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And our national educational radio presents highlights from the 1968 convention of the National Association of educational broadcasters. The NEA E.B. convention was held in Washington in November. This program was recorded by WMUR the American University on this program you will hear the honorable Nicholas Johnson commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission. In an address and titled The financing of educational broadcasting Commissioner Johnson was introduced by John Witherspoon general manager of Katy B S TV and FM and San Diego State College. Mr Witherspoon is also chairman of national educational radio's board of directors. Introducing a well-known speaker is largely a ceremonial not this a superfluid cat. You all know that Nicholas Johnson is a member of the Federal Communications Commission. You also know perhaps that his previous post was not a
Federal Maritime administrator. I'm certain you know the broadcasting magazine. Considers Commissioner Johnson to be and I'm quoting now a brilliant lawyer with good credentials for his present assignment. You didn't know that. I did. That's a direct quote from Broadcasting's editorial page of June 27 1966 the issue following is a point. Perhaps you were not so well acquainted with the fact that Commissioner Johnson's father taught speech and speech correction at the University of Iowa. A colleague of our old friend Carl names are up there. For that commissioners law career got off to an exceptional beginning when after a distinguished record at the University of Texas Law School he was a law clerk to Justice Hugo Black of the US Supreme Court and associate professor at the University of California at age 26 through a brief period with the firm of Covington and Burling birling here in Washington and then to
the post of maritime administrator at the ripe old age of 20. Many of us had occasion to learn earlier commissioner Johnson's interest and his intellectual directness by finding ourselves on the other end of a fact finding exercise which we came to call three wishes. It went like this. We conducted this as a fact finding exercise early in his term Incidentally a third party presumably innocent we presume them to the end as it would take you by the elbow at some social event where the new commissioner might be holding forth. And he would say Commissioner Johnson This is John Doe Mr Dover's manager of the educational station in hometown Ind.. Whereupon in one breath the new commissioner was a how do you do Mister know from your point of view what are three things we should do to help educational broadcasts. You might give some thought to your answer to that question as we welcome the honorable Nicholas Johnson. To a perv.
Yes. Thank you very much it's it's always a pleasure to be with my friends of education in educational broadcasting and especially also educational radio. Which was one of my first encounters with the broadcasting business generally. And. In fact with. The View issue II and the city that remains something of a radio but ever since I'm a great believer that the potential for this particular form of broadcasting I had noticed in the program that I have a title for my speech today I forgot now what have you. You're quite right I did come of it in my debt and has to do with the financing of educational broadcasting a subject which I dresses as close to your heart and so I want to talk about that since
you've come on the anticipation that I would not tell you why I want to talk about it and why I'm interested in educational broadcasting educational radio in particular. Aside from my origins on a university campus and my association with educational institutions ever since present time I'm kind of on a leave twice removed and actually consider much of what I'm doing now is not very different from what I do in the classroom before. As a broadcaster you since discovered I think. I think nobody can really serve as an FCC Commissioner without being concerned about the state of commercial broadcasting in our country today. You look at the tremendous potential that this industry has. And you look at the news sorrily an adequate
response. And this gap being differential. And you feel some responsibility for it. We've got a nation in which we have more radios than we have people. Television sets in virtually every home they're running four to five hours a day. And I think we're beginning by we I mean all the American people are beginning to develop a growing sense of sophistication BOC the interrelationship between what's on the radio and television and what's happening in our society. In Nineteen sixty seven we concluded that it had something to do with race relations. And now this year we're talking about violence. But I think we're generalizing from this and we are beginning to realize that our attitude about the old Puritan ethic.
And our attitudes about the sanctity of marriage sexual relations generally. About. Conspicuous consumption. Generation gak. Almost every facet of our society our attitudes and our behavior in some way shape via radio and television and so others are growing concerned I think not just with the evil commercial radio and television DAWs and it does rather with the untold hours. Of lost opportunities that it's passed by. And in an age that that needs a very very intelligent and courageous program. Well that's an FCC commissioner to do in this position. Newt Minow decided that he was going to try to exhort them to greater
performance through speeches that were beautifully written and delivered and did have some impact when applying a little systems analysis of my own and I concluded that any long range reform was going to require a little more than that although he had had an impact it's the kind of impact that requires a kind of constant Balian operation. Maybe we could put a patch of some kind on this vote and be a least the more efficient an economic way for me to spend my very limited time here in the seven years there. And so early in my term in 1966 I decided that one of the ways in which we could have a much more healthy impact on commercial broadcasting is by encouraging what it is that you were doing educational radio educational television Corp. Public Broadcasting. And the efforts of Ford Foundation and all of the many national organizations and
untold number of individuals those of you in this room and many who are not here who've contributed so many hours and in many cases so many years to try to to build this this particular part of the broadcasting business provide an alternative for the American people to provide an example for the commercial broadcasters a form of leverage where restructuring somewhat the institutional pattern in the broadcast. So I've invested quite a bit in you in that sense. And if I'm coming to realize how short a term seven years is especially with the FCC where I've now been for two and a half years and if you succeed in a sense then so why and if you don't then I have to look beyond that. As you can tell from that biography that was it that was
read to you I don't often hold a job for seven years. So when I when I do. I expect there to be quite a bit of return from in terms of public benefit. Right now run a little bit behind making some progress. Have a long way to go. So I come to you to day as a friend of some longstanding I think essentially a booster of the one who's prepared to decide cases in the public interest was a very rare occasions when it doesn't happen the side with your particular part of the story. I've got no criticism or exhortation particularly don't want to share with you what I hope is constructive counsel. On a problem that I think you are confronting right now and that's kind of crucial that each of you here give some very imaginative thought to it.
And that is the need for an economic rationale for public broadcast. What we now call a systems analysis approach to what it is you are doing your purposes your operation. What we call in government a budget presentation program planning and budgeting. Now I don't pretend to offer you this noon or in some future time. I may get around to writing this out any neatly packaged collection of answers although I hope that I can make a little bit of a start today. The principal message that I'm trying to leave with you if you have only a small napkin and you want to write down a message before you go to the next meeting last night go away we
feel you've got absolutely nothing whatsoever of this luxury. There's not really very constructive it's simply a suggestion that you want to do some work and there what you want to do work on is this matter of an economic rationale for public broadcasting that you should come forward with an intellectual contribution in this area. Indeed you must. Now of course you need a lot of other things you need good people to be planning programs. You need fundraisers. You need salesman. You need public relations programs. You need Washington lobbyists. What I'm suggesting is that you also need something else and that's an economist an economist is not the same as a salesman. He's not the same as a Washington lobbyist and educational broadcasting began as a kind of engineering electrical engineering laboratory I guess.
Something in the nature of research and development program of its own sort it's grown up largely as charity that people think about educational broadcasting the way they think about Girl Scout cookies. It's a it's a basic good. If you're in commercial broadcasting you give away your old equipment and take a tax deduction on it and you're wealthier and you were before and you can feel good about it. And if you support every good work in your community and give to the symphony in the art gallery in the United and so forth will you also subscribe your local educational television station. And this is possible only so long as you operate with old equipment and you don't have any audience in your relatively harmless in the program news borin. You don't deal with anything very controversial.
You get along this way for a long time then many organisations that have. But by dint of accident or perseverance You've now reached the point where you're more successful. And with that you lose some of this charity status that you had before. You're now at the point where you're you're kind of big business of your own. You've got him talking about big money you've got brand new buildings fancy studios new expensive programs national networks and interconnection and splintering of organizations which is always a sign of growing success. You're reaching many classrooms and you're even beginning to develop an audience and some community. Now I must put you in a different league. You've got to
begin to develop some techniques capacity for dealing with some basic principles of management ministration budgeting economic analysis. We're talking about a hundred to 200 million dollars of federal money. That's a lot of dough. You're a big force in a 50 billion dollar industry known as education. You're coming to be a big force in a three billion dollar industry known as broadcast. So what you're going through is mind the drawing as an analogy to the difference between the inventor in the garage who comes forward with some spectacular new innovation what he has to do to operate that backyard to. Rise you hears and what he has to do later on when he becomes a multimillion dollar corporation. And that's
about the process you're going through and some businessmen make it and prosper. And some don't. They go bankrupt. And that's what you're confronting. And I'd like to be helpful. Now there are many forces that operate formulation of federal policy in the solutions of our going to spend our money in this country a gross national product generally in the federal budget as a part of it in particular. Many forces that influence how the Ford Foundation spends as much spends its money some of which may actually do this morning. There are emotional appeals. There are plays upon fears of the use of dramatic advance. The relevance of the wealth of the constituency. It's a matter of political power and influence and all have their pet projects.
I know that where in this process. Somebody has got a special assistant who reads books. And who has an ear of his boss. And who persists in thinking about the rationale of what's being done. Sometimes he's got a pretty big voice. He's called the director of the Bureau of the budget. And sometimes he's got a lesser voice but there's always that voice there. And you've got to be prepared to participate in a process now. Trouble is as with much of what you've done in the past so this is nothing new to you. There's no course you can tape. There is no book you can read. It's going to give you the answer. This is something you've got to think of yourself just as I'm trying to help you think it out. And we cover sort of start with ground zero and we build as best we can.
There's no real. Literature on program planning and budgeting for regulatory agencies either the FCC is struggling with this and trying to justify its own budget come forward with some rational way of explaining to the Bureau of the budget why you allocate what quantities of dollar to what kinds of activities. While the regulatory commission is not just the FCC this simply hasn't worked out yet. By The Economist. And that's the kind of position you're in. So basically what we do as a starter I think is try to come forward was sometimes unrelated but hopefully constructive ideas ways of analysis new language new ways of looking at the kinds of operations you're involved in. And that's what I want to do with you for a few moments. Now the economists will tell you that in general public funding of any enterprise in our society is only
warranted for those things for which the market mechanism is inadequate. If you can buy this service in the market then that's the best way in which to distribute and the best way for the society to make decisions about how to distribute that service is to let people have the money and let them spend it on what they want and that's what leads Milton Friedman who was Goldwater's economic Casler and is now Selina Nixon to propose the negative income tax. What he's saying in effect is it is better to let these people have money. Let them decide what to spend it on television sets or on food on automobiles or on education. On housing or on clothes or on psychological services or whatnot. That's the best way to make those decisions rather than to have the government decide
that the food is somehow better than health care and so will make this much food available to you and so forth. Now let's apply that to your business. A part of what it seems to me you're trying to do is to provide people with a quality of broadcast in which they now cannot get commercially with an industry that needs to serve the broadest possible audience because it is funded by advertisers who basically treat all viewers or listeners as more enjoyable ones as good as any other. If you're if you're selling saw out there. If however we had a combination of pay television and cable television. And if any of you were in the country who wanted to watch one of your programs was willing to pay if we could put a quarter in his machine and watch it. Then what argument do you have as to why you want to provide this service
free. The Economist sometimes characterized the use of federal funds to put on cultural programming. As they rob the poor to titillate the rich program. Oh. Because that's essentially what you're doing if you're using tax base far less as the source for funding programming that is intended for an intellectual and economic elite. You're providing a service to people who are fully prepared and fully capable of pain for what they pay for every day you go down to the theater symphony orchestra or anyplace else and they can pay you for your service. Well are you saying then that the reason why you provided for your providing federal funds is because the present system doesn't give them an opportunity to pay for it. Maybe you argue that there is a general public good that comes from providing the service throughout our society regardless of who
uses it. And that's why it needs to be publicly funded. That is to say you benefit not just from what comes to you. You also benefit from living in a society in which it's available to everybody. This is the argument that would be used for federal funds for a small control program for example. The richest man in Washington DC cannot go to the the clean air company and say I won't clean air out of my ass and in my car along the road right right up to my office and in my office and I don't care about the rest of the city. He's simply physically cannot buy that service anywhere in the market the only way he can have clean air is by giving everybody clean air. And so Milton Friedman would say that is an appropriate instance for using public funds if the public decides itself wants to do.
And this is a part of the argument behind public libraries and public education in general. The reason one of the reasons why. We don't charge the beneficiary of the education the full cost of that education is that we adopt a rationale in which we say all society benefits from everyone in society benefits from living in a country in which everyone has this minimal amount of education and therefore it is fair for all of us to share the cost of providing it. Or maybe you say we want to adopt a social policy of providing opportunities for people who are basically free from which they are then in a position to move on and develop themselves. This is in part the concept of the of the fifth freedom as I understand it. Again a rationale for providing libraries schools national parks recreational facilities. No forcing anybody to use these except for the
schools you know forced people to use libraries. Would you say we're going to make it possible for anyone in our society regardless of his economic position to better himself if he wants to do that. Well that again is an argument that you could use. Another approach you could take is good public broadcasting is kind of like research in devolved. Now. Once you get in the research and development column then another set of criteria are applied to what it is you're doing. Because we are willing to do things as a people that we call research and development that we would never be willing to do on an ongoing basis as a subsidy for example Maritime to the contrary notwithstanding. Not the helicopter subsidy we provided a helicopter subsidy for a fixed number of years. And we said the purpose of this is to see if you can develop an economically viable commercial helicopter service from airports to downtown and we will fund it for a long enough period to see if the business can get started.
If it can't or if it can the subsidies going to be denied in the future we're going to do it for short term. This is what we do in the aerospace business of developing new airplanes you may do it as a Defense Department contract where you may develop high speed ground transportation through the Department of Transportation. That's essentially what you're doing. But this is a basic reason why it is important that you do programming that cannot be done on commercial radio and television. It's the reason why you must be controversal in order to justify your very existence. If the programming you're putting out can be done by commercial television whether or not it is for commercial radio then there's no justification whatsoever for having it done at public expense and educationally in dollars. The only justification for having you do it is because it
cannot be done by commercial radio and television for whatever reason. Because of the nature of the industry because the advertiser pressure political pressure in the else. So think about that next time you decide to pull your punches a little bit in your local community. And one measure it would seem to me of your success that would be relevant to the Bureau of the budget. It would be relevant to the foreground is the impact that you do have on commercial broadcasting. If what you were trying to do is improve the fare offered to the American people. You can't do it by education radio and television. Serving them with the program. You just don't have the audiences at least not yet. If by investing 10 million dollars in a PBL. Ford can get one of the commercial networks to copy and idea that PBL is using
and spend 50 million dollars in doing it. That's a very good return on their investment. But if they start hearing the cost per thousand of bringing their programming to the audience. It's very difficult to justify economically. OK second major category. And that is the need for work. The definition of goals or purposes in terms that make it possible to measure what it is you're doing and to measure whether or not you were successful in doing it. It's not enough simply to say that we're trying to elevate taster we're trying to provide the Chautauqua of miscues and so forth. That's beautiful language and it serves a very useful purpose when you're trying to provide material for your public relations operation and for your salesman and for your fundraisers.
But it doesn't do you much good when you're talking to you kind of because economists persist in talking in in benefit in costers. They need to know what it is it's costing you to do what it is you're doing and what are some way of measuring the benefits that are coming as a result of that expenditure because it's only by that kind of analysis that that they are willing to accept from you a judgment about why you put on this program rather than that program or indeed why you exist at all.
National Association of Educational Broadcasters convention highlights
Nicholas Johnson
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WAMU-FM (Radio station : Washington, D.C.)
American University (Washington, D.C.)
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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For series info, see Item 3782. This prog.: Nicholas Johnson, Federal Communications Commission, on "The Financing of Educational Broadcasting." Introduced by John P. Witherspoon, general manager, KEBS-TV and FM, San Diego State College
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Producing Organization: WAMU-FM (Radio station : Washington, D.C.)
Producing Organization: American University (Washington, D.C.)
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-Sp.6-2 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:28:36
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Chicago: “National Association of Educational Broadcasters convention highlights; Nicholas Johnson,” 1968-12-06, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 28, 2024,
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