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Oh Lord the. Truth about radio. I w o n e w inquiry. Tonight's guest commissioner Nicholas Johnson of the Federal Communications Commission interviewing Mr. Johnson is Richard Kay dollar nationally syndicated radio TV columnist. Commissioner Johnson at age 32 you are not only the newest member of the Federal Communications Commission but also the youngest member are you not. Yes. Now you were the youngest FCC commissioner in history. I believe so although I confess I haven't done much research. Newton Minow was thirty four or five when he came and was and he and I will have a around that age. Right. You also seem to be the fiery guest commissioner on the map so you see at this moment you're really making waves at least in the trade press. What is your what do you
want to do anyway. Can you. Well I don't think of myself as as fiery or a wave maker to borrow they figure of speech from my prior incarnation as maritime administrator. But you're issuing the sense to commit to decisions that the entire commission is making. You had one you dissent last week that you know out in the station. Yes. Matter. Well I think that the the FCC is dealing with that. What in my judgment are the most fundamental and most significant issues in our society today. There is really nothing much more fundamental in communications in terms of a private communication system which includes telephone and radio microwave satellites and a mass communication system which Debbi any Debbie is a parked in and television industry and the rest of it. And this is that this is the stuff of humanity and it's the bedrock of a
democratic society. And it seems to me that we have an exploding technology. And each new technological innovation brings with it a new social political economic and other problems. These need to be confronted they need to be thought about. They need to be researched and that is if anything the theme that I've been striking since I've been here and as I was quoted the other day as having said I think it's unfortunate when the when the process of reason becomes identified with the forces of evil I would I would hope that there are rational thoughts independent and and hopefully constructive that would be helpful to all the regulated industry which certainly needs an assist from government as well as the public interest that that regulation is designed to serve. Well you seem quite unhappy with the way the FCC operates what are your basic disagreements with it. Well I suspect that the most fundamental problem
is one that I might describe as his conception of self on the part of a regulatory commission. And Professor Kerry who was formerly chairman of the FCC has pointed this out in his recent book about the regulatory commissions commissions tend to think of themselves as as a judicial court like disposing of individual cases that are brought before the commission. Writing opinions and then going on to the next case rather than as administrative as having any responsibility for long range planning economic studies management of their own internal affairs things of that sort. Do you feel I gather that they oftentimes can't see the forest for the trees. Well that would be one way of describing it up. I will say. So far as my colleagues are concerned I think they're all a very able and responsible
fellows who are who are just as committed to serving the public interest as I am. And this is more of a problem of institutional structure and the way commissions are set up in the way they function historically rather than a question of personnel I think we have in many ways it was some of set at least one of the ablest FCC ZATZ liable to be assembled and in some time and certainly have been Chairman Hyde a man with the preeminent qualification for making a seven man body like this work and whose heart is in the right place and strain do a good job so it's it's not just a matter of. They're getting better people all together as much as it is restructuring the institutions of what I think you would have the commission deal more with policy matters and devote their attention to to the broad issues then to take up their time with the Tylers as as I gather I would I think they have to we have some 7000
stations in the United States now radio and television. Each of which comes up for a license renewal every three years. You know you can very quickly compute how much time it's going to take seven commissioners if they deal with each and every antenna movement and increase of power as well as a license renewal. On a personal case by case basis it obviously it simply can't be done that way particularly when you consider that we also have responsibility not just for broadcasting but for satellites microwave mobile radio. Every facet of the communication system in the United States a passage that I think concerns the general public the most commissioner is how much they have so you say should involve itself in programming on radio and television. What's your view on that. Well you're absolutely right Dick that's been at a central question and I think in the FCC since its beginning since 1927 the old radio commission.
I think all acknowledge that broadcasting simply has to involve programming that you can't regulate and broadcasting it and concern yourself only with technical matters. Power frequency antennas things of that sort that kind. I think everyone also recognizes that we don't want the government of the United States or any of its agencies in the business of reviewing program censoring programs prescribing a precise program formats. Although the argument is often phrased as if the advocates were trying to urge one or the other. In fact that's not true. Both of those propositions are agreed to by almost everyone in the. The dispute then ranges somewhere around the middle ground. The the present majority I think it's fair to say. Takes the view that the best way for a nation like ours to regulate programming content is to let the marketplace prevail at the broadcaster put on whatever he wants to put on.
And if the public doesn't like this programming it will stop listening to his station and that means his advertising rates will go down and that means ultimately he will be driven into bankruptcy and out of the broadcasting business. There are others on the commission who think it would be useful for us to play some role in the programming process and the commission itself endeavors through new programme reporting formats and questionnaires and so forth to play some kind of a role but this is been a this has been one of the toughest problems the commission has confronted I think since its inception. Well isn't the problem and part commissioner that the FCC has never really been able to come to grips with a definition of what public service has. Well that's part of that and it's very difficult to describe program quality assurance and what to very much appeals to one person will will not appeal at all to someone else. Yeah. Critics differ as to the quality of not only radio and television
shows but I can architecture and everything else and involving the creative arts. The other part of the problem is whether the commission or any government official should say exactly how much quote public service unquote ready on television should do. I noticed in this dissent that you wrote on the decision last week that you said to renew the licenses of stations which earn millions of dollars in advertising revenue and provide little or no meaningful public service programming while at the same time denying the present request because of some an articulated pretense of desire for local service. It makes little sense. You also said that that it does not follow through with much from the much more important task of saying to it that station service outlets for local expression. Exactly how do you think you can arrive at a
satisfaction on your own part. A station is serving as an outlet for local expression. I think there might be ways in which we could do a better job than we're doing precisely what those ought to be. It would depend for me on the the outcome of a little more thorough investigation than we've had so far. And I for one would be prepared to take personally a position anywhere along a spectrum of alternatives based on what the evidence would show the facts turn out to be. We certainly could involve the local community in the matter of programming more than we do. We could for example make an effort to really bring home to every listener and viewer in a given community a number of facts one that these stations are not old for ever in the sense that you own a home or a business
by the licensee there. They're operated by the licensee as a licensee of the public at the sufferance of the public. And for most expressly a three year term the end of that three year term a license comes up for renewal. And at that renewal time the views of the public with regard to the quality of public service that has been provided are very relevant. We do have a rule that requires this to be broadcast on a radio station I personally have never heard it during a lifetime of substantial radio listening. So I suspect that perhaps there could be more effective than it is to you could make clear that which is the fact that all radio licenses come up for renewal at the same time in a given community so that if a community wishes to demobilize individual groups within the community a League of Women Voters of PTA or church group or others wish to take an interest in the license renewals of its of its local stations they do have an opportunity to do so in an organized way they can
look at all their stations at the same time. 3 You could make clear to the local community the public service obligation of the local stations that the stations are not simply doing a favor to a local group by providing local announcements but are in fact simply carrying out their obligations under the terms of their license to provide this kind of service for. You could make clear that the license at renewal time is open in effect to the highest bidder at those stations that have been doing an inadequate job bar or at least potentially open to a competitor coming in and saying I will do a better job and the licenses can be transferred from from one owner to another at renewal time. If this kind of information along with factual information about the stations themselves who owns them what else they own. Who in fact is controlling the information and opinion being received by that community over the electronic media. I think then
the local community would be in a position to play a more active role in the licensing process and in enforcing its its own standards on on those local stations. Such an approach. Some variant of this obviously I'm not spelling out any specific proposal but just making it a suggestion for purposes of discussion would be one way of dealing with the program content problem. This brings it back to the local community for for local involvement and really the neighborhood and precinct level and might very well be preferable to increasing the staff of the FCC and trying to get they this Federal Regulatory Commission. The more deeply involved at the present time we're doing neither. The FCC does almost no monitoring of programming at all by radio and television stations it does very little in Foresman of programming standards. Oh a local station. The individual communities
involved are almost totally unaware of what their opportunities and their responsibilities really are toward their own stations and as a consequence we not only have the kind of programming we do but the kind of complaints about it that we do. What do you personally feel of the state of commercial ready to go today. It's almost impossible for any one individual to to say there is there is so much radio on. And in many ways that's one of its great virtues. On any evening you can go up and down the AM and FM dial in and find almost whatever you want to do at any given moment. Is that true of the smaller localities as well as the larger ones do you think Commissioner New York and Washington and many people think they do have a great diversity of radio programming but when you get out into some outlying areas there isn't so much choice. I think you're you're right. You can you can drive across the
country and go up and down the AM band it's you if you cross it in. With few exceptions that the programming certainly does not provide the variety that we have in any other Washington or New York. Let me ask you something I've been curious about commissioner. The FCC has started a rule first of this year that stations in the major cities a hundred thousand population or over which had a AM and FM outlets had to divorce the programming of those stations at least 50 percent of the time. This had the effect of creating quite a few more stations in the larger centers where it would seem as though that was less the least need for more diversity. I think many people in broadcasting feel that the effect of this rule has been to fractionalized audiences further in a
medium that has already already has an overabundance of stations. Might it not have been more use for it to have split they were AM FM programming in the smaller localities than the larger. Well there are a number of problems there Dick we had a case recently involving an application for an FM station in Paris Kentucky where the applicant owned the only newspaper and the only AM station and there was no television station there. And that raises questions of concentration of control in local communities. The problem was there that it appeared although again there was some question as to how much the local community been alerted as to what its opportunities were and the fact that this property was was available. Nevertheless it appeared that there simply were no other applicants there were no other people in that area who were who were capable of starting an FM station with the exception of this fellow who applied.
There will be complete duplications program in that case so it illustrates what it is you're talking about. It appeared that the question was whether Paris Kentucky was to have an FM station that would provide nighttime service the AM station being only a daytime station. When they would have none and given that choice it seemed to me in that case probably better to let it have some FM programming and to have a station operating during the evening hours rather than to wait longer for another applicant to come along and make it forgo having any FM service at all and I think this is probably the day although again we don't know. We don't know and that must be said with regard to so many issues before the FCC we simply don't have the information we need. The data hasn't been analyzed. We don't know the significance of what we're what we're called upon to do. We don't know what alternative courses of action are open to us but it appears that in all probability it
needs a bit of a boost that it would be very difficult and many of these communities to insist upon total diversity of programming from the two outlets and still have them operate at all. And that being the case that's that. That's the kind of issue that you're that you're up against. Before our time gets away from as Commissioner I want to get into the subject of the Carnegie Commission report on educational television President Johnson's recommendations by the way you're no you are an appointee of President Johnson but not a reality where you know you're right on both counts. And the Ford Foundation commissioned a proposal for educational satellite funded television and radio. Would you tell us what your general views are on the need for an educational agoing second service in this country and any thoughts you have as to the role that the FCC should be playing at this time
in this issue. Well that's a large question a lot of questions that tied up into one there dick but I know I'm happy to talk about it I I think that educational broadcasting and its opportunities to play an even greater role in our country today. Whether you call it public television or educational television or whatever it is in many ways the number one issue before the nation right now in the communications field it's certainly made it a very exciting and rewarding time for me to be here to come in at a time when the Ford Foundation was preparing and presenting to the commission its proposals and the Carnegie Commission then came out with its report today. Certainly President Johnson's a very prompt response and a very creative proposal to Congress I think is to be very highly commended and I hope he gets the credit for that that he's he's really entitled to because
it takes a real order of magnitude of leadership to come forward with some proposals and see something come from and I think the president has done that and I think he's come forward with a program that is politically realistic and responsible is as well as being imaginative and creative and constructive and and I'm very hopeful that that something can come out of this this year. I think we ought to make every effort to pursue it with that goal in mind and if we don't make it this year then do you have a better chance of next year. I think you've been critical of the FCC whose failure to take more of a leading role in this matter haven't you. Well I think as I indicated I think this is one of the most important issues before us as a nation I could list a half a dozen others in the communications field that I think are they the five or six next most important issues in any and all of these areas I think I would like to see the FCC play a more creative and constructive role in the area of educational broadcasting as I indicate the leadership here has come from President Johnson
himself personally and people in the White House staff senators Magnussen and Pastorius the Senate Commerce Committee and and their staff. From the Ford Foundation Bundy unfriendly and in the really superb group of consultants that they brought together and they Killian in the Carnegie Commission and a really masterful job they did of calling upon the resources of the country in attempting to come forward with a a reasonable program and there been contributions from other institutions and in many many individuals throughout the country certainly the National Association educational broadcasters that you referred to as it is played a very heavy role in this has been highly commended throughout the FCC has it must be said in all candor I had not really contributed much in the way of a substantive report of a quality and content comparable to that of
Ford or Carnegie. It should also be noted in fairness we do have a hearing going on at this time. The FCC did initiate this hearing last spring long before either proposal came in in response to the ABC network's proposal that it operate a satellite and that hearing has been going on now for almost a year and at some point presumably once testimony has been received in and the hearing has been wound up there will be some kind of report coming forth from the FCC. I think that the chairman Russell Hyde is a has a deep personal interest in this subject and has made personally a great contribution to the field even even though this hasn't taken that the form of a of a public role and would like to see the FCC do do much more. What I would like to see in the FCC have come in earlier with more not in the way of dictating results in any more than Carnegie or ford of the president is dictating results but in the way of encouraging discussion coming forward with.
Positive and provocative proposals that will well move us on toward consensus and some action. It's a case isn't it Commissioner of Congress needing to establish a public policy with respect to domestic satellites that they're proposing to loft to enter connect ready on television both commercial and educational and also to make a determination of whether or not they government is to inject itself into the funding of educational radio and television. I think a shoes which Congress must decide before they have sex so you can really do anything. Yes there are there are a number of issues that are terribly significant and and it must be resolved and you know many of these Congress must play a role. It is the question is what contribution can the FCC make to that Congressional determination should we call upon the Senate Commerce Committee staff to do the staff work
or should the FCC contribute some of the staff work pose the alternatives and the issues to Congress and and then await congressional direction. And I again it seems to me we would be serving Congress better Were we to play that kind of a role but you're quite right one of the issues before Congress is the extension of the funding of the educational television facilities Act which expires in June of 67. The funding issue. How much money. How's the money to be raised the role of the government in making these funds available and in determining how they are to be spent. The very crucial crucial issue the interconnection issue is very important. The role of radio as distinguished from from television is very important in that connection. Commissioner they it was noteworthy that Emily wording of the Belo Senator Magnussen has introduced this way. Calling for the establishment of a public corporation it's referred to as a
Corporation for Public Broadcasting rather than a corporation for public television as the Carnegie Commission phrased it as a report. What would be your thoughts as to whether or not the heart of the thing should be broadened to a to be designated a Corporation for Public Broadcasting as opposed just to television. I was very pleased to see that President Johnson in his message and and Senator Magnussen and in his role on that in Congress in his his response a bull went out on their own to include radio within this concept rather let me add it to television it's true that television is certainly the newest and most dramatic in some ways and has had the greatest most recent impact. But I radio I think is going through way a rebirth a very exciting era to come. A lot of
very constructive and exciting things can be done on radio that some the stations are experimenting with and I know the National Association of educational broadcasters would like to do through their radio division and radio has as many advantages. It's entirely different medium and far more pervasive in many ways than the number of portable radio sets automobile radios radios on the beach. Everywhere we go and the it's a very much a cheaper medium to work within in terms of of creativity. You can you can test an idea on radio for that the price of a portable tape recorder that might cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars to do it in television with a pilot program or something. Would you think that there would be a useful purpose served by the interconnection of the educational radio stations in the country by satellite for example. Well particularly when you bring satellite into it this is something that obviously is very complex question and I want more information on but I think the interconnection is terribly important in radio as it is in television
that much of the the essence of this medium lies in its instant NASD the fact that people all over the country are at the same moment participating in an event is an integral part of of much that we know as broadcasting. There are many shows of course where it's not necessary and certainly local shows it's not necessary. But in terms of reporting live events at the time it there's there's certainly no no substitute and even his is simply a device for getting shows around it's often at least what appeared to be simply cheaper to interconnect and have simultaneity rather than try to peddle the tapes either video or audio tapes. There you go. There is a president rumor in the broadcasting industry commissioner I don't know whether you heard it or not that the commercial Chang's are preparing or would like to abandon their ready o networks entirely. I think
that it's even been predicted that within two or three years there might not be any more commercial networks. Would you feel that if this came to pass that the educational system or the noncommercial system might be even more necessary for purposes of keeping the public informed across the country. Well that's quite a hypothesis you've tossed out that I had personally and as a government official would it would even deal with it on a hypothetical basis but certainly be quite right I think educational broadcasting can play a very important role without regard to what happens to the commercial networks and I I wish them continued success as well. Commissioner was very nice visiting with you thank you very much. Thank You Day. Mr. Nicholas Johnson was tonight's guest on the group about radio WMD W.A. inquiry. This program was distributed by national educational radio. This
The truth about radio
Nicholas Johnson
Producing Organization
WNEW (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
Richard Doan interviews Federal Communications Commission member Nicholas Johnson.
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A series that features interviews with important figures in the radio industry.
Public Affairs
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Host: Doan, Richard
Interviewee: Johnson, Nicholas, 1934-
Producing Organization: WNEW (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 67-Sp.4-1 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:25
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Chicago: “The truth about radio; Nicholas Johnson,” 1967-03-21, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed January 28, 2023,
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APA: The truth about radio; Nicholas Johnson. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from