EARLY RADIO REGULATIONS

The first “wireless rules” in the United States were published just after the turn of the 20th Century but most were obsolete before the rules were published and the printer washed his hands. The Department of Commerce had opened for business in 1912 but its charter and its authority were less than useless.  Until the end of World War One, the de facto authority was the U. S. Navy!

In 1920, Herbert Hoover asked for and received the post of Secretary of Commerce as a spoil of victory for his support of newly-elected President Warren G. Harding.  Hoover believed Commerce to be “the hub of the nation’s growth and stability.”  He lost no time in trying to beef up Department of Commerce authority to oversee “wireless.”  He called several “Radio Conferences” in the mid-1920’s to secure industry input and to try to craft regulation with some teeth.  The reports of these “industry conferences” make interesting reading.  Because then as now the industry being regulated continued in control of much of its destiny. 

Thus anarchy emerged.  Commerce decisions were gutted and Hoover finally threw up his hands.  The “Chaos of 1926” followed and for a time it seemed every station was on its own.

A new government attempt at regulation resulted in the establishment of the Federal Radio Commission (“FRC”) in 1927.  In its attempts to reestablish order in those pre-computer days, FRC frequency allocations would be a matter of “try” and “try again” to see how signals might fit within the allocated spectrum.  Most early stations were shifted in dial position several times and listeners were left to chase their favorite stations around the dial.  The new FRC notwithstanding, the industry retained its hold on many of the laws governing its business so, while literally thousands of stations came on the air in the ’20’s, the early ‘big gun’ stations eventually got the favorable assignments.  

This page presents many of the major stories on the so-called early radio regulation.  The section: Development of the AM Band will be of use in tracking the many dial changes over the first three decades of broadcasting.  Of interest may be the URL behind “FCC Early Info.”  Have fun with this!

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