Thursday, January 12, 2012

Radio and Television Broadcasting

Radio and Television Broadcasting

Radio and Television Broadcasting, 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 accessible to a wide population via standard, readily available receivers. The term has its origins in the medieval agricultural practice of “broadcasting,” which refers to planting seeds by scattering them across a field.
Broadcasting is a crucial instrument of modern social and political organization. At its peak of influence in the mid-20th century, radio and television broadcasting was employed by political leaders to address entire nations. Because of radio and television’s capacity to reach and influence large numbers of people, and owing to the limited spectrum of frequencies available, governments have commonly regulated broadcasting wherever it has been practiced. (For more information, see the Regulation of Broadcasting section of this article.)
In the early 1980s, new technologies—such as cable television and videocassette players—began eroding the dominance of broadcasting in mass communication, splitting audiences into smaller, culturally distinct segments. Previously the only means of delivering radio and television to home receivers, broadcasting is now just one of several delivery systems available to listeners and viewers. Sometimes broadcasting is used in a broader sense to include delivery methods such as wire-borne (cable) transmission, but these are more accurately called “narrowcasting” because they are generally limited to paying subscribers.
For most of history, long-distance communication depended primarily upon conventional means of transportation. A message could be moved aboard a ship, on horseback, by pigeon, or with a human courier, but in virtually all cases it had to be conveyed as a mass through space like any other material commodity. This basic condition of human communication ended in the 19th century due to a series of technological advances.
Radio Broadcasting
The story of radio begins in the development of an earlier medium, the telegraph, which was the first instantaneous system of information movement. Patented simultaneously in 1837 in the United States by inventor Samuel F. B. Morse and in 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 64 km (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 (see International Morse Code)—conveyed his awareness of the momentous proportions of the achievement.
Telegraphy proved so useful and popular that over the next half century wires were strung across much of the world, including a transatlantic undersea cable (1866) connecting Europe and North America. The instantaneous passage of a message over a distance that required hours, days, or weeks to traverse by ordinary transport was so radically unfamiliar an experience that some telegraph offices collected admission fees from spectators wanting to witness the feat for themselves.
As society began to depend on the telegraph for everything from birthday greetings to the news of momentous events, the limitations of telegraphic communication became apparent. Telegraphy depended on the building and maintenance of a complex system of receiving stations wired to each other along a fixed route and requiring trained operators to transmit and receive messages. The telephone, patented by Scottish-born American inventor Alexander Graham Bell in 1876, made instantaneous communication possible via a desktop appliance available to untrained users. However, it required an even more complex system of wires and switching stations than the telegraph. Neither device could be used by ships at sea or reach the many remote communities that could not afford the costs of lines and stations.
Although neither the telephone nor the telegraph could address large numbers of people simultaneously, mass circulation newspapers and magazines benefited greatly from the two devices, translating wired reports into print for mass consumption. News agencies such as the Associated Press and Reuters are still often called wire services, referring to their beginnings as telegraph services.
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 3 km (2 mi) away by a receiving device that had no wired connection to Marconi's transmitting device. With this transmission, Marconi demonstrated that an electronic signal could be cast broadly (broadcast) through space so that receivers at random points could capture it. The closed circuit of instant communication was at last 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 quick and effective deployment of its worldwide naval and commercial shipping fleets to maintain its empire. Marconi moved to London in 1896 and, with the help of financial backers, 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. For his work in wireless telegraphy, Marconi was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1909.
Within a decade of Marconi’s invention, wireless telegraphy had developed into a basic tool of the world maritime industry. Many countries soon required by law that vessels engaged in international trade have a radio transmitter and a certified operator aboard at all times. In 1904 the United Fruit Company hired American inventor Lee De Forest to help build a series of radio broadcasting stations to increase efficiency in shipping perishable goods, especially bananas, from Central America to the United States. These linked stations, which shared information on weather and market conditions, constituted the first broadcasting network. Public awareness of radio was greatly increased in 1912 with the heavily publicized Titanic tragedy. About one-third of the passengers aboard the sinking ship were rescued after wireless telegraph operators on the North American mainland picked up Titanic’s distress signal and dispatched help to the scene.
The earliest radios were truly wireless telegraphs in that they transmitted and received their messages in Morse code. 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 and music. In 1914 American inventor Edwin Howard Armstrong patented the regenerative circuit, an innovation in amplifying radio signals that made broadcasting to the general public possible.
Up to this point, little attention had been given to general consumer applications of the new technology. Nonmaritime broadcasting was dominated by amateur experimenters and hobbyists. In 1909 American entrepreneur Charles Herrold established the Herrold College of Wireless and Engineering in San Jose, California, and he and his students broadcasted news and music to receivers they had placed in local hotel lobbies. Backyard tinkerers all over North America built their own transmitters and used them to voice opinions, pass along information, recite poems, play music, or otherwise entertain their fellow amateur enthusiasts, known as hams. Nonbroadcasters built receiver-only units known as crystal sets. Great pride was taken in homemade equipment, and radio clubs sprang up around the United States. Listening for distant signals, a practice known as “DXing,” became popular and can be thought of as a primitive ancestor of Internet surfing. The U.S. government, which began requiring licenses for radio operators in 1912, issued more than 8,000 licenses to hobbyist broadcasters by 1917.
World War I and Early Regulation
With the outbreak of World War I (1914-1918) in Europe, wireless transmission proved an invaluable military tool on land, sea, and air. Impressed by its strategic applications, and wary of its potential as an instrument of espionage and mass propaganda, U.S. president Woodrow Wilson banned nonmilitary broadcasting when the United States entered the war in 1917. Civilian equipment was confiscated under executive order, and regulatory power over broadcasting was transferred from the U.S. Department of Commerce to the Department of the Navy. The war also aided the development of radio technology, as governments on both sides of the conflict poured money into research. Armstrong, a decorated military pilot who served with U.S. forces in France, is credited with having made great improvements in air-to-ground and air-to-air radio systems.
The Golden Age of Radio
Grand Ole Opry, Tennessee
The Grand Ole Opry traces its roots to a local radio show called “Barn Dance,” which broadcast live country music beginning in 1925. Credited with popularizing country music, the Grand Ole Opry won a national radio network spot in 1939. The Opry is the oldest continuous radio show in the United States, broadcasting live every week from a theater at Opryland in Nashville, Tennessee.

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, which would become the Radio Corporation of America (now part of General Electric Company; see RCA Corporation). Sarnoff proposed “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 Marconi management, and President Wilson’s suspension of nonmilitary broadcasting in 1917 made it impossible for the company to immediately explore Sarnoff's ideas. After World War I ended in 1918, however, several manufacturing companies in the United States began to explore and implement 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 (now CBS 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, the station received its license in October 1920 and began service from a studio inside a canvas tent built on the roof of a Westinghouse factory. Frank Conrad, a radio hobbyist and 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 generated by a phonograph placed before a microphone. KDKA charged no user fees to listeners and carried no paid advertisements; instead, the station was financed by Westinghouse to encourage people to buy home radio receivers.
Depression-Era Radio
Introduced during the early 1920s, commercial radio thrived during the Great Depression (1930s) as a national forum for popular entertainment and news. Families gathered around the radio each day to listen to adventure serials and vaudeville-style comedy.

Other manufacturers soon followed Westinghouse's example. The General Electric Company (GE) began broadcasting over station WGY, located at its corporate headquarters in Schenectady, New York. The chairman 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 nationwide network of stations.
Edgar Bergen
American ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, right, performed with his famous hand-manipulated dummy Charlie McCarthy in vaudeville, radio, television, and motion pictures during the mid-1900s. In his act Bergen would serve as the straight man for the dummy’s irreverent wisecracks. One of the most successful ventriloquists of all time, Bergen possessed agile vocal skills and a creative stage demeanor.

Another important early broadcaster was the American Telephone & Telegraph Company (AT&T, Inc.). Barred from manufacturing radios by the terms of its telephone antitrust exemptions, AT&T explored the possibilities of what the company called toll broadcasting (charging fees in return for airing commercial advertisements on its stations). The first known instance of an advertiser paying for a broadcast commercial took place in 1922, when AT&T accepted a fee from the Queensboro Corporation to air a 12-minute pitch for the sale of cooperative apartments on WEAF, the company’s New York City station. Fearing legal action by radio companies that might threaten its telephone franchises, however, AT&T sold its stations to RCA. In return for leaving the broadcasting business, AT&T was granted the exclusive right to provide the connections that would link local stations around the country to the NBC network.
RCA Corporate Logo, Around 1950
The Radio Corporation of America acquired the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1929. The newly named RCA-Victor Company adapted for its trademark a painting titled His Master’s Voice by English photographer and painter Francis Barraud in 1895. The painting shows Nipper, part bull terrier and part fox terrier, listening quizzically to an old-fashioned phonograph-speaker as though trying to locate the source of his master’s voice.

The sale of radios more than justified the expense of operating broadcasting services for RCA, GE, Westinghouse, and other radio set manufacturers. 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 matured. The sale of advertising time loomed as a promising growth area.
In Britain, and in the many countries that followed its lead, broadcasting was developing in a different way. Radio owners paid yearly license fees to 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.
Jack Benny
American comedian Jack Benny hosted The Jack Benny Show on radio from 1932 to 1955 and on television from 1955 to 1964. One of Benny’s recurring jokes revolved around his age: He was always 39.

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.
George Burns
American comedian George Burns, whose entertainment career began in vaudeville, made his radio debut in 1932, starring in a popular show with his wife, Gracie Allen. The program moved to television in 1950. Burns and Allen also performed together in several motion pictures. After Allen’s retirement in 1958, Burns continued to work in television and cinema.

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.
Radio Dramas
During the 1920s and 1930s, radio listeners could turn on their radios and hear action-packed adventure dramas complete with sound effects. Whole families gathered around the radio every day at a given time to listen to the next episode of their favorite radio adventure story, such as “The Shadow.” The stenode radio-stat, shown here, could indicate the radio station on the map at the top of the receiver.

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 (see CBS Corporation) radio service was established in 1928. Originally launched by the Columbia Phonograph Record Company as a means of promoting its recording artists, it was saved from bankruptcy after less than a year of operation by the Paley family of Philadelphia. William S. Paley, who took charge of CBS, and David Sarnoff, who now headed NBC and its parent company (RCA), would become the two dominant personalities in the American broadcasting industry for the next 50 years. As the radio networks grew in size, they were able to bring a consistently high level of entertainment to even the most remote corners of the nation. In 1934 a group of nonnetwork (or independent) stations, led by WGN in Chicago, Illinois, and WOR in New York City, formed a cooperative programming and news venture, the Mutual Broadcasting System, to compete against the network programs of NBC and CBS stations.
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.
Radio in World War II
Roosevelt at Work
United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-1945) first achieved national attention when he gave a rousing speech at the Democratic Party’s 1924 national convention. Roosevelt is heard here giving one of his “fireside chats,” informal speeches he regularly delivered to the nation by radio.

Radio broadcasting reached its height in global influence and worldwide prestige during World War II (1939-1945), when it carried war news directly from the battlefront into the homes of millions of listeners. This conflict became, in many ways, a “radio war.” American commentator Edward R. Murrow created a sensation with his eyewitness descriptions of street scenes in London during German bombing raids, delivering these accounts from the rooftop of the city’s CBS news bureau. American president Franklin Delano Roosevelt had often used radio to bypass the press and directly address the American people with his so-called fireside chats during the Great Depression, and he continued to do so throughout the war. The radio speeches of German leader Adolf Hitler helped set the conditions for war and genocide in Europe, 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.
The Introduction of Television
Television Sets from 1950s
Television pictures are formed by the transmission of a succession of tiny tonal elements on a screen, which appear as moving images to the human eye. The electronics giant Radio Corporation of America financed the development of early television, and by 1955, 67 percent of American households had television sets.

Radio’s success spurred technology companies to make substantial investments in the research and development of a new form of audiovisual 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 enormous profits were to be made from such an invention as an advertising tool, 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 or Nipkow disk, was further developed by Charles Francis Jenkins, who made a telecast of a short film to U.S. government officials in Washington, D.C., in 1925, and by Scottish scientist John Logie Baird, who broadcast a televised image in 1926 to an audience at the Royal Academy of Science in London. In 1928 Herbert Ives, an engineer working for AT&T, offered what was perhaps the most spectacular demonstration of mechanical television to that point, transmitting color images of a bouquet of roses and an American flag to two audiences simultaneously in New York City and Washington, D.C. 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 a young Philo T. Farnsworth, who transmitted a picture of a U.S. dollar sign using his so-called image dissector tube in the laboratories of the Philadelphia Storage Battery Company (Philco). Meanwhile, the three radio technology powerhouses—General Electric, Westinghouse, and RCA—were cooperating closely with each other. General Electric and Westinghouse owned substantial shares of RCA stock, and the companies shared a collection of radio patents valuable to the development of television. In 1930 they consolidated their television research efforts at an RCA facility in New Jersey under the direction of Russian immigrant scientist Vladimir Zworykin. Historians usually credit Farnsworth, Zworykin, or both with the invention of television.
Early Broadcasts
Ed Wynn
Comedian Ed Wynn introduces the popular television program “Camel Comedy Caravan” of the early 1950s. Like other early American television personalities, including Milton Berle and Jack Benny, Wynn’s career began in vaudeville, moved to radio, and continued in television.

During the 1930s several companies around the world actively prepared 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 on 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. This included a speech by President Roosevelt—the first televised appearance of an American president. Daily telecasts were made from the RCA pavilion at the fair. Visitors were invited to experience television viewing and were given the opportunity to walk in front of television cameras and see themselves on monitors.
With the American entry into World War II at the end of 1941, television experimentation in the United States was virtually suspended, although 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.
Post-World War II Popularity
Early Television
With the advent of television, the radio was quickly displaced from living rooms to the bedroom, the bathroom, or the kitchen. This television and radiogram, exhibited by Decca at the 19th National Radio and Television Exhibition in London in 1952, combined both radio and television in one console. The size of this television allowed large groups of people to watch such family favorites as “I Love Lucy,” which aired from 1951 until 1957. Lucille Ball and Edward Everett Horton are shown here in an episode of this popular comedy show.

Technically, network broadcasting takes place when local stations of different regions simultaneously transmit the same signal. Four companies stood ready to initiate network television broadcasting in the United States immediately following the end of World War II in 1945. Two of the companies, NBC and CBS, had made vast fortunes from radio broadcasting and were well prepared to dominate the television industry. The remaining two, the American Broadcasting Company (now 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 government won a lawsuit forcing RCA to sell off 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 renamed it the American Broadcasting Company. ABC managed to survive the early years of television through a corporate merger and imaginative programming innovations, many of them instituted by Leonard Goldenson, who joined Sarnoff and Paley as the third great founding mogul of American television. But ABC remained a poor third place in the programming ratings (estimates of the percentage of television viewers tuned to a particular program) for decades; it would finally catch up to its rivals in the late 1970s. The DuMont Network, owned by American television manufacturer Allen B. DuMont, was the only television network launched by a company without prior broadcasting experience. It went out of business in 1955.
Other companies unveiled plans to enter the television-broadcasting field during the early years, but they were effectively blocked by governmental regulatory decisions pushed for by the broadcasting giants. In 1948, for example, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the U.S. government agency that regulates broadcasting, instituted a four-year moratorium on the issuance of new TV station licenses. This freeze kept newcomers out of the broadcasting business while the radio companies solidified their hold on television. 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. This action created an artificial scarcity of frequencies, preventing interested companies from operating television stations or networks. UHF licenses were eventually granted, but it was not until 1964 that all sets sold in the United States were required to have UHF as well as VHF tuners.

Lucille Ball
The popular television situation comedy “I Love Lucy” (1951-1957) starred American actor and comedian Lucille Ball and her husband Desi Arnaz. Ball’s career as an entertainer also included the successful radio show “My Favorite Husband” (1947-1951) and numerous motion-picture roles. She received an Emmy Award for best comedienne in 1952 and Emmy Awards for best actress in 1955, 1967, and 1968.

By the mid-1950s the so-called Big Three radio broadcasting networks (NBC, CBS, and ABC) had successfully secured American network television as their exclusive domain. It was not until the mid-1980s that a fourth company, News Corporation, Limited, owned by Australian-born executive Rupert Murdoch, broke this oligopoly with the establishment of the Fox television network (see Fox Broadcasting Company). In the 1990s Paramount Pictures (today a division of Viacom, Inc.) established UPN, and Warner Bros. (now a division of Time Warner Inc.) established WB, bringing the number of American commercial television networks to six.
The large-scale introduction of cable television (in which television signals are transmitted to paying subscribers by means of coaxial cable) decisively ended channel scarcity in the 1980s. Previously, viewing choices had been limited in most parts of the United States to the programming that CBS, NBC, and ABC developed or bought. The only alternatives to the Big Three were found solely in the largest cities: commercial independent stations that had no network affiliations, and noncommercial stations (known until the 1970s as educational stations, today called public stations). The independents offered mostly reruns (shows previously broadcast by a network) and a selection of older films and local sports events. In the beginning, the few existing noncommercial stations were poorly funded, airing mostly programs meant for schoolroom use in the daytime hours and a variety of documentaries, talk shows, and dramas in abbreviated prime-time schedules. These stations shared programming through a loose association known as National Educational Television (NET). Lacking network linkage technology, they typically shared programming by passing tapes from one station to another, a process known as bicycling. These stations would only begin to offer a solid alternative to commercial viewing some years after passage of the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, which brought reliable federal funding to NET stations and resulted in the creation of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).
Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca
Comedians Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca starred on television together from 1949 until 1954 in “Your Show of Shows,” a popular variety show. Known for his brilliant satire and witty improvisations, Caesar became one of the stars of 1950s television.

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 some locations) was typically 95 percent or more. By the early 1960s more than 600 television stations, 541 of them commercial, were on the air, collectively broadcasting to about 90 percent of all homes in the United States. By the beginning of the 21st century, these numbers had increased to more than 1,200 commercial and about 370 public stations, and broadcasts were reaching more than 98 percent of homes in the United States.
Color-Television Debut
On June 25, 1951, the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) inaugurated commercial color television broadcasting. It was a one-hour program that aired in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. On the set that day to celebrate the event were, left to right, CBS President Frank Stanton, television personality Arthur Godfrey, CBS board chairman William S. Paley, and Federal Communications Commission chairman Wayne Coy.

Broadcasting dramatically changed life in the United States wherever it was introduced. Radio brought news and information from around the world into homes. The availability of professionally crafted drama and music, historically a privilege of the elite, was now expected by the general public on a daily basis. The networks brought the performances of talented artists to large numbers of people in areas otherwise isolated from concert halls, theaters, and other traditional venues. 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 shared by people of a wide range of social classes, ethnic backgrounds, and educational achievement. The influence of broadcasting was further expanded by television during the 1950s but began to diminish in the 1980s as new technologies—especially cable television—gradually led to a fragmenting of the broadcasting audience.
National Broadcasting
“Twenty-One” Quiz Show
A young professor from a prominent family, Charles Van Doren became famous in the late 1950s for correctly answering questions on the television quiz show “Twenty-One.” He later confessed to having cheated on the show. About the same time contestants from other quiz shows publicly disclosed the games were rigged by their producers and sponsors to attract larger audiences. In the photograph, left to right: Van Doren, an assistant, host Jack Barry, and challenging contestant Herbert Stempel.

Currently, the basic building blocks of the national broadcasting networks in the United States are the approximately 10,000 local radio stations and 1,500 local television stations found throughout the country. All U.S. radio and television stations fall into one of four general categories: owned and operated (or O & Os), which are properties held directly by the networks; affiliates, which are owned by other companies that contract for exclusive rights to show a particular network’s programming in a given market; independents, commercial stations that do not contract for rights to carry network programming; and public stations, which do not carry commercials but instead operate on contributions from viewers, corporate gifts, foundation grants, and production support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and other government agencies.
The advent of television radically affected radio, forcing it from its primary position in mass communication to a secondary role. Most radio stations today offer only one type of programming, designed to attract a demographically homogeneous audience that the station can sell to advertisers.
Currently, U.S. radio stations are almost evenly divided between two broadcast spectrums: amplitude modulation (AM), which comprises the dial range from 540 to 1700 kilohertz (KHz); and frequency modulation (FM), from 88 to 108 megahertz (MHz). AM broadcasting, which allows a transmitter to have greater geographical reach, consists mostly of talk programming, including telephone call-in shows, all-news formats, religious evangelism, and sports coverage. FM, developed in the 1930s by Edwin Howard Armstrong, has several advantages over AM: It is nearly free of static and can be broadcast in stereo—two simultaneous sound waves that yield more realistic reproduction of music and other sounds. From Armstrong’s earliest demonstrations, it was obvious that FM offered a richer, fuller sound than AM. But the millions of radio sets already sold to the public could not receive FM broadcasts, so companies heavily invested in AM technology suppressed FM for decades. FM did not reach a large audience until the 1960s, when the public immediately embraced it. Most FM stations are dedicated to presenting music. They tend to establish specific, easily identifiable formats, such as rock, country, rap, or other genres that appeal to particular audiences.
Broadcast Programming
1950’s Family Shows
During the 1950s several American television shows portrayed an idealized middle-class family focused on the task of child rearing, and consisting of a wise breadwinning father, a cheerful and attractive stay-home mother, and socially and academically successful children. “Father Knows Best,” which was broadcast from 1954 to 1960 epitomized such shows. American actor Robert Young starred as father Jim Anderson in the series.

Despite the obvious differences between radio and television, the development of programming for both broadcast media is best understood as a single history made up 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 entertainment series, feature films, documentaries, and world and national news coverage transmitted via network connections from Los Angeles, California, and New York City.
Most modern television programming genres are derived from earlier media such as stage, cinema, and radio. In the area of comedy, the 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, workplace, or some other common location.
Norman Lear’s “All in the Family”
American television producer and writer Norman Lear gained fame in the 1970s for his situation comedies that focused on social and political issues. His show “All in the Family” (1971-1979) based its humor on the conflict between political conservatives and liberals, and it was considered controversial for dealing openly with subjects such as abortion, homosexuality, menopause, and racial prejudice. Shown in this photo are Carrol O’Connor, left, as Archie Bunker and Jean Stapleton, right, as his wife, Edith.

The most highly rated sitcom in radio history was Amos ‘n’ Andy, in which white 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 nature of radio by presenting thick immigrant accents and malapropisms (misuse of words). I Love Lucy (1951-1957), which starred Lucille Ball and was loosely 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). The show established many dramatic elements—such as battles between the sexes, arguments among neighbors, and other mundane conflicts—that would become 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 focusing 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, alternating 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 Beatles and the Bolshoi Ballet.
The Flintstones
The Flintstones was a popular animated series for television created by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. The show, which originally aired from 1960 to 1966, focused on the humorous mishaps of the “modern Stone Age” Flintstone family. Shown here are Wilma and Fred Flintstone and their neighbor and Fred’s coworker, Barney Rubble (at the window).

Broadcast drama can be presented in either of two formats. An anthology program showcases individual plays, such as would be expected 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 (also called The Campbell Playhouse, 1938-1941), created by American actor and director Orson Welles, and Theatre Guild of the Air (1945-1954). The drama series, using recurring characters, situations, and settings, were more popular, however. Genres of radio 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 from radio to television.
Johnny Carson
On May 22, 1992, Johnny Carson hosted The Tonight Show for the final time time after heading up the show for 30 years. Carson’s unassuming manner and ironic wit endeared him to a generation of fans, and his long run was unprecedented for the late-night talk show format. The Tonight Show helped launch the careers of many stand-up comedians and introduced young and emerging performers to a nation of Carson devotees.

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 anthologies gradually disappeared. Television became increasingly lucrative during the 1950s, and large sums of money became available to record prime-time programming, ending the era of live television dramas. Filmed (or taped) series allowed for crowd scenes, car crashes, and other cinematic elements that in turn made possible a variety of action-adventure formats that are still popular in contemporary programming. The genre includes police dramas, such as Dragnet (1952-1959, 1967-1970), Hawaii Five-O (1968-1980), Hill Street Blues (1981-1987), and NYPD Blue (1993- ), usually depictions of straightforward battles between good and evil; and 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. Other types of action-adventure programming include Westerns, such as Gunsmoke (1955-1975), Wagon Train (1957-1965), and Bonanza (1959-1973); war series, such as Combat (1962-1967) and Rat Patrol (1966-1967); spy series, such as The Man From U.N.C.L.E (1964-1968) and I Spy (1965-1968); and science-fiction series, such as Star Trek (1966-1969) and its sequels and The X-Files (1993-2002). Dramatic series tend to follow the exploits of lawyers (Perry Mason, 1957-1966; L.A. Law, 1986-1994; The Practice, 1997- ), doctors (Ben Casey, 1961-1966; Marcus Welby, M.D., 1969-1976; ER, 1994- ), or families (The Waltons, 1972-1981; Dallas, 1978-1991).
The soap opera, or daily serial drama, was 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 developed 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. Phillips's productions include The Brighter Day (1954-1962), Guiding Light (1952- ), and The Edge of Night (1956-1984).
Garrison Keillor
American writer and broadcaster Garrison Keillor created “A Prairie Home Companion,” an award-winning radio show that looks at rural midwestern America with a fond and sometimes critical eye. The show is modeled after Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry program, and Keillor weaves music, storytelling, and comedy through a fabric of rustic, fictional characters.

Other television program types include talk shows, sports coverage, children’s programming, game shows, and religious programs, all of which originated on radio. Quiz shows, such as The $64,000 Question (1955-1958) and Twenty-One (1956-1958), are a subgenre of game shows in which cash prizes are awarded through quick tests of knowledge. These shows had been extremely popular in prime time during the late 1950s until a series of cheating scandals resulted in the virtual banishment of such programming to daytime or early evening schedules, with much smaller prizes offered. Popular game shows, as they were now called, during this period included The Price Is Right (a 1950s show that was revived in 1972), Jeopardy (1964- ), and Wheel of Fortune (1975- ). In the late 1990s, with the audience for the broadcast networks in decline, the “big-money” quiz show was revived, in part because of its low production costs relative to dramatic series. Leading the comeback was Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (1999- ), a show that originated in the United Kingdom and became a huge hit in the United States.
David Letterman
An American comedian and television talk-show host, David Letterman began hosting “Late Night with David Letterman” in 1982.

New program types are rarely introduced in broadcasting, since audience familiarity plays a key role in determining programming. The rise of the reality show in the late 1980s and 1990s is an exception, however. Examples include Cops (1989- ), in which camera crews accompany police cars on their daily rounds, and Survivor (2000- ), which records the interactions of a group of people who are thrown together in a difficult, remote location, such as a desert island. As with the revival of the quiz show, the drive for lower production costs by network broadcasters—a result of smaller network audiences in the cable era—was a determining factor in introducing these programs, which have become extremely popular.
Broadcast Journalism
Edward R. Murrow
American news broadcaster Edward R. Murrow was first recognized for his on-the-scene radio reporting during World War II (1939-1945). He later received acclaim for his bold and controversial television documentaries, especially those concerning Senator Joseph McCarthy, aired in 1954 on “See It Now.”

One of broadcasting's original purposes, predating its use as an entertainment medium, was to spread news of maritime weather conditions. Early experimenters and amateurs also delighted in informing far-away listeners of everything from election results to local gossip. As broadcasting developed into a mass medium, its speed and ubiquity made the news—international, national, and local—a natural area for programming. Radio was not only more immediate than the newspaper, but it also could offer its audience live coverage of events. Television’s instant images and video coverage made newspaper photographs outdated before readers saw them and robbed weekly photo magazines, such as Life and Look, of their purpose and popularity. As broadcasting emerged as the primary means of distributing information, print journalism redefined itself as a supplemental medium in American mass communication. The newspapers and magazines that survived the broadcasting era did so by focusing on in-depth analysis of events, editorial opinion, and coverage of the arts and other “soft” news. Other print publications thrived by imitating the brevity and flashy visual style of television.
David Brinkley
American journalist David Brinkley became involved in television broadcasting when the industry was in its infancy, hosting such shows as “The Huntley-Brinkley Report,” “David Brinkley’s Journal,” and “NBC Nightly News.” He later moved to ABC and hosted “This Week with David Brinkley.”

Just as radio broadcasting pushed the newspaper from its central position as the herald of public events, television had the same general effect on radio. However, the rise of television coincided with the explosion in popularity of the automobile and the development of the suburbs, and this proved a crucial factor in the survival of radio broadcasting. While Americans spent less time listening to their radios for home entertainment, they spent more time listening to the radio in their cars. Accordingly, the so-called drive time—7 to 9 am and 4 to 7 pm, the most popular hours for commuters to travel to and from work—became radio's equivalent of television prime time. Many radio stations introduced frequent traffic bulletins, weather reports, and time checks; some stations adopted news-only formats. This reflected the medium’s need to cultivate specialized audiences as television held the attention of the majority. The success of National Public Radio (NPR), which began network broadcast service in 1970, can be tied to this phenomenon. Two of its most popular daily programs, Morning Edition (1979- ) and All Things Considered (1971- ), were developed to serve audiences that in an earlier era might have read newspapers while commuting on public transportation.
Television Reporter
Reporters must gather the facts about a story through research, interviews, and first-hand observation. In this photograph, a television news reporter conducts an on-camera interview, which may be aired live or taped and edited for broadcast at a later time.

Television offered little news coverage during its early years. In the late 1940s, the networks put together 15-minute daily news summaries that offered a minimum of visual material. In 1956 NBC introduced The Huntley-Brinkley Report, a half-hour national telecast presented in the early evening and featuring an increased number of taped reports of the day's events. The other networks eventually followed this format. With the invention of videotape (Video Recording), the cost of such coverage dropped significantly, allowing individual stations to initiate and expand local news coverage as well.
Television Newscast
There are many different jobs involved in creating a television news broadcast. While the anchors, foreground, who read the news are the major on-camera focus, numerous directors, producers, and technical staff work behind the scenes to make the newscast come off smoothly.

International news reporting was greatly enhanced in 1961 with the successful launching of Telstar, the first communications satellite. Owned by AT&T and launched into Earth orbit by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) under a commercial contract, Telstar enabled the networks to broadcast for the first time same-day moving images of news events from around the world. Network and local news programming, initially considered a nonprofit or barely profitable civic duty, was soon commercially lucrative as broadcast news became an integral part of viewers’ everyday lives. Television broadcasting quickly became society's most popular source of news. Tens of millions of viewers tuned in during gripping national events such as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 or the manned Moon landing in 1969.
Nixon-Kennedy Debate
Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy faced Republican candidate Richard Nixon in four nationally televised debates during the 1960 United States presidential campaign. Kennedy was widely regarded as the winner of the debates, which helped him win the presidency.

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 proved quicker in supplying viewers with breaking news. Although network news divisions regularly produced hour-long documentary programs during the 1950s, such as CBS Reports, almost all in-depth American documentary programs are now produced by public television stations and aired on the PBS network.
In the United States, television has had a profound 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 the younger, more photogenic Kennedy. Kennedy went on to win the general election that fall. Especially influential was television coverage of the Vietnam War (1959-1975), which 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 and repeated in print accounts. The lessons learned by the American military in the Vietnam War were evident in the Persian Gulf War of 1991, where great emphasis was placed on the orchestration of information for television.
Commercialism in Broadcasting
Nielsen Rating Device
The black box of the A. C. Nielsen Company, also known as the People Meter, is the principal device used to determine what people in the United States are watching on television. The People Meter sits on top of the TV set and is programmed with the age and gender of each member of the household. When members of the household watch TV, they enter their code into the People Meter, which records the time and the channel being watched. Every evening at a specified time the People Meter sends its recorded data to a central computer via a modem, and statistics are gathered to determine what TV programs that day were the most popular.

In the United States advertising agencies produced almost all network radio shows before the development of television, and they produced much early television programming as well. Networks often sold time periods to the ad agencies for purposes of full sponsorship of a program. In this arrangement, the sponsor’s name was often placed right in a show's title, as with Palmolive Beauty Box Theater (1927-1937) on radio or Texaco Star Theater (1948-1953) on television. In the late 1950s the networks began to take greater control of programming and full sponsorship was replaced by the sale of spot advertising, in which clusters of ads by various sponsors are presented during commercial breaks. Spot advertising eventually became the dominant form of commercial sponsorship.
Modern Radio
Advertising finances most radio and television stations, with the exception of those affiliated with National Public Radio or the Public Broadcasting Service. Radio and television programs are often punctuated by commercials from sponsoring companies. Sometimes on modern radio stations, disc jockeys themselves promote the sponsors.

The ratings system used in commercial broadcasting arose from the desire of sponsors to know how many people they were reaching with their advertising. In 1929 Archibald M. Crossley launched Crossley's Cooperative Analysis of Broadcasting, using telephone surveys to project daily estimates of audience size for the national radio networks. The A. C. Nielsen Company, which had been surveying audience size in radio since the mid-1930s, emerged as the preeminent television ratings service. Nielsen became identified with two information-gathering techniques, both of which are still used: placing devices (so-called black boxes) on television sets in the homes of selected viewers to record their program choices, and asking sample viewers to keep written diaries of what they watch. The size of a given program’s audience is then estimated based on the results. These projections, or ratings, determine the price of advertisements during the show and, ultimately, whether the show is profitable enough to stay on the air.
During the era when the Big Three networks constituted the only choices available to most viewers, the total number of viewers was the most important statistic in determining the value of an audience. As the number of channels rapidly multiplied during the cable television era, the demographic characteristics of a given audience became more significant to advertisers. For example, a company advertising a luxury automobile wants to know not only how many people are watching its commercials, but also how many of these viewers can afford to buy the car and are in the age range of the car’s typical buyers. The company then buys ads on shows (or channels) that are most likely to reach its desired viewers.
Noncommercial Broadcasting
Carl Sagan on the Set of Cosmos
American astronomer Carl Sagan was best known for his ability to bring science and astronomy to a general audience. He wrote many books for the general public and hosted the television series Cosmos in 1980.

Most public television stations produce no more than a weekly interview show or a roundtable discussion of local affairs; many do not produce any programs. A handful of public stations in large cultural centers—such as WGBH-TV in Boston, Massachusetts, WNET-TV in New York City, WETA-TV in Washington, D.C., and KQED-TV in San Francisco, California—create and distribute the bulk of programming to all other PBS affiliates (PBS has no owned-and-operated stations). The few daily programs offered directly by PBS to its affiliates include a one-hour newscast, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer (1976- ), and several children’s programs, including Sesame Street (1969- ) and Arthur (1996- ).
Public television and public radio stations are typically licensed to educational institutions, such as universities and local cultural foundations, and are financed by the donations of individuals, corporations, and nonprofit foundations as well as government sources. As in commercial broadcasting, public television stations tend to air a wide variety of program types, while public radio stations are more narrowly formatted. Public radio formats tend to feature less-popular forms of entertainment, such as jazz or classical music. In recent years NPR has expanded its network programming, adding a variety of eclectic music and talk shows as well as foreign news programs from Canada and Europe. Several smaller public radio networks also produce programming that stations can license for broadcast.
The Regulation of Broadcasting
Democratic Debate on CNN
The Equal Time Rule requires broadcasters to provide equivalent amounts of time for political advertising to opposing candidates. Only nonbiased newscasting is exempt from this 1934 Act. The rule has become increasingly important because of the development of television as an effective campaign tool. During recent elections, candidates for various offices have not only appeared in paid commercials for their own campaigns, but have also appeared on various news programs to present their views to the United States public. On February 16, 1992, the Cable News Network broadcast a debate among the five United States Democratic presidential candidates, seen here from left to right: Senator Tom Harkin, Governor Bill Clinton, Senator Bob Kerrey, former Senator Paul Tsongas, and former Governor Jerry Brown with host Bernard Shaw (back to camera).

Broadcasting has been subject to regulation almost since its inception. Government involvement in the United States, as in most 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 radiotelegraph transmitter and a qualified operator while at sea. Formal regulation of commercial 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 this 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 ever since.
An independent government agency, the FCC has five members (known as commissioners), including a chairperson, who are appointed for five-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 systems, 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 license from one owner to another by sale or merger. The commissioners primarily concern themselves with broader policy issues, such as the defining of mature subject matter in programming 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, stereo radio broadcasting in the 1960s, and high-definition television (HDTV) at the beginning of the 21st century.
United States broadcasters are less closely regulated than their counterparts in most 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 an 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 cost. 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 provides a rare example of the FCC’s actively seeking a role in regulating the character of 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 airtime. 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 (removal of governmental restrictions) of industries. The number of FCC commissioners was reduced from seven to five. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 set a period of up to eight years between renewal reviews for 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 efforts was abandoned, allowing programmers to minimize the time given to low-rated news and public-affairs programming. Some radio stations with music formats dropped news coverage completely. A lottery system was instituted for assigning newly available frequencies, replacing the previous policy of reviewing licensee credentials or statements of purpose. Restrictions on the number of advertising minutes allowable per hour were also dropped.
The 1996 Telecommunications Act cancelled previous limits on the exact number of AM, FM, and TV stations a single company or individual licensee could own. In their place the act set up less restrictive limits, based on a complex formula that takes into account factors such as the percentage of population reached by stations owned by a single company and the cross-ownership of electronic and print media. The effect has been to radically reduce the number of licensed broadcasters. Since the law’s enactment, the number of owners of commercial radio stations has dropped by about 25 percent, from 5,100 to 3,800. Many local owners of television stations have sold them to the networks, which now own and operate more stations than ever before. In 2003 the FCC voted to further ease ownership restrictions. The ruling allowed one company to own television stations that reach up to 45 percent of U.S. households and also ended the ban on one person or company owning a newspaper and a broadcast station in the same city.
The 1996 act also responded to concerns of parents’ groups over explicit broadcasting, requiring that television manufacturers install a computer chip, popularly known as the v-chip, in all sets. This device allows owners of television sets to filter out violent or sexually suggestive programming, which is flagged by a rating system developed by the FCC. With the exception of the v-chip requirement and rating system, regulation of broadcasting has generally lessened since the 1980s.
From the early 1920s through the early 1980s, broadcasting was the only effective means of delivering television and radio programming to the general public. However, functions once exclusive to broadcasting are now shared in industrially advanced societies by two other means of mass communication: (1) cable television and radio systems, such as commercial cable services, pay-per-view channels, 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), digital video disc (DVD), video game, and digital recording technology, which allow the user more control over content and scheduling. Despite these innovations, in the first years of the 21st century broadcasting remained the single most important component of mass communication, even in countries where the newer systems are available and growing.
It is estimated that about 1.8 billion radios and 800 million television sets are 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 the privilege of a smaller but expanding class of people.
New broadcast delivery systems continue to be developed. In the increasing number of homes equipped with digital cable systems, broadcast radio stations must now compete against scores of commercial-free digital music channels, each offering round-the-clock delivery of a single style or genre of music. Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS) provides television viewers with a personal satellite dish antenna capable of capturing signals without the help of a local cable provider. Subscription fees are charged by DBS providers to unscramble the channels, making the cable and satellite delivery methods competitive. DBS remains at a distinct disadvantage because the antennas cannot capture the signals of local broadcasting stations in most areas, requiring the viewer to put up a separate rooftop or set-top antenna to receive these channels.
The years during which radio and television broadcasting dominated mass communication as the principal means of signal delivery—approximately the 1920s to the 1990s—can be thought of as the broadcast era in American communications. This era will be remembered as a period when vast national populations shared witness to a wide variety of political and cultural events, such as the address of a leader, the performance of an actor or singer, or a sporting event. It is fair to say that this was perhaps the only time in history when so wide a range of economic and social classes constituted a single audience. Although still technically possible, the assembly of enormous, heterogeneous audiences—a common daily occurrence of the broadcasting era—is becoming increasingly rare, as the number of nonbroadcasting alternatives increases and target audiences become narrower.
Its reduced role notwithstanding, broadcasting remains a significant method of mass communication. At any given time, a plurality—if no longer a huge majority—of the audience for television and radio continues to consume entertainment and information conveyed by broadcasting. During times of crisis, such as the September 11 attacks by terrorists against the United States in 2001, a majority of citizens continue to turn to broadcast services as the best way to follow an issue of singular importance.

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