Broadcasting, Radio and Television
Broadcasting, Radio and Television, primary means by which information and entertainment are delivered to the public in virtually every nation around the world. The term broadcasting refers to the airborne transmission of electromagnetic audio signals (radio) or audiovisual signals (television) that are readily accessible to a wide population via standard receivers.
Broadcasting is a crucial instrument of modern social and political organization. At its peak of influence in the mid-20th century, national leaders often used radio and television broadcasting to address entire countries. Because of its capacity to reach large numbers of people, broadcasting has been regulated since it was recognized as a significant means of communication. (For more information, see the section "The Regulation of Broadcasting.")
Beginning in the early 1980s, new technologiessuch as cable television and videocassette playersbegan eroding the dominance of broadcasting in mass communications, splitting its audiences into smaller, culturally distinct segments. Previously a synonym for radio and television, broadcasting has become one of several delivery systems that feed content to newer media.
II. The Emergence of Broadcast Communication
Throughout history, long-distance communication had depended entirely upon conventional means of transportation. A message could be moved aboard a ship, on horseback, by pigeon, or in the memory of a human courier, but in all cases it had to be conveyed as a mass through space like any other material commodity.
A. Radio Broadcasting
The story of radio begins in the development of an earlier medium, the telegraph, the first instantaneous system of information movement. Patented simultaneously in 1837 in the United States by inventor Samuel F. B. Morse and in Great Britain by scientists Sir Charles Wheatstone and Sir William Fothergill Cooke, the electromagnetic telegraph realized the age-old human desire for a means of communication free from the obstacles of long-distance transportation. The first public telegraph line, completed in 1844, ran about 64 km (about 40 mi) from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore, Maryland. Morse's first message, "What hath God wrought?"transmitted as a coded series of long and short electronic impulses (so-called dots and dashes)conveyed his awareness of the momentous proportions of the achievement.
The usefulness of telegraphy was such that over the next half century wires were strung across much of the world, including a transatlantic undersea cable (about 1866) connecting Europe and North America. The instantaneous arrival of a message from a place that required hours, days, or weeks to reach by ordinary transport was such a radical departure from familiar experience that some telegraph offices were able to collect admission fees from spectators wanting to witness the feat for themselves.
Despite its accomplishments, telegraphic communication was limited. It depended on the building and maintenance of a complex system of receiving stations wired to each other along a fixed route. The telephone, patented by American inventor Alexander Graham Bell in 1876, required an even more complex system. The two great long-distance communications breakthroughs of the 19th centurythe telegraph and the telephonewere of no use to ships at sea and of little use to communities that could not support the building of lines. The printed word remained the only medium by which large numbers of people could be addressed simultaneously.
1. Radio Experiments
Scientists in many countries worked to devise a system that could overcome the limitations of the telegraph wire. In 1895 Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi transmitted a message in Morse code that was picked up about 3 km (about 2 mi) away by a receiving device that had no wired connection to Marconi's transmitting device. Marconi had demonstrated that an electronic signal could be cast broadly through space so that receivers at random points could capture it. The closed circuit of instant communication, bound by the necessity of wires, had at last been opened by a so-called wireless telegraph. The invention was also called a radiotelegraph (later shortened to radio), because its signal moved outward in all directions, or radially, from the point of transmission. The age of broadcasting had begun.
Unable to obtain funding in Italy, Marconi found willing supporters for his research in Britain, a country that depended on the quick and effective deployment of its worldwide naval and commercial shipping fleets to support its empire. Marconi moved to London in 1896 and founded the British Marconi Company to develop and market his invention for military and industrial uses. Within five years a wireless signal had been transmitted across the Atlantic Ocean from England to Newfoundland, Canada. Marconi was awarded the Nobel Prize for physics in 1909.
Broadcasting advanced on other fronts as well. In 1904 the United Fruit Company hired American inventor Lee De Forest to help build a series of radio broadcasting stations in the Caribbean basin for the purpose of facilitating greater efficiency in shipping perishable goods from Central America to ports in the United States. These linked stations, which shared current information on weather and market conditions, constituted the first broadcasting network. The work of Canadian inventor Reginald Fessenden, later elaborated upon by De Forest, allowed for the broadcast transmission of a wider range of sounds, including the human voice.
Within a decade, wireless telegraphy had developed into a basic tool of the world maritime industry, with many countries requiring by law that flag vessels (vessels, registered under national flags, that engage in international trade) have both a radio transmitter and a certified operator aboard at all times. Despite all this commercial activity, little attention had been given to general consumer applications for the new technology. Instead, nonmaritime broadcasting was dominated by experimenters and hobbyists. American entrepreneur Charles D. Herrold established the College of Wireless and Engineering in San Jose, California, and as early as 1909 he and his students were broadcasting news and music. Backyard tinkerers all over North America built their own transmitters and used them to make speeches, pass along information, recite poems, play live or recorded music, or otherwise entertain their fellow amateurs, or hams. They often prided themselves on the reach of their homemade equipment. Before 1917 the U.S. government, which had begun requiring licenses for radio operators in 1912, had issued more than 8000 licenses to hobbyist broadcasters.
2. World War I and Early Regulation
With the outbreak of World War I (1914-1918) in Europe, wireless transmission proved itself an invaluable military tool on land, sea, and air. Impressed by its strategic applications, and uncertain of its potential as an instrument of espionage and mass propaganda, American President Woodrow Wilson banned nonmilitary broadcasting upon the entry of the United States into the war in 1917. Civilian equipment was confiscated under executive order, and regulatory power was transferred from the U.S. Department of Commerce to the Department of the Navy.
3. The "Golden Age" of Radio
Early evidence of a systematic scheme for broadcasting to the general public can be found in a 1916 memorandum written by David Sarnoff, an employee of Marconi's U.S. branch, American Marconi, which would eventually become the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). Sarnoff proposed to his superiors "a plan of development which would make radio a household 'utility' in the same sense as the piano or phonograph." Sarnoff's memo was not given serious consideration by American Marconi management, and President Wilson's suspension of nonmilitary broadcasting in 1917 made it impossible for the company to explore Sarnoff's ideas. After World War I had ended in 1918, however, several manufacturing companies began to explore ideas for the mass-marketing of home radio receivers designed for casual use.
In an effort to boost radio sales in peacetime, the Westinghouse Electric Corporation of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, established what many historians consider the first commercially owned radio station to offer a schedule of programming to the general public. Known by the call letters KDKA, it received its license from the Department of Commerce (which again held regulatory power following the end of the war) in October of 1920 and operated from the roof of a Westinghouse factory. Frank Conrad, a veteran engineer with experience in civilian and military radio research, ran the project. Responsible for the station's programming as well as its technical operation, he aired various forms of entertainment, including recorded music, which was generated by a phonograph placed in range of a microphone. KDKA charged no user fees to listeners and carried no paid advertisements, but was financed by Westinghouse as an enticement for the purchase of home radio receivers.
Other manufacturers soon followed Westinghouse's example. General Electric Company broadcast on station WGY, transmitting from its corporate headquarters in Schenectady, New York. The president of RCA, Owen D. Young, gave Sarnoff permission to develop company sales of radios for home entertainment. Sarnoff soon opened stations in New York City and Washington, D.C., and in 1926 he began organizing the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), an RCA subsidiary created for the purpose of broadcasting programs via a cross-country network of stations.
Another important early broadcaster was the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T). As early as 1922, AT&T began exploring the possibilities of toll broadcasting, or charging fees in return for the airing of commercial advertisements on its stations. Fearing legal action, however, the telephone company was persuaded to sell its stations to RCA and leave the broadcasting business. In return AT&T was granted the exclusive right to provide the connections that would link local stations to the NBC network.
The sale of radios more than justified the expense to manufacturers of operating broadcasting services. According to estimates by the National Association of Broadcasters, in 1922 there were 60,000 households in the United States with radios; by 1929 the number had topped 10 million. But increases in sales of radio receivers could not continue forever. Broadcasters needed a new incentive to produce and transmit programs once the home radio market became saturated. The sale of advertising time loomed as a promising growth area for American broadcasting.
In Britain and in the many countries that followed its lead, broadcasting was developing in a different way. Radio owners paid yearly license fees, collected by the government, which were turned over directly to an independent state enterprise, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). The BBC, in turn, produced news and entertainment programming for its network of stations. The editorial and artistic integrity of the BBC was to be insured by its funding mechanism, which was designed to isolate it from immediate political pressures.
In the United States, on the other hand, it was widely accepted that broadcasting was a commercial enterprise that should pay its own way without government aid or interference. However, there was some opposition to the development of broadcasting as a primarily commercial medium. Herbert Hoover, who as Secretary of Commerce was in charge of broadcast regulation, expressed his disapproval of commercialism at the 1922 Radio Conference in Washington, D.C., saying he found it "inconceivable that we should allow so great a possibility for service and for news and for entertainment and education to be drowned in advertising chatter." By the late 1920s, nonetheless, the direction of broadcasting as an industry, art, and technology in the United States had shifted decisively to mass distribution of popular culture funded by commercial advertising.
Noncommercial broadcasting would play only a minor role in the rise of American broadcasting. In the agricultural Midwest, state universities saw radio as a natural tool for broadcasting educational programming to rural areas, and schools such as the University of Iowa, Ohio State University, and the University of Wisconsin established stations supported with funds set aside by state legislatures. There would not be a coast-to-coast noncommercial radio network in the United States until the formation of National Public Radio (NPR) in 1970.
In 1927 RCA initiated two transcontinental radio services through NBC, its subsidiary: the Red Network (usually just called NBC) and the Blue Network. The Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS; see CBS Inc.) radio service was established in 1928. Its chairman, William S. Paley, and David Sarnoff of NBC would become the two dominant personalities in the American broadcasting industry for the next 50 years.
By 1934 almost 600 radio stations were broadcasting to more than 20 million homes in the United States. The radio had emerged as a familiar household item, usually built into a substantial piece of wooden furniture placed in the family living room. It became the primary source for news and entertainment for much of the nation. Despite the Great Depression that affected the economy of the United States during the 1930s, American commercial radio broadcasting had grown to a $100 million industry by the middle of that decade.
4. Radio in World War II
Radio broadcasting reached the height of its influence and prestige worldwide during World War II (1939-1945), carrying war news directly from the battlefront into the homes of millions of listeners. American commentator Edward R. Murrow created a sensation with his descriptions of street scenes during German bombing raids of London, which he delivered as a live eyewitness from the rooftop of the CBS news bureau there. American president Franklin Delano Roosevelt had often used the radio to bypass the press and directly address the American people with his so-called fireside chats during the Great Depression, and he continued these throughout the war. The radio speeches of German leader Adolf Hitler helped set the conditions for war and genocide in that country, and the radio appeal from Japanese emperor Hirohito to his nation for unconditional surrender helped end World War II following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
B. The Introduction of Television
Radio's success spurred technology companies to make huge investments in the research and development of a new form of broadcasting called television, or TV. Unlike radio, television broadcasting did not go through a period of experimentation by amateurs. It was obvious to commercial broadcasters that there were enormous profits to be made from such an invention, and the dominant companies in communications technology raced to perfect it.
The invention of television was a lengthy, collaborative process. An early milestone was the successful transmission of an image in 1884 by German inventor Paul Nipkow. His mechanical system, known as the rotating disk, was further developed by Scottish scientist John Logie Baird, who broadcast a televised image in 1926 to an audience at the Royal Academy of Science in London. Other inventors elaborating on Nipkow's system included Americans Herbert Ives, who was an engineer at AT&T, and Charles Francis Jenkins. However, the proven capability of the electronic tube system that had been developed for radio turned financial and scientific attention toward that technology and away from research on the rotating disk.
The earliest U.S. patent for an all-electronic television system was granted in 1927 to Philo T. Farnsworth, who transmitted a picture of a U.S. dollar sign with his so-called image dissector tube in the laboratories of the Philadelphia Storage Battery Company (Philco). Meanwhile, the three communications technology powerhousesGeneral Electric, Westinghouse, and RCAwere cooperating closely with each other. General Electric and Westinghouse owned substantial shares of stock in RCA, and the companies shared a collection of valuable radio patents. In 1930 they consolidated their television research efforts at RCA's facility in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, under the direction of Russian immigrant scientist Vladimir Zworykin. Farnsworth, Zworykin, or both are usually credited by historians as the inventors of television.
2. Early Broadcasts
During the 1930s, several companies around the world were actively preparing to introduce television to the public. As early as 1935, the BBC initiated experimental television broadcasts in London for several hours each day. That same year CBS hired American theater, film, and radio critic Gilbert Seldes as a consultant to its television programming development project. RCA unveiled television to the American public in grand style at the 1939 New York World's Fair, with live coverage of the Fair's opening ceremonies featuring a speech by President Roosevelt. Daily telecasts were made from the RCA pavilion at the Fair. Visitors were invited to experience television viewing and were even given the opportunity to walk in front of the television cameras and see themselves on monitors.
American entry into World War II at the end of 1941 brought about a virtual suspension of television experimentation in the United States, though radar research would contribute several advances to the field. As a measure of the importance that broadcasting technology had achieved, NBC's David Sarnoff received a commission from the U.S. Army to supervise its field communications and was promoted to the rank of general.
3. Post-World War II Popularity
Technically, network broadcasting takes place when local stations covering different regions agree to simultaneously transmit the same signal. Four companies stood ready to initiate network television broadcasting in the United States immediately following World War II. Two of the companies, NBC and CBS, had made vast fortunes from radio broadcasting and dominated the television industry. The remaining two, the American Broadcasting Company (see ABC, Inc.) and the DuMont Television Network, were competing without the advantage of such previous commercial success. ABC had been created in 1943 when the administration of President Roosevelt had won a lawsuit forcing RCA to divest one of its two national radio networks. RCA's Blue Network had been sold to Edward J. Noble, owner of the Lifesavers Candy Company, who had renamed it the American Broadcasting Company. ABC managed to survive the early years of television through a corporate merger and some imaginative programming innovations, but it remained in a poor third place in programming ratings (estimates of the percentage of television owners viewing a particular program or network) until the 1970s. The DuMont Network, owned by American television manufacturer Allen B. DuMont, was the only nonbroadcasting company to attempt a television network. It went out of business in 1955.
Other companies not in the business of broadcasting, including Paramount Pictures and the Zenith Corporation, unveiled postwar plans to enter the field but were effectively blocked by unfavorable governmental regulatory decisions that were lobbied for by the broadcasting giants. In 1948, for example, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a U.S. government agency that regulates broadcasting, instituted a freeze on the issuance of new station licenses. In addition, the FCC initially made only the 12 very high frequency (VHF) channels available for broadcasting, prohibiting use of the 69 ultra high frequency (UHF) channels, which created an artificial scarcity of station frequencies. By the mid-1950s, the three leading broadcasting companies (NBC, CBS, and ABC, which collectively became known as the Big Three), had successfully secured American network television as their exclusive domain. It was not until the mid-1980s that a fourth company, News Corporation, Ltd., owned by Australian-born executive Rupert Murdoch, broke their monopoly with the establishment of the Fox television network (see Fox Broadcasting Company). In the 1990s, two other communications giants, Paramount Pictures (a division of Viacom, Inc.) and Warner Bros. (a division of Time Warner Inc.), established networks in the United States.
Before cable television (television signals transmitted by cable to paying subscribers only) decisively ended channel scarcity in the 1980s, viewing choices had been limited in most parts of the United States to the programming that the three networks had developed. The only viewing alternatives existed in the largest cities, where noncommercial stations, which aired mostly educational programs, and commercial independent stations could be found. The independent stations, however, offered mostly reruns (shows that had been broadcast previously by a network), along with dated Hollywood films and local sports events. The few noncommercial stations in existence were poorly funded, airing mostly educational programs and some documentary and talk shows. Their loose association, known as National Educational Television (NET), would not begin to offer a solid alternative to commercial viewing until some years after the passing of the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, which brought a reliable federal funding source to NET stations and resulted in their organization into the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).
Due to lack of competition, during the first 30 years of American television, the Big Three's collective share of viewership during the prime time hours (8 PM to 11 PM, or 7 PM to 10 PM in various locations) was typically 95 percent or more. By the early 1960s, more than 600 television stations, 541 of them commercial, were on the air, broadcasting on a daily basis to about 90 percent of homes in the United States. By the early 1990s, those numbers had increased to 1062 commercial and 338 public stations, and broadcasts were reaching more than 98 percent of homes in the United States.
III. Modern Broadcasting
Broadcasting dramatically changed life in the United States wherever it was introduced. Radio brought news and information from around the world into homes. The experiences of professionally crafted drama and music, historically a privilege of the elite, became services expected by the general public. The networks brought the performances of talented artists to large numbers of people who were otherwise isolated from venues such as the concert hall and the theater. The parallel growth of network radio and Hollywood sound cinema, both of which were launched as commercial enterprises in 1927, created an unprecedented mass culture for people of a wide range of social classes and educational backgrounds. The influence of broadcasting was further intensified by television during the 1950s but began to diminish in the 1980s as new technologiessuch as cable televisionlaunched a gradual process of dividing broadcasting's audience into a collection of segregated groups.
A. National Broadcasting
Currently, the basic building blocks of the national broadcasting networks in the United States are the approximately 10,000 local radio stations and 1500 local television stations located throughout the country. All U.S. radio and television stations fall into one of four generic categories: owned and operated, which are properties held directly by the networks; affiliates, which are owned by other companies that contract for exclusive rights to show the programming of a particular network in a given market; independents, commercial stations that do not contract for rights to carry network programming; and public stations, which do not carry commercial network programming and operate on contributions from viewers, corporate gifts, foundation grants, and production support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Until the mid-1950s the relationship between local radio stations and their national networks was similar to the current situation of television stations. The advent of television, however, changed radio radically, forcing it from its primary position in mass communications to a secondary role. Today most radio stations originate almost all of their own entertainment programming, much of which is prerecorded music.
Currently, U.S. radio stations are almost evenly divided between two broadcast spectrums: amplitude modulation (AM) and frequency modulation (FM). AM broadcasting, which allows a transmitter greater reach, consists mostly of talk programming, including telephone call-up shows, all-news formats, religious evangelism, and sports coverage. FM was developed in the 1930s by American inventor and engineer Edwin Howard Armstrong. FM sound, which is nearly free from static and can be broadcast in stereo (reproduction that uses technology to sound more natural), was from its inception superior to AM sound, but it was successfully suppressed for decades by companies heavily invested in AM technology and did not reach a large audience until the 1960s. Most FM stations are dedicated to the presentation of music. They tend to establish specific, easily identifiable music formats, such as popular music, country-and-western, rock music, rap, New Age music, or other genres that appeal to particular audiences.
B. Broadcast Programming
Despite the obvious differences between radio and television, the development of programming for both broadcast media is best understood as a single history comprised of two stages. Early broadcasting was dominated by adaptations of older media. Popular stage drama was redesigned for radio in the form of weekly action serials, situation comedies, and soap operas. Vaudeville provided material for the radio comedy-variety program. Broadcast stations set up microphones in the ballrooms of major urban hotels where popular bands were featured. Daily newspapers provided the model for news coverage, and in some cases announcers would simply read articles from the local newspaper over the air.
Today, television stations in the United States produce very little of their own programming, apart from daily local newscasts and a few public-affairs discussion shows. Most stations broadcast series, feature films, documentaries, and world and national news coverage originating via network connections from Los Angeles and New York City.
Most of today's television programming genres are derived from earlier media such as stage, cinema, and radio. In the area of comedy, situation comedy, or sitcom, has proven the most durable and popular of American broadcasting genres. The sitcom depends on audience familiarity with recurring characters and conditions to explore life in the home, the workplace, or some other common location. The most highly rated sitcom in radio history was "Amos 'n Andy," in which actors performed the roles of African American characters in outrageous caricature. The series premiered on NBC in 1928, and ran for 20 years on radio before moving to television, where it ran from 1951 to 1953. Similarly, "The Goldbergs" (1929-1950), "Life with Luigi" (1948-1953), and other ethnically based family sitcoms successfully exploited the aural character of radio with thick immigrant accents and malapropisms (misuse of words). "I Love Lucy" (1951-1957), which starred Lucille Ball and was adapted from her radio show "My Favorite Husband" (1948-1951), was the first hit television sitcom, finishing first in the national ratings for three seasons in a row (1951-1954) and establishing dramatic elementssuch as battles between the sexes, arguments among neighbors, and other mundane conflictsthat became fundamental to the genre. Other television sitcoms, such as "Father Knows Best" (1954-1960) and "The Cosby Show" (1984-1992), leaned toward moralistic narratives, often focused on child-rearing. Television sitcoms occasionally use fantasy characters as vehicles for comic special effects, as in "Bewitched" (1964-1972) and "I Dream of Jeannie" (1965-1969); or they offer social commentary, as in "All in the Family" (1971-1979) and "M*A*S*H" (1972-1983).
Comedy-variety is a hybrid of vaudeville and nightclub entertainment. Popular comedy-variety radio stars included Jack Benny, Fred Allen, and Edgar Bergen. In the formative years of television, many of the medium's first great stars were comedy-variety performers, including Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Jackie Gleason, Martha Raye, and Red Skelton. A comedy-variety hour typically consisted of short monologues and skits featuring the host, which alternated with various show-business acts, including singers, musicians, stand-up comedians, trained animal acts, and other novelties. The variety show is a related form in which the host serves only as master of ceremonies. "The Ed Sullivan Show" (1948-1971), for example, hosted by newspaper columnist Ed Sullivan on CBS, presented entertainers as diverse as the rock group the Beatles and the Bolshoi Ballet.
Broadcast drama can be presented in either of two formats. An anthology showcases individual plays, such as one would expect to see on stage or in motion pictures. Dramas written for radio, including adaptations of stage and literary classics, were presented on anthologies throughout the 1930s and 1940s. These included "Mercury Theater on the Air" (1938-1941), created by American actor and director Orson Welles, and "Theatre Guild of the Air" (1945-1954). Series, using recurring characters, situations, and settings, were more popular, however. Genres of series included urban police dramas, such as "Gangbusters" (1935-1957); private eye mysteries, such as "The Shadow" (1930-1954); and westerns, such as "The Lone Ranger" (1933-1955). Radio drama virtually disappeared by the mid-1950s as its biggest stars and most popular programs were transferred by the networks from radio to television.
The early years of television offered many highly regarded anthology dramas. Hour-long works by Paddy Chayefsky, Rod Serling, and other television playwrights were presented live from New York City on showcase series such as "Goodyear-Philco Playhouse" (1951-1960) and "Studio One" (1948-1958). As with radio, however, serial television dramas proved more popular and the anthologies gradually disappeared. Television became increasingly lucrative by the mid-1950s, and large sums of money became available to film prime-time programming, ending the era of live features. Filmed series allowed for crowd scenes, car crashes, and other cinematic elements which in turn made possible a variety of action-adventure formats that remain popular in current programming. The genre has included police dramas, such as "Dragnet" (1952-1959, 1967-1970), "The Mod Squad" (1968-1973), and "Hawaii Five-O" (1968-1980), usually depictions of straightforward battles between good and evil; private-eye series, such as "77 Sunset Strip" (1958-1964), "The Rockford Files" (1974-1980), and "Magnum, P.I." (1980-1988), in which the personality of the detective is as important as the criminal investigation; and westerns, such as "Gunsmoke" (1955-1975), "Wagon Train" (1957-1965), and "Bonanza" (1959-1973), which focus on the settling of the Western United States. Other distinct types of action-adventure programming include war series, such as "Rat Patrol" (1966-1967); spy series, such as "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." (1964-1968); and science-fiction series, such as "Star Trek" (1966-1969). Dramatic series tend to follow the exploits of lawyers ("Perry Mason," 1957-1966; "L.A. Law," 1986-1994), doctors ("Ben Casey," 1961-1966; "Marcus Welby, M.D.," 1969-1976), or families ("Dallas," 1978-1991).
Soap opera, or daily serial drama, was originally developed as a daytime genre aimed specifically at a female audience. Soap operas explored romance, friendship, and familial relations in slow-moving, emotionally involving narratives. The invention of the soap opera is credited to Irna Phillips, who began developing such programs for local radio broadcast in Chicago during the 1920s. Many of her radio shows were adapted for television, with some running first on radio and then on television for more than 25 years. Philips's productions include "The Brighter Day" (1954-1962), "The Guiding Light" (1952- ), and "The Edge of Night" (1956-1984).
Other television program types include talk shows, sports coverage, children's programming, game shows, and religious programs, all of which originated on radio. New program types are rarely introduced in broadcasting, since audience familiarity plays a key role in determining programming.
C. Broadcast Journalism
The newsinternational, national, and localconstitutes a natural genre for broadcasting, and in fact, one of broadcasting's first purposes was to spread news of maritime weather conditions. Early experimenters and amateurs informed each other of everything from election results to local gossip. Unlike newspapers, radio could offer its audience live coverage of events. Television added instant images that dated newspaper photographs before readers ever saw them. The speed with which broadcasting could reach entire populations redefined the role of the newspaper in American society. Print journalism became a supplemental medium, focusing on in-depth coverage and editorial opinion.
Radio broadcasting pushed the newspaper from its central position as the herald of public events, and as television proliferated, the importance of radio then diminished. However, the automobile soon emerged as an important location that isolated audiences from the television set. Accordingly, so-called drive time (7-9 AM and 4-7 PM; the most popular hours for commuters to travel to and from work) became radio's prime time. Radio stations across the United States reacted differently to this development; many limited their prime-time programming innovations to traffic bulletins, weather reports, and time checks. Some stations adopted news-only formats, reflecting the medium's need to cultivate specialized audiences as television held the attention of the masses. National Public Radio's "Morning Edition" (1979- ) and "All Things Considered" (1971- ), for example, were developed to function as morning and evening on-air newspapers for sophisticated audiences.
The early years of television offered little news coverage. In 1956 NBC introduced "The Huntley-Brinkley Report," a half-hour national telecast presented in the early evening and featuring filmed reports of the day's events. The other networks soon followed. With the invention of videotape (see Video Recording), the cost of such coverage dropped significantly, allowing individual stations to initiate and expand local news coverage. Network and local news programming, initially considered a nonprofit duty, soon became lucrative as broadcast news became an integral part of viewers' everyday routines. Television broadcasting became society's most popular source of information on current events.
In addition to daily news coverage, the networks also developed weekly prime-time newsmagazine series, such as "60 Minutes" (1968- ) and "20/20" (1978- ). Newsmagazine shows tend to consist of cultural reporting, investigative reporting, and human-interest stories. They have proliferated in prime-time broadcasting, while all-news cable channels have been quicker to supply immediate news of noteworthy events. Although network news divisions regularly produced hour-long documentary programs during the 1950s, such as "CBS Reports," almost all serious American documentary programs are now produced by public television stations.
In the United States, television has had a noticeable effect on electoral politics and public opinion. For example, in 1960 presidential candidates Richard M. Nixon and John F. Kennedy agreed to a series of debates, which were broadcast simultaneously on television and radio. According to surveys, most radio listeners felt that Nixon had won the debates, while television viewers picked Kennedy. Kennedy won the general election that fall. Television coverage of the Vietnam War (1959-1975) helped change the rules of American politics. By the mid-1960s the Big Three networks were broadcasting daily images of the war into virtually every home in the United States. For many viewers, the horrors they saw on television were more significant than the optimistic reports of impending victory issued by government officials to radio and print.
D. Commercialism in Broadcasting
In the United States advertising agencies produced almost all network radio shows before the development of network television and most early television programming as well. Stations often sold agencies full sponsorship, which included placing the product name in a show's title, as with "Palmolive Beauty Box Theater" (1927-1937) on radio or "The Texaco Star Theatre" (1948-1953) on early television.
The ratings system now used in broadcasting arose from sponsors' desire to know how many people they were reaching with their advertising. In 1929 Archibald Crossley launched Crossley's Cooperative Analysis of Broadcasting, using telephone surveys to project daily estimates of audience size for the national networks. The A. C. Nielsen Company, which had been surveying audience size in radio since the mid-1930s, eventually became the dominant television ratings service. Nielsen became known for two techniques (both of which are still used): placing boxes on television sets in the homes of samplings of viewers to record their program choices, and asking sample groups of viewers to keep diaries of what they watched. The size of any given program's audience is then estimated, based on the reactions of these sample viewers. The resulting projections, or ratings, determine the price of advertisements during the show and, ultimately, whether the show will stay on the air or be cancelled.
E. Noncommercial Broadcasting
Most public television stations produce no more than a weekly interview show or a roundtable discussion of local affairs, and many do not produce any programs. Stations affiliated with PBS (PBS has no owned and operated stations) need not adhere to any network time frame and may schedule programs as they wish. A few public stations in large cities create and distribute the bulk of programming to all other PBS stations. The only daily programs offered directly by PBS are a one-hour newscast, "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" (1976- ), and several children's programs, including "Sesame Street" (1969- ).
A section at the lower end of the FM band is reserved for noncommercial radio. About one-third of FM stations are public broadcasters, many of them licensed to educational institutions. They are financed in much the same way as public television stations: by individual donations, corporate grants, and funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Public radio stations usually offer a wider variety of programming than most commercial radio stations. Many are affiliated with National Public Radio and carry some or all of NPR's extensive news and information programming, such as "All Things Considered," a daily 90-minute newscast produced in Washington, D.C.
F. The Regulation of Broadcasting
Broadcasting has been subject to regulation almost since its inception. Government involvement in the United States, as in most other countries, has always been at the national level, primarily because the broadcasting signal moves through the air without regard to political borders. Federal regulatory legislation for broadcasting originated with the Wireless Act of 1910, in which the U.S. Congress required all American ships to carry a broadcasting transmitter and a qualified radio operator while at sea. Formal regulation of entertainment broadcasting began with the Washington Radio Conference of 1922, where rules concerning transmission power, use of frequencies, station identification, and advertising were established as law. The growing importance of broadcasting became evident in the Radio Act of 1927, which transferred regulation from the Department of Commerce to a new government agency set up especially for that purpose, the Federal Radio Commission (FRC). The Communications Act of 1934 reorganized the FRC into the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) which has retained oversight of broadcasting.
An independent government agency, the FCC has five members (known as commissioners), including a chairperson, who are appointed for seven-year terms by the U.S. president with the advice and consent of the Senate. FCC responsibilities include the licensing and regulation of radio and television broadcasters and the oversight of other communications technologies, including telephone, cable television and satellite transmission. All radio and television station licenses are subject to periodic renewal by the FCC, as is the transfer of any of these licenses from one owner to another by sale or merger. As of the mid-1990s, these tasks occupied about 2000 federal employees, while the commissioners concerned themselves with broad policy issues, such as mature subject matter in program content and the quality of children's television. Commissioners also have oversight of technical standards for the introduction of industry advances, such as the FM band in the 1940s, color television in the 1950s and, currently, high-definition television (HDTV).
United States broadcasters are less closely regulated than their counterparts in most other countries, but the FCC has occasionally involved itself in significant issues concerning the role of broadcasting in politics. The Equal Time Rule is one example. Under Section 315 of the Communications Act of 1934, broadcasters who permit their facilities to be used by a candidate for public office must provide equivalent opportunity to any opposing candidates who might request it. In the case of a paid political advertisement, the broadcaster is only required to sell time to an opponent at an equal rate. In the case of an unpaid broadcast appearance, free broadcast time must be given to opponents. The rule is regularly suspended during political elections to allow major-party candidates to engage in broadcast debates without having to include minor-party candidates. Candidate interviews with broadcast journalists are also exempted from the Equal Time Rule so as not to interfere with freedom of the press.
The Fairness Doctrine, on the other hand, is an example of the FCC actively seeking a role in broadcasting. In 1949, with radio stations at their peak of popularity and television on the horizon, the FCC issued a policy explicitly encouraging stations to broadcast editorial opinions while also requiring them to actively seek responsible opposing viewpoints for rebuttal. The policy was legally challenged but was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1969 as consistent with the free speech requirements of the First Amendment (see Constitution of the United States: Amendment 1). Despite its apparent intent of bringing more political diversity and debate to broadcasting, the Fairness Doctrine seemed to have the opposite effect. Many station owners simply avoided taking controversial positions on the air, thus relieving themselves of any obligation to seek out political opponents for the purpose of giving them free air time. Modifications to the policy were attempted, but it was discontinued in 1987.
The FCC has been significantly altered since the early 1980s, in accordance with federal government policy favoring deregulation of industries (removal of governmental restrictions). The number of FCC commissioners was reduced from seven to five. License terms were increased several times. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 set a period of up to eight years between renewal reviews for both radio- and television-station licenses, though a significant complaint or violation can bring quicker action. A long-standing policy of reviewing a station's application for license renewal based on the station's public service accomplishments was abandoned, allowing programmers much greater discretion in minimizing time given to low-rated news and public-affairs programming. Some musically-formatted radio stations dropped news coverage completely. For purposes of assigning newly available frequencies, a lottery system was instituted to replace the previous policy of reviewing licensee credentials or statements of purpose. Restrictions on the number of advertising minutes allowable per hour were dropped.
The 1996 Telecommunications Act cancelled limits on the number of AM, FM, and TV stations a single company or individual could own, with a few exceptions on radio station ownership. The Act introduced a requirement for television manufacturers to install in sets a computer chip, popularly known as the v-chip, to allow television owners to filter out violent programming. The Act also introduced a requirement for a ratings system, similar to that used in the motion-picture industry, to be developed by the FCC. With the exception of the v-chip requirement, regulation of broadcasting has lessened in the 1990s, reflecting its relative decline in importance as new, nonbroadcasting technologies, such as the Internet and cable television, reach ever-wider audiences in the United States.
IV. Current Trends
From the early 1920s through the early 1980s, broadcasting was the only effective means of delivering television and radio programming to the general public. Functions once exclusive to broadcasting are now shared in industrially advanced societies by two other means of mass communication: 1) closed-circuit delivery systems, such as commercial cable television, pay-per-view, and modem-accessible databases, which transmit sounds and images to paid subscribers rather than to the general public; and 2) self-programmable systems, such as the videocassette recorder (VCR), the video game, and the CD-ROM, which allow the user more control over content and scheduling. As of the mid-1990s, however, broadcasting remained the most important component of mass communications, even in countries where the newer systems are available and growing.
It is estimated that there are about 1.6 billion radios and 800 million television sets in use worldwide, with more than half concentrated in North America, the European Union countries, and Japan. In developing societies, such as China, India, Brazil, and Egypt, nearly all citizens own or have access to a radio; television, on the other hand, remains an exclusive privilege of a small but expanding class of people.
New broadcast delivery systems continue to be developed. One of them, Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS), provides the viewer with a personal antenna capable of bypassing closed-circuit systems to capture satellite signals. However, most of the channels available from satellites require subscription fees and licenses, making DBS a form of narrowcasting (transmission to a specific group rather than to the general public). Regardless of the meaning that broadcasting may aquire in the future, the years in which broadcasting dominated mass communications will be remembered as a period when vast national populations shared political and cultural events, such as the address of a leader, a singer's performance, a comedian's monologue, a tear-jerking drama, or a sports event. Although still possible, assembling so large an audience for any single event is becoming increasingly rare as the number of listening and viewing alternatives available to society continues to increase.
David Marc, B.A., M.A., Ph.D.
Primary Investigator, Newhouse School. Author of Bonfire of Humanities: Television, Subliteracy and Long-Term Memory Loss.
HOW TO CITE THIS ARTICLE
"Broadcasting, Radio and Television," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2000
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