Davis Amendment - One year after the passage of the Radio Act of 1927, a reauthorization bill was needed to continue the work of the Federal Radio Commission. The Davis Amendment to the reauthorization bill called for the Federal Radio Commission to develop an allocation scheme that would provide "equality of radio broadcasting service, both of transmission and reception" to all zones of the United States. The division of the standard broadcast band (AM) into local, regional, and clear channel assignments was an outgrowth of the FRC's attempt to implement the Davis Amendment.
Interference among radio stations became
a great problem as radio stations proliferated during the 1920s. The standard
broadcast band (AM) was subject to long distance skipping at night and early
radio receivers were prone to producing an annoying whistling interference
from stations on the same channel thousands of miles away. The Federal Radio
Commission, originally established as a temporary one-year panel, was charged
with the responsibility of eliminating interference and developing an allocation
scheme for radio service in the United States. Unable to complete its charge
for technical and political reasons within the first year, the continuation
of the FRC required reauthorization. Some members of Congress felt that
the FRC had not carried out mandates in the 1927 Act that called for equitable
service to all regions of the country.
During hearings about the Commission's reauthorization, Edwin L. Davis, (R) Tennessee, proposed substitute wording for the Watson Bill that would modify Section 9 of the Radio Act of 1927. The amendment called for equality of radio service among the regions of the country to correct what many perceived as a geographic imbalance of broadcasting stations favoring the large cities of the East and Midwest. The 'Equal Division' clause suggested by Davis included language that specifically guaranteed an equal allocation of licenses, frequency bands, hours of operation, and station power among the five zones comprising the different regions of the United States. The Davis Amendment sparked a rancorous debate among politicians, broadcasters, engineers, listeners, and members of the Commission itself. Representative Davis charged that a powerful radio trust was dominating every aspect of radio in the United States. Congress felt that its constituents wanted quick action to resolve the interference problems that plagued the country and supported the change in the Radio Act of 1927. Broadcast stations, particularly in the East, were concerned that their licenses and power allocations could change dramatically. Claims were made by both broadcasters and FRC members that the Davis Amendment would make it impossible to eliminate the interference problem.
Passed by Congress and approved by the
President on March 28, 1928, the Davis Amendment required the FRC to survey
the five geographical zones and create a plan that would redistribute broadcasting
facilities equally among them. At the same time, Congress directed the FRC
to eliminate some stations to reduce congestion in cities like New York
and Chicago. Different interest groups including the National Association
of Broadcasters, Radio Manufacturers Association, Institute of Electrical
Engineers, and the Bureau of Standards proposed solutions to the interference
and overcrowding problem for the AM broadcast band.
A plan to implement equal division clause of the Davis Amendment emerged from the Federal Radio Commission on August 30, 1928. Included in General Orders 40 and 42 was the idea of assigning 'clear channel' stations, regional, and local assignments to each region of the country as a means of creating equality. Clear channel stations would be allowed to use higher power than stations on regional or local assignments. Clear channel frequencies would not be able to be reused in other regions of the country thus reducing the problematic interference many rural listeners suffered before the creation of the FRC. Regional channels would be used by two or three zones, and low power channels could be used in all five zones of the country. Under the plan describe in General Order 40 eight clear channels, thirty-five regional channels, and six channels for local use would be allocated to each of the zones. The FRC presumed that clear channels would provide dependable long distance reception to rural and suburban areas. Regional stations would provide service to urban and suburban centers while the six local channels would be able to be licensed in several locales within each region. The plan did not purport to give an equal number of licenses between the geographical regions of the country.
Anticipating a mixed reaction from the public the Federal Radio Commission embarked on a high visibility public relations campaign to educate the public about the unfamiliar aspects of the plan. Some experts claim that the plan closely followed the recommendations of earlier radio conferences held by broadcasters and the Secretary of Commerce; others contend that the commissioners manipulated the situation by packing small broadcasters closely together and severely limiting their operations in hopes of reclaiming the broadcast frequencies of those marginal broadcasters at a later date. As the FRC began implementing the reallocation of assignments, it also worked with large manufacturers, and the Institute of Radio Engineers to develop more stringent standards of engineering. By implementing the allocation changes and forcing broadcasters to maintain modern equipment, the Federal Radio Commission hoped to eliminate or reduce interference for the listening public.
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copyright 1996 Fritz Messere and The Historical Dictionary of American Radio