History of public broadcasting
IN THE UNITED STATES

Timeline: Through 1940s

1862 | 1895 | 1912 | 1917 | 1921 | 1925 | 1927 | 1928

1930 | 1934| 1938 | 1939 | 1940 | 1945 | 1948 | 1949

1862

With Morrill Act, Congress endows state universities with land grants, creating what some observers believe was philosophical precedent for public broadcasting and its public funding.

1895

Guglielmo Marconi sends wireless signal on family estate in Italy.

1912

Iowa State College’s station 9YI (named WOI since 1922) experiments with Morse code broadcasting.

 

1917

University of Wisconsin begins voice broadcasting with radio station 9XM, forerunner of WHA, under an experimental license.

1921

Federal government issues first license to an educational institution, Latter-day Saints University in Salt Lake City.

1925

Nov. 12 Forerunner of PBS and NPR formed: Association of College and University Broadcasting Stations (ACUBS). It later becomes National Association of Educational Broadcasters.

1927

Feb. 23 Radio Act of 1927 signed into law, creating Federal Radio Commission (later FCC).

1928

November FRC’s General Order 40 shifts most radio stations’ frequencies; 23 of the first 25 clear channels are affiliated with NBC. Favoritism toward commercial stations prompts Broadcast Reform Movement.

Terry wearing headphones with wireless device
Prof. Earle Terry's students built a "wireless telephone" that went on air in 1917 at the University of Wisconsin.

1930

Carnegie Corporation of New York, with NBC, creates National Advisory Council on Radio in Education (NACRE) to promote Cooperation Doctrine—alliances between commercial radio and educators [paper].

July ACUBS asks Congress to reserve channels for education.

September Payne Fund begins funding Broadcast Reform Movement.

October Joy Elmer Morgan appointed to organize movement’s National Committee on Education by Radio (NCER).

1934

June 19 Communications Act of 1934 signed into law, replacing FRC with FCC.

September ACUBS changes constitution; new name is National Association of Educational Broadcasters (NAEB).

1938

Jan. 26 FCC establishes new class of noncommercial educational radio stations in high-frequency band.

Cooperation doctrine subsides, NACRE closes, consensus develops for reserved channels.

1939

RCA demonstrates TV with first public broadcast at World’s Fair.

1940

FCC reserves five of the 40 channels in new high-frequency band for noncommercial educational stations. (Though planned for AM, stations go to FM as technology develops.)

1945

June 27 FCC moves FM service to VHF band, expands noncommercial FM reservation to 20 channels (88-92 MHz) of the total 100 FM channels [document on FCC site, slow download].

1948

FCC freezes licensing of TV stations, allows educational FM stations to operate with 10 watts or less power.

Morgan
NCER, led by Joy Elmer Morgan, fought for educators' control of noncommercial stations in the '30s.

1949

FCC authorizes 50th noncommercial FM station.

WNYC begins “bicycle network,” shipping taped radio programs from station to station.

April 15 Pacifica begins operation of KPFA in Berkeley, claimed to be first listener-supported station [early bylaws].

Officials fiddle admiringly with large contraption
Tape duplicating machines like this one at NAEB allowed the creation of unwired "bicycle" networks.

 

1950s-60s ARROW

Web page revised June 9, 2006
Copyright 2006 by Current Publishing Committee
Adapted from Current's A History of Public Broadcasting

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