Federal Radio Commission Documents Site Created by Fritz Messere @ SUNY Oswego
The Federal Radio Commission (FRC) was created to provide order to the chaos created in the standard radio broadcasting band, now known as AM, as a result of the breakdown of the enforcement of theWireless Act of 1910 and the Radio Act of 1912. Those pieces of legislation, created before anyone conceived of a 'broadcasting' service, did not provide the Secretary of Commerce and Labor, Herbert Hoover, with sufficient latitude to promulgate rules necessary to limit interference and provide for the orderly growth of the nascent industry.
The FRC, a temporary agency designed to complete the frequency allocation and allotment process within a year of its commission and then expire, soon found the task impossible. The independent commission, created by Congress, came into being on March 15, 1927 under the most tenuous of circumstances. Congress failed to appropriate money for the new agency and this hampered the start up of the organization. And, two of the original conferees died within the same year that the Commission was created. Nevertheless, Congress established mandates for the agency at a time when radio broadcasting was expanding rapidly.
Several of the key assumptions underlying the Radio Act of 1927 included:
The interference problem was deemed to be the Commission's most pressing problem. Heterodyne and adjacent channel interference, fading, and radio skip all caused numerous problems for listeners. The first attempts to reduce interference made by the Secretary of Commerce and Labor in 1922 proved inadequate. Subsequent court challenges rendered this legislation useless and stations began shifting frequencies and boosting power in vain attempts to avoid interference from other stations. Between 1923 and 1924, aggregate radio station power output climb from 67,500 watts to more than a quarter of a million watts. Link to a chart of radio growth.
The story of the interplay that occured to create a solution to the interference problems of the early days in radio is fascinating. There were many parties interested in resolving the technical problems related to radio interference, but we can categorize their interests as broadly falling into one of three camps.
These three viewpoints illustrate that many looked to the Federal Radio Commission for different solutions to the same problem. But while the problem could be viewed from several different boundaries or positions, the solutions needed to encompass several different contingencies which also prevented crisp decision making. First, Congress perceived the solution to be political; that is, one which required equality of service geographically to the various parts of the United States. By 1928 some in Congress assumed this meant numerical equality in terms of licenses while others perceived power output and channel assignment as indicators of equality. The Davis Amendment reflected Congress' frustration with the interference problems. The proposed Davis Amendment created a huge public debate about the future of radio in the United States. It's passage was opposed by the FRC and broadcasters while some legislators thought it would provide equitity in service among the different regions of the country.
FRC Commissioners were also concerned about the economic impact of their collective decision making. There were already 700 broadcasting stations on the air in 1927. What would the economic impact be upon those numbers if the FRC mandated that many local stations give back their licenses? What would the reaction of the public be if they were not able to listen to their favorite local programs as a result of licensing high powered regional stations or vice- versa?
The links below look at some of the FRC's early rulings to minimize the interference problem, (These links contain GIFs of the original FRC documents. In some cases they may take a few seconds to load,)
FRC General Order 10 - Commission restricts many stations to daylight hours. Restrictions are more severe for public and college stations than commercial stations.
FRC General Order 11 page one- Commission imposes temporary licenses and begins to reallocate broadcast frequences.
FRC General Order 11 page two- "Listeners will, of necessity, have to re-log his radio set."
FRC Commissioner Caldwell on General Order
40- Caldwell's memo on the new AM frequency allocations .
comments or questions? e-mail messere
Site was last modified on 4/19/97