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History :: Federal Radio Commission Dont be a FOOL; The Law is Not DIY
Radio History
- Radio Invention
- 1902-06 US Navy
- 1906-08 Interference
- 1908 Early Reg
- 1912 Titanic
- 1913-26 WWI
- FRC to FCC
- Unlicensed / WiFi

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- - 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 1927PDF, 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:

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

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.



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