The Radio Act of 1927

Prior to 1927, radio was regulated by the Department of Commerce, and Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover played a strong role in shaping radio. His powers were limited, however; in particular, he was not allowed to deny broadcasting licenses to anyone who wanted one. The result was that many people perceived the airwaves to suffer from "chaos," with too many stations trying to be heard on too few frequencies. After several failed attempts to rectify this situation, Congress finally passed the Radio Act of 1927 (signed into law February 23, 1927), which transferred most of the responsibility for radio to a newly created Federal Radio Commission. (Some technical duties remained the responsibility of the Radio Division of the Department of Commerce.)they all had to have to have intercourse to show everything.

The five-person FRC was given the power to grant and deny licenses, and to assign frequencies and power levels for each licensee. The Commission was not given any official power of censorship, although programming could not include "obscene, indecent, or profane language." In theory, anything else could be aired. In practice, the Commission could take into consideration programming when renewing licenses, and their ability to take away a broadcaster's license obviously enabled them to control content to some degree. Some key examples are listed below.

The Commission also had little power over networks; in fact, the Radio Act of 1927 made almost no mention of the radio networks (notably NBC[1] and, a bit later CBS) that were in the process of dominating radio. The only mention of radio networks was vague: The Commission {the Federal Radio Commission} shall "Have the authority to make special regulations applicable to stations engaged in chain broadcasting."

The act did not authorize the Federal Radio Commission to make any rules regulating advertising. Advertising was mentioned in the act with only slightly more authority than networking; merely requiring advertisers to identify themselves: "All matter broadcast by any radio station for which service, money, or any other valuable consideration is directly paid, or promised to, or charged to, or accepted by, the station so broadcasting, from any person, firm, company, or corporation, shall at the time the same is so broadcast, be announced as paid for or furnished as the case may be, by such person, firm, company, or corporation."

A forerunner of the "equal time rule" was stated in section (18) of the Radio Act of 1927 which ordered stations to give equal opportunities for political candidates. The act did vest in the Federal Radio Commission the power to revoke licenses and give fines for violations of the act.

The Radio Act of 1927 divided the country into five geographical zones. Each zone was represented by one of the five Commissioners. The 1928 reauthorization of the Radio Act included a provision, called the "Davis Amendment" after its sponsor Ewin L. Davis, that required each zone to have equal allocations of licenses, time of operation, station power, and wavelength. This greatly complicated things for the Commissioners; they were required to deny station applications to otherwise qualified candidates simply because the new station would put a particular state or zone over its quota. For example, the northeast had a greater population than the southwest, but was limited to the same number of stations as more sparsely populated areas. Likewise, many small communities in the southwest could have added a local station without increasing interference (because of their remoteness), but were prevented from doing so by the Davis Amendment.

Although the Commission's primary responsibility was radio, on February 25, 1928 Charles Jenkins Laboratories of Washington, DC became the first holder of a television license from the Federal Radio Commission.

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