Federal Radio Commission

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The Federal Radio Commission (FRC) was a government body that regulated radio use in the United States from its creation in 1926 until its replacement by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1934. The Commission was created to regulate radio use "as the public convenience, interest, or necessity requires." The Radio Act of 1927 superseded the Radio Act of 1912, which had given regulatory powers over radio communication to the Secretary of Commerce and Labor. The Radio Act of 1912 did not mention broadcasting and limited all private radio communications to what is now the AM band.


The Radio Act of 1927

Prior to 1927, radio was regulated by the United States Department of Commerce. Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover played a strong role in shaping radio. His powers were limited by federal court decisions, however; in particular, he was not allowed to deny broadcasting licenses to anyone who wanted one. The result was that many people perceived the airwaves to suffer from "chaos," with too many stations trying to be heard on too few frequencies. Others believed the government simply wanted to control content, which it ultimately did. (Initially only two frequencies were available for broadcasting with one of these being reserved for "Crop reports and weather forecasts.") After several failed attempts to rectify this situation, Congress finally passed the Radio Act of 1927 (signed into law February 23, 1927), which transferred most of the responsibility for radio to a newly created Federal Radio Commission. (Some technical duties remained the responsibility of the Radio Division of the Department of Commerce.)

The five-person FRC was given the power to grant and deny licenses, and to assign frequencies and power levels for each licensee. The Commission was not given any official power of censorship, although programming could not include "obscene, indecent, or profane language." In theory, anything else could be aired. In practice, the Commission could take into consideration programming when renewing licenses, and their ability to take away a broadcaster's license obviously enabled them to control content to some degree.

The Commission also had little power over networks; in fact, the Radio Act of 1927 made almost no mention of the radio networks (notably NBC and, a bit later CBS) that were in the process of dominating radio. The only mention of radio networks was vague: The Commission {the Federal Radio Commission} shall "Have the authority to make special regulations applicable to stations engaged in chain broadcasting."

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