can travel one of three roads. First, Management can be left free to operate without any public regulation. However, few seriously favor such a system of unrestrained operation. If for no other reason, the problem of electrical interference accentuated by a crowded spectrum would be too great to make such a system feasible.

The second road which seems attractive to some is that of public ownership. Most countries have this system and private operation in America is the exception rather than the rule. But there are dangers in this type of operation. We have seen them develop in totalitarian states. It is imperative that we keep a free radio if democracy is to endure. I do not believe that government ownership would be conducive to a free radio any more than I think monopolistic control would be conducive to it. When one segment of society, whether it be government or industry or some other, is vested with unlimited authority over radio, then freedom is threatened and democracy suffers. It is diversification and balance of control that we want in American radio.

If we are to have this balance, I believe we must have effective government regulation of the radio industry. I believe that this is the road we must travel if the interests of those who operate radio stations as well as the interests of the people are to be served. I believe one of the best safe-guards against political control is effective government regulation.

This system I favor operates on the principle that the ether and the frequencies belong to the people, that they have a right to set the general standards for the use of this ether and these frequencies, but grants the privilege of management to those persons who have the qualifications and the desire to operate in the public interest, and to give worthwhile public service.

To be effective, this system must have managers who are more than dollar-mindedówho want radio to bring the maximum social benefits. And it must have regulators who are democratic in outlook and who are intensely devoted to the public interest.

In conclusion, let me state that radio has come a long way as an important mechanism of democratic society. Yet there are important and challenging frontiers ahead. New technological developments in communications may well revolutionize the worldóbring a richer and fuller life to us all.

We face difficult problems in the immediate future. There is the problem of assigning frequencies so that all important radio services may operate. There is the continuing question of how we can make radio increasingly contribute to the culture and education of our people. Not only is this important to America but it is important to other nations. In my opinion, no single thing will contribute more to international understanding and peace than a free flow of intelligence throughout the world. Beyond this episode of battling races and an impoverished earth, we see an ever-expanding radio which we hope will bring nations closer together and all humanity nearer to the Christian goal of peace on earth and good will toward men.