Radio Act

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The advent of radio, first as a mode for sending wireless telegraphs (called radiograms) via Morse code and later as a broadcast medium, necessitated government regulation of the airwaves. Congress first stepped in to establish guidelines for radio in 1912, in the wake of the Titanic disaster. The legislation of the Radio Act of 1912 stipulated that ship radios be manned day and night, that they have an alternate energy source (other than the ship's engine), and that they have a range of at least one hundred miles (161 kilometers). Further, Congress required that all radio operators, including broadcasters, be licensed and adhere to certain bandwidths. The Secretary of Commerce was given authority to assign frequencies to new radio stations, thereby eliminating competition among operators for the same frequency.

As radio stations proliferated, the airwaves were jumbled; interference prevented the transmission of clear signals, particularly when a listener was located more than twenty miles (thirty-two kilometers) from the transmitter. Further, the distribution of radio stations was uneven: Eastern and Midwestern cities were well served by broadcasters, while people in the South and West had few stations to choose from. Congress responded by passing the Radio Act of 1927, setting up the Federal Radio Commission (FRC) as the licensing authority for broadcasters. The legislation tried to bring about the equalization of service throughout the United States. It stated that when applications for licenses or license renewals were considered, the licensing authority (the Federal Radio Commission) "shall make such distribution of licenses, bands of frequencies or wave lengths, periods of time for operation, and of power among the different States and communities as to give fair, efficient and equitable radio service." When the FRC's authorization came up for renewal in Congress the following year, the Radio Act was amended (in the Davis Amendment). The amendment clarified the commission's objective to provide "equality of radio broadcasting service, both of transmission and reception" to all regions of the United States.

The Communications Act of 1934 provided comprehensive legislation for the government regulation of the radio broadcasting, telephone, and telegraph industries, which Franklin Roosevelt (19331945) classified, along with transportation and power, as public utilities. The act reformulated the Federal Radio Commission (FRC) to create the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), an agency charged with the broad authority to regulate interstate and foreign communications. Its purview includes all types of radio transmissions as well as television, wire, and cable transmissions. The agency assigns broadcast frequencies and issues broadcast licenses. It is empowered to modify or revoke licenses as well.

See also: Radio, RCA Victor