It Was the Best of Times & the Worst of Times

65Radio broadcasting began in the “Roaring 20s.” A time in America that saw the first tabloid newspaper appear. Reader’s Digest, New Yorker Magazine, Time Magazine would also be born right along with radio. It was a time of unprecedented economic prosperity and social change. It was a time of a strong backlash of racism, fear of immigration and morality.

The 1920s and the world we are living in today are not all that dissimilar. Today, the wealth inequality is greater than it was in the early 1920s.

And just like those times, almost a hundred years ago, that gave birth to radio we are living in times that are giving birth to the “Internet of Things.”

Immigration: Then & Now

After World War One ended, America got tough on immigration. The most stringent set of immigration restrictions in American history was enacted with “The National Origins Act of 1924.” It restricted the flow of immigrants from Europe (and elsewhere) to less than 200,000 per year. This fear of immigrants reignited the Ku Klux Klan. The KKK membership saw its membership rise to a new high in 1928. Reformers advocated for a more militant, less conciliatory stance.

Today the battle rages on over building a wall between Mexico and the United States and over immigration of Muslims.

Women’s Rights

While women had won the right to vote, they still couldn’t go to college and most professions still excluded women. While women could now own property, they couldn’t establish credit with a bank or get backing for a business venture.

Many felt that the only thing that changed in America when women were given the power to vote was prohibition; the 18th Amendment to the Constitution.

War on Illegal Substances

So while the United States tried to control alcohol in the 20s and failed, today we find America battling another illegal substance battle, marijuana, with much the same results.

People will find a way to do something they really want to do.

Modern Mass Media

The 20s ushered in the first decade of modern mass media. American-made films not only captured the attention of American audiences, but the whole world. Every city would have at least one movie house by the end of the decade.

Because the movies were silent, musicians were in high demand for the movies. And because radio was all live, it too needed musicians to perform during each broadcast day.

Radio Jingles

The 20s also saw advertising agencies now develop departments devoted to the creation of radio advertising and soon the commercial radio jingle was born.

The Worst of Times

The Roaring 20s would end with Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929, the stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression.

While this decade created favorable conditions for big business to prosper, the alliance of government and industry left labor unions out in the cold.

It was these times that radio was born.

The Great Recession of 2008 would be the environment that would see the Internet of Things born.

Today’s Big Regulatory Difference

The big difference I see today for radio versus its toddler years is how it is regulated. The Radio Act of 1927  provided the foundation for all broadcast regulation right up until today. While more Acts were passed and made law over the years, the basics remain much the same as when they were first made law.

Some of the key provisions in the original Act that we’ve deviated from today are:

  • Limiting the number of broadcasters to foster higher quality radio broadcasts versus having more stations of poor or mediocre qualities
  • Radio broadcasters would operate in the “public interest, convenience and necessity”
  • Radio would be a regulated medium to assure high quality and operating in the public interest
  • Radio would be commercial and privately owned (a condition that made radio broadcasting in the USA different from every other country in the world)

Those who complain that radio isn’t like it used to be only need look at how broadcast regulations have been changed over the past century; the biggest change being the Telcom Act of 1996.

Utopian Hopes, Dystopian Fears

When commercial radio was born in 1920, it was hoped that it would bring about national unity. Those utopian hopes and dystopian fears would fall basically into four different areas.

  1. Radio would create a physical unity in the country bringing people together as one
  2. Radio would bring about a new cultural unity as Americans
  3. Radio would make America a one language nation providing linguistic unity
  4. Radio would bring about institutional unity where everyone wanted the same things and held the same vision

I will let you draw your own conclusions on the success or failure of these goals for radio.

Internet of Things

Broadcasting in America started out as a government-assisted oligopoly. The internet did too. Both, I would argue, now fall into the unlimited category. While I realize this is definitely true for the internet, I know others would quickly point out the limited amount of spectrum for AM and FM radio broadcasting. However, with the growth of FM translators and LPFM stations, it feels like it’s unlimited.

The original system of a government preferred broadcasting system is being challenged today by the Internet of Things.

And covered in dust, is the original fundamental principle of operating in the public interest, convenience and necessity and not merely for maximum profits.

12 Comments

Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales, Uncategorized

12 responses to “It Was the Best of Times & the Worst of Times

  1. blazerbocat

    Great Perspective. Thanks For Sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Gary Barrett

      It is a good perspective…although it misses some points. Radio is dependant on listeners for its ultimate survival. And over the years, large and small broadcasters started to forget that. Instead of being about providing the best quality product for listeners, it became “how cheaply can we do this and still make money.”

      In the 80’s and 90’s small stations sold out to bigger companies who are beholden not to listeners but to stockholders. That’s why some of the big box chain broadcasters spent millions on their headquarters buildings to look big, but financed it by cutting to the bone and beyond in staffing.

      That created a lot of instant millionaires and eventually meant those big box broadcasters would get rid of the unprofitable stations to religious groups.

      The big box broadcasters tried from the days of reel-to-reel automation
      syndicators to synchronize the sound nationwide. It was easier to control if every FM rocker were, essentially, the same. That paved the way for syndication and the loss of local talent. Stations didn’t need to find great personalities-they could import it from LA or New York.

      The FCC truly hurt radio in the early 60s and 70s by letting tons of small stations share frequencies on the AM dial. It created tons of interference that we’re hearing the results from now. Doubt me? Look up 1490khz’s nighttime pattern at http://www.nf8m.com/pattern_maps/US-CA_nighttime/N-map_1490KHz.html . You’ll see how after sunset local AM stations haven’t been able to be heard let alone stay alive.

      Then the FCC abdicated its responsibility to control RF emissions. Devices such as the monitor I’m looking at to type this now release tons of RF that interfere with AM radio reception. So do power lines, wall warts, lamps, and computers. Now an AM radio station on the lower end of the dial has trouble being heard over the noise floor even if it’s a 50,000-watt flamethrower.

      And the FCC caved by allowing big box broadcasters (and some smaller ones too) to move stations from small markets to larger ones, thereby depriving the community of its identity. It was much easier to program to larger groups of people for national advertising than it was to hire competent, compassionate sales people who cared about local advertisers whose spots now are buried in the middle of five-minute clusters, often times with their competition.

      So we agree that the FCC has some big blame in all of this…but the industry itself shares part of it. Regulation is useless if it’s abandoned. And with the abandonment of “public interest, convenience and necessity” about the only thing local many stations provide is someone reading wire copy lifted from newspapers from big cities. Local news, local talk about ideas and issues that concern the community of license are gone.

      If I’m the local Sony dealer who wants to get his name out there, which do I go to…the TV station where I can show my wares in minimal spot clusters of 3 minutes or so, or to radio, where my message gets buried?

      Granted, there are exceptions to all of this. But they are that-exceptions. Until radio becomes less of a commodity and more of an art form that super-serves its audience again, it will diminish in its reach.

      And that makes this old broadcaster sad.

      Like

  2. “These are the good old days…” – Carly Simon as “We note our place with bookmarkers and measure what we lost.” – Simon & Garfunkel.
    Broadcast License = Regulation. Regulation = FCC Rules. Rules = Common Good. Common Good = Public Interest. Local Broadcasters providing superior service will exceed large company, inferior product.
    Thank you Prof. Taylor. Excellent through stimulation. Clark http://www.broadcastideas.com

    Like

  3. “These are the good old days…” – Carly Simon, As “We note our place with bookmarkers and measure what we lost.” – Simon & Garfunkel.
    Broadcast License = Regulation. Regulation = FCC Rules. Rules = Common Good. Common Good = Public Interest. Local Broadcasters providing superior service will exceed large company, inferior product.

    Thank you, Prof. Taylor. Excellent thought stimulation.
    Clark http://www.broadcastideas.com

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Jay Walker

    The decline of the once great broadcast radio medium can be directly linked to the Telecom Act. More than anything that act created the feeding frenzy that brought us to the ‘too big to fail’ situation which a few of the major broadcast corporations find themselves in today. At it’s heyday in the 1970’s radio was a vibrant industry full of numerous operators making profit, profit which made radio a Wall Street darling for a time. As a post noted musically, Cher’s ‘If I Could Turn Back Time’ is a song which really seems to fit. Sadly an industry I and many others loved is gone forever as radio now ‘serves to protect the profit of the shareholder’ at any cost..

    Like

    • Michael Keith writes in his book “The Radio Station” that one of the worst years in radio was 1991 according to famed WABC Program Director Rick Sklar. This period gave birth to the LMA (Local Marketing Agreement). Then came the Telcom Act of 1996. So it was a series of events, including the proliferation of radio stations and a weakening economy (the recession of 1990-1991) that would change radio.

      But then, since its birth, radio has been a technology that successfully has dealt with a constantly changing world.

      It may not be the way it was, but then what is?

      Radio today is the #1 Reach & Frequency mass medium. For a technology nearing its 100th birthday, that’s not doing bad at all.

      Like

  5. I’m tired of hearing about greedy radio groups and shareholders. Over 70 percent of stations are still owned by small groups and independent operators. In 1996 half of radio stations were losing money. Big business took advantage of a dire situation. A hardware store in our market just shut down after 65 years (and did a extensive remodel a few years before) because people decided that it was easier to shop at the big box store. The ad pie is smaller for everyone. Small business has to budget, and the first thing to go is….marketing! Every time we overlook a small business, we contribute to a shareholder. It is you and me! that keep the corporate machine alive. Are you willing to give up your smartphone…no. How many times do you eat at the locally owned restaurant?, Shop at the locally owned retail store? Nope. We have helped create the path of least resistance. With have limited choices for food, clothing, communications etc. When you are not paying the bills, you close shop. I just did that a few years ago with a retail store that I owned for 15 years. I watched my customer base migrate over to the corporate big box store. Yes you keep the shareholder in business. The only time we boycott big business,or refuse to stop shopping at a major supplier or retailer is if we get our feelings hurt. I remember listening to radio growing up and you heard local, regional, and national advertisers (Now it is mostly national). Radio has also sold its soul by bartering spots for jingles, specialty programming, and more. National buys are no existent because we give it to them, why buy? So see, you support the shareholder. It is basic economics. Until we are willing to change our purchase habits, things will continue to be dire. I think I will skip the fast food joint this morning and eat breakfast at the local diner. Shop local, buy local Will you? Regulation is not needed, there are many with deep pockets that could purchase stations (or a broadcast group) and create a different point or view, but there isn’t enough of a ROI for the shareholders, and the first opposing view could tarnish their brand. Or it could be risky. Once again, it is all about economics.

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  6. I agree with you about the wrenching changes in America through the years. However, two comments:
    1. Regulation to insure that radio operates in the public interest never worked, never will. Can we really bank on FCC desk types to judge content with government power, and determine what is good and not good? And you might want to re-read the wording of the First Amendment. The print model of freedom is the right model for broadcasting, not the government. I suppose when you are exposed to an overwhelming liberal faculty, it tends to make you forget just how broadcasters have to be responsive to the public’d needs in order to succeed; having the FCC enforce your longing for an aniquated, clearly unconstitutional standard sounds more like Moscow than Main Street U.S.A.

    2. I think some of your observations are fresh thinking and provocative. But I think you went off track when you yearn for government enforced content regulation.
    As for those who lament what the 96 legislation made possible, the failure or shortcomings have nothing to do with the legislation; it’s more basic. Failure to competently acquire and operate with management excellence.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark, thank you for stopping by the blog and contributing to the discussion.

      Just to be clear, I’m not advocating for the government to tell broadcasters how to operate in the public interest, convenience and necessity but saying when broadcasters do this on their own and in concert with the communities they serve, they will be the winners.

      Even after that government mandate went away, I continued to operate the stations I managed in that way and in so doing successfully returned healthy margins for the stakeholders of my company.

      I hope you would agree with that operating concept.

      -DT

      Like

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