By FRED WEINBERG Publisher
By FRED WEINBERG
Back in the day—that’s the phrase we baby-boomers now use to describe the 60s when we were growing up—most cities of any size had three radio stations.
There was a rock and roll station, a country station and a middle of the road station.
Some cities had a daytime only station which was religious.
Really big cities had an all news station and a couple of rock and roll stations and maybe a soul music station.
These were all AM stations.
Most of them had big news departments. And you never, ever heard of a radio station going broke.
Most cities also had an NBC, CBS and ABC television station.
A really big city might have had an independent station.
That was the media back in the day.
If I tried to explain that to my 17-year-old stepson, he would find it very hard to believe if I could get his attention as he surfed the web on his laptop while he watched one of the 176 channels available to us on the DISH network and listened to one of the 36 radio stations on the air here in Las Vegas.
The media in the world Stephen is going to inherit is very different from the way things were back in the day.
Which makes it all the more amazing to me that we still have morons in Congress who want to federally mandate a return to the so-called "fairness doctrine" in that very small part of the media that Congress has nominal control over—broadcast radio and Television.
It’s a seductive argument.
The airwaves belong to the public so everything which airs on those airwaves should be, well, fair.
It actually used to be a matter of regulation by the Federal Communications Commission.
Back in 1949, when radio and TV were young, there was a concern that with so few available channels in the then analog world, and so many applications for the use of those channels, the people who received those channels would use them to advocate only one point of view.
So, the FCC dreamed up a policy which came to be known as the "fairness doctrine" which dictated that licensees were "public trustees," and as such had an obligation to afford a reasonable opportunity for discussion of different points of view on controversial issues of public importance. (Given today’s definition of public importance one would wonder if the plight of Paris Hilton would have qualified.)
The Commission later held that stations were also obligated to actively seek out issues of importance to their community and air programming that addressed those issues.
In 1969, the Supreme Court ruled the fairness doctrine to be constitutional in the seminal "Red Lion" case.
In that case, a station in Red Lion, Pennsylvania, had aired a "Christian Crusade" program attacking an author, Fred J. Cook. When Cook requested time to reply in keeping with the fairness doctrine, the station refused. Upon appeal to the FCC, the Commission declared that there was personal attack and the station had failed to meet its obligation. The station appealed and the case wended its way through the courts and eventually to the Supreme Court. The court ruled for the FCC, giving sanction to the fairness doctrine.
That was back in, as we now say, the day, when there were very few ways the public received the news over the air.
Things are a little different today.
One of the things which is different, is the number of voices.
When FM radio came along, a lot of operators started to get rid of their AM stations.
There were a lot of operators like , well, me, who were then able to afford to get a license to broadcast but didn’t really have anything to put on the air until we invented talk radio.
I’d like to tell you what a stroke of genius talk radio was and how many of us planned it, but it was out of pure desperation.
Here we had finally realized our life’s dream. We owned AM radio stations which nobody else wanted.
We couldn’t play music because that’s what FM was all about.
And we couldn’t afford to run huge news departments because that took advertising revenue and that was all going to FM.
So, faced with finding a way to either make people listen to our new radio stations that nobody else wanted or going broke, we figured out how to hire a talk show host, buy a telephone system and put it all on the air.
This was all in the early 80s after the Reagan administration had abolished the fairness doctrine because cable TV had come along and so had FM radio and there was a huge number of additional places people could get their news.
Let me tell you, early talk radio was an acquired taste.
But something started to hit a public nerve in the late 80s when conservatives—who, back then, had no real place in the national dialogue—started to use talk radio to espouse their viewpoints.
All of a sudden, we had an audience.
Then, we had revenue.
Rush Limbaugh came along and kind of put a national face on talk radio.
And politicians of all stripes began to notice the voting blocks which talk radio could mobilize.
Now, politicians of all stripes only like such things when it is to their advantage.
For instance, Mississippi Senator Trent Lott used to just love talk radio when it took positions he liked. But now that many talk show hosts are against the pro-illegal immigration position that Lott, for whatever deranged reason, supports, all of a sudden Lott doesn’t like talk radio anymore.
Lott had said to the Washington Post two weeks ago, "I’m sure senators on both sides of the aisle are being pounded by these talk-radio people who don’t even know what’s in the bill."
To the New York Times, he said, "Talk radio is running America. We have to deal with that problem."
He told the Houston Chronicle, "I’ve had my phones jammed for three weeks. Yesterday I had three people answering them continuously all day," Lott said. "To think that you’re going to intimidate a senator or any senator into voting one way or the other by gorging your phones with phone calls — most of whom don’t even know where Gulfport, Miss., is — is not an effective tactic. But it’s their right to do that."
Well, he at least got the last part right—the part about our rights.
The question is, does he really believe any of the rest of that nonsense?
One of the most insignificant Congressmen ever to serve in that office, Dennis Kucinich, has introduced into the House a bill which would re-institute the "fairness doctrine".
Is it possible for a coalition of aggrieved liberals and conservatives to say that talk radio has gone too far and needs to be brought to heel?
In a world where George Bush and Trent Lott are supporting an illegal immigration amnesty bill, anything appears possible.
Since a good chunk of the GOP appears to be touring Oompa Loompa-ville with George Willie Wonka Bush, it is a threat we have to take seriously.
The fact is that it would be like peeing up a rope.
There are so many methods of communication now that regulating them would be impossible.
And it’s possible a newly conservative Supreme Court would revisit the Red Lion decision with an eye toward the changes in the numbers of outlets.
But talk radio should not take the current threats lightly.
The answer should be to get rid of a Congress which even thinks it can tell the voters what other people can say on the air.
In this case, the best defense is absolutely a good offense.
So, go get’em Rush, Bill, Sean and, yes, even the lone liberal Alan Colmes.
Every once in a while, we need to remind the pinheads of both parties who really owns this country and you are just the guys to do it.