I seem to have
detected a very nervous apprehension about what I might say or do
when I emerged from that locked office for this, my maiden station
So first let me begin by dispelling a rumor. I was not picked for
this job because I regard myself as the fastest draw on the New
Frontier. Second, let me start a rumor. Like you, I have carefully
read President Kennedy's messages about the regulatory agencies,
conflict of interest, and the dangers of ex parte contacts. And, of
course, we at the Federal Communications Commission will do our
part. Indeed, I may even suggest that we change the name of the FCC
to The Seven Untouchables.
It may also come as a surprise to some of you, but I want you to
know that you have my admiration and my respect. Yours is a most
honorable profession. Anyone who is in the broadcasting business has
a tough row to hoe. You earn your bread by using public property.
When you work in broadcasting you volunteer for public service,
public pressure, and public regulation. You must compete with other
attractions and other investments, and the only way you can do it is
to prove to us every three years that you should have been in
business in the first place.
I can think of easier ways to make a living.
But I cannot think of more satisfying ways.
I admire your courage -- but that doesn't mean that I would make
life any easier for you. Your license lets you use the public's
airwaves as trustees for 180 million Americans. The public is your
beneficiary. If you want to stay on as trustees, you must deliver a
decent return to the public -- not only to your stockholders. So, as
a representative of the public, your health and your product are
among my chief concerns.
Now as to your health, let's talk only of television today. 1960
gross broadcast revenues of the television industry were over
1,268,000,000 dollars. Profit before taxes was 243,900,000 dollars,
an average return on revenue of 19.2 per cent. Compare these with
1959, when gross broadcast revenues were 1,163,900,000 dollars, and
profit before taxes was 222,300,000, an average return on revenue of
19.1 per cent. So the percentage increase of total revenues from '59
to '60 was 9 per cent, and the percentage increase of profit was 9.7
per cent. This, despite a recession throughout the country. For your
investors, the price has indeed been right.
So I have confidence in your health, but not in your product. It is
with this and much more in mind that I come before you today.
One editorialist in the trade press wrote that "the FCC of the New
Frontier is going to be one of the toughest FCC's in the history of
broadcast regulation." If he meant that we intend to enforce the law
in the public interest, let me make it perfectly clear that he is
right: We do. If he meant that we intend to muzzle or censor
broadcasting, he is dead wrong. It wouldn't surprise me if some of
you had expected me to come here today and say to you in effect,
"Clean up your own house or the government will do it for you."
Well, in a limited sense, you would be right because I've just said
But I want to say to you as earnestly as I can that it is not in
that spirit that I come before you today, nor is it in that spirit
that I intend to serve the FCC. I am in Washington to help
broadcasting, not to harm it; to strengthen it, not weaken it; to
reward it, not to punish it; to encourage it, not threaten it; and
to stimulate it, not censor it. Above all, I am here to uphold and
protect the public interest.
Now what do we mean by "the public interest?" Some say the public
interest is merely what interests the public. I disagree. And so
does your distinguished president, Governor Collins. In a recent
speech -- and of course as I also told you yesterday -- In a recent
speech he said,
Broadcasting to serve the public interest, must have a soul and a
conscience, a burning desire to excel, as well as to sell; the urge
to build the character, citizenship, and intellectual stature of
people, as well as to expand the gross national product. ...By no
means do I imply that broadcasters disregard the public interest.
...But a much better job can be done, and should be done.
I could not agree more with Governor Collins. And I would add that
in today's world, with chaos in Laos and the Congo aflame, with
Communist tyranny on our Caribbean doorstep, relentless pressures on
our Atlantic alliance, with social and economic problems at home of
the gravest nature, yes, and with the technological knowledge that
makes it possible, as our President has said, not only to destroy
our world but to destroy poverty around the world -- in a time of
peril and opportunity, the old complacent, unbalanced fare of
action-adventure and situation comedies is simply not good enough.
Your industry possesses the most powerful voice in America. It has
an inescapable duty to make that voice ring with intelligence and
with leadership. In a few years, this exciting industry has grown
from a novelty to an instrument of overwhelming impact on the
American people. It should be making ready for the kind of
leadership that newspapers and magazines assumed years ago, to make
our people aware of their world.
Ours has been called the jet age, the atomic age, the space age. It
is also, I submit, the television age. And just as history will
decide whether the leaders of today's world employed the atom to
destroy the world or rebuild it for mankind's benefit, so will
history decide whether today's broadcasters employed their powerful
voice to enrich the people or to debase them.
If I seem today to address myself chiefly to the problems of
television, I don't want any of you radio broadcasters to think that
we've gone to sleep at your switch. We haven't. We still listen. But
in recent years most of the controversies and cross-currents in
broadcast programming have swirled around television. And so my
subject today is the television industry and the public interest.
Like everybody, I wear more than one hat. I am the chairman of the
FCC. But I am also a television viewer and the husband and father of
other television viewers. I have seen a great many television
programs that seemed to me eminently worthwhile and I am not talking
about the much bemoaned good old days of "Playhouse 90" and "Studio
I'm talking about this past season. Some were wonderfully
entertaining, such as "The Fabulous Fifties," "The Fred Astaire
Show," and "The Bing Crosby Special"; some were dramatic and moving,
such as Conrad's "Victory" and "Twilight Zone"; some were
marvelously informative, such as "The Nation's Future," "CBS
Reports," "The Valiant Years." I could list many more -- programs
that I am sure everyone here felt enriched his own life and that of
his family. When television is good, nothing -- not the theater, not
the magazines or newspapers -- nothing is better.
But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you
to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes
on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a
magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a
rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until
the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe
is a vast wasteland.
You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about
totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence,
sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes,
gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials --
many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom.
True, you'll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very,
very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it.
Is there one person in this room who claims that broadcasting can't
do better? Well a glance at next season's proposed programming can
give us little heart. Of 73 and 1/2 hours of prime evening time, the
networks have tentatively scheduled 59 hours of categories of
action-adventure, situation comedy, variety, quiz, and movies. Is
there one network president in this room who claims he can't do
better? Well, is there at least one network president who believes
that the other networks can do better? Gentlemen, your trust
accounting with your beneficiaries is long overdue. Never have so
few owed so much to so many.
Why is so much of television so bad? I've heard many answers:
demands of your advertisers; competition for ever higher ratings;
the need always to attract a mass audience; the high cost of
television programs; the insatiable appetite for programming
material. These are some of the reasons. Unquestionably, these are
tough problems not susceptible to easy answers. But I am not
convinced that you have tried hard enough to solve them.
I do not accept the idea that the present over-all programming is
aimed accurately at the public taste. The ratings tell us only that
some people have their television sets turned on and of that number,
so many are tuned to one channel and so many to another. They don't
tell us what the public might watch if they were offered
half-a-dozen additional choices. A rating, at best, is an indication
of how many people saw what you gave them. Unfortunately, it does
not reveal the depth of the penetration, or the intensity of
reaction, and it never reveals what the acceptance would have been
if what you gave them had been better -- if all the forces of art
and creativity and daring and imagination had been unleashed. I
believe in the people's good sense and good taste, and I am not
convinced that the people's taste is as low as some of you assume.
My concern with the rating services is not with their accuracy.
Perhaps they are accurate. I really don't know. What, then, is wrong
with the ratings? It's not been their accuracy -- it's been their
Certainly, I hope you will agree that ratings should have little
influence where children are concerned. The best estimates indicate
that during the hours of 5 to 6 P.M. sixty per cent of your audience
is composed of children under twelve. And most young children today,
believe it or not, spend as much time watching television as they do
in the schoolroom. I repeat -- let that sink in, ladies and
gentlemen -- most young children today spend as much time watching
television as they do in the schoolroom. It used to be said that
there were three great influences on a child: home, school, and
church. Today, there is a fourth great influence, and you ladies and
gentlemen in this room control it.
If parents, teachers, and ministers conducted their responsibilities
by following the ratings, children would have a steady diet of ice
cream, school holidays, and no Sunday school. What about your
responsibilities? Is there no room on television to teach, to
inform, to uplift, to stretch, to enlarge the capacities of our
children? Is there no room for programs deepening their
understanding of children in other lands? Is there no room for a
children's news show explaining something to them about the world at
their level of understanding? Is there no room for reading the great
literature of the past, for teaching them the great traditions of
freedom? There are some fine children's shows, but they are drowned
out in the massive doses of cartoons, violence, and more violence.
Must these be your trademarks? Search your consciences and see if
you cannot offer more to your young beneficiaries whose future you
guide so many hours each and every day.
Now what about adult programming and ratings? You know, newspaper
publishers take popularity ratings too. And the answers are pretty
clear: It is almost always the comics, followed by advice to the
lovelorn columns. But, ladies and gentlemen, the news is still on
the front page of all newspapers; the editorials are not replaced by
more comics; and the newspapers have not become one long collection
of advice to the lovelorn. Yet newspapers do not even need a license
from the government to be in business; they do not use public
property. But in television, where your responsibilities as public
trustees are so plain, the moment that the ratings indicate that
westerns are popular there are new imitations of westerns on the air
faster than the old coaxial cable could take us from Hollywood to
New York. Broadcasting cannot continue to live by the numbers.
Ratings ought to be the slave of the broadcaster, not his master.
And you and I both know -- You and I both know that the rating
services themselves would agree.
Let me make clear that what I am talking about is balance. I believe
that the public interest is made up of many interests. There are
many people in this great country and you must serve all of us. You
will get no argument from me if you say that, given a choice between
a western and a symphony, more people will watch the western. I like
westerns too, but a steady diet for the whole country is obviously
not in the public interest. We all know that people would more often
prefer to be entertained than stimulated or informed. But your
obligations are not satisfied if you look only to popularity as a
test of what to broadcast. You are not only in show business; you
are free to communicate ideas as well as relaxation.
And as Governor Collins said to you yesterday when he encouraged you
to editorialize -- as you know the FCC has now encouraged
editorializing for years. We want you to do this; we want you to
editorialize, take positions. We only ask that you do it in a fair
and a responsible manner. Those stations that have editorialized
have demonstrated to you that the FCC will always encourage a fair
and responsible clash of opinion.
You must provide a wider range of choices, more diversity, more
alternatives. It is not enough to cater to the nation's whims; you
must also serve the nation's needs. And I would add this: that if
some of you persist in a relentless search for the highest rating
and the lowest common denominator, you may very well lose your
audience. Because, to paraphrase a great American who was recently
my law partner, the people are wise, wiser than some of the
broadcasters -- and politicians -- think.
As you may have gathered, I would like to see television improved.
But how is this to be brought about? By voluntary action by the
broadcasters themselves? By direct government intervention? Or how?
Let me address myself now to my role not as a viewer but as chairman
of the FCC. I could not if I would, chart for you this afternoon in
detail all of the actions I contemplate. Instead, I want to make
clear some of the fundamental principles which guide me.
First: the people own the air. And they own it as much in prime
evening time as they do at six o'clock Sunday morning. For every
hour that the people give you -- you owe them something. And I
intend to see that your debt is paid with service.
Second: I think it would be foolish and wasteful for us to continue
any worn-out wrangle over the problems of payola, rigged quiz shows,
and other mistakes of the past. There are laws on the books which we
will enforce. But there is no chip on my shoulder. We live together
in perilous, uncertain times; we face together staggering problems;
and we must not waste much time now by rehashing the clichés of past
controversy. To quarrel over the past is to lose the future.
Third: I believe in the free enterprise system. I want to -- I want
to see broadcasting improved, and I want you to do the job. I am
proud to champion your cause. It is not rare for American
businessmen to serve a public trust. Yours is a special trust
because it is imposed by law.
Fourth: I will do all I can to help educational television. There
are still not enough educational stations, and major centers of the
country still lack usable educational channels. If there were a
limited number of printing presses in this country, you may be sure
that a fair proportion of them would be put to educational use.
Educational television has an enormous contribution to make to the
future, and I intend to give it a hand along the way. If there is
not a nation-wide educational television system in this country, it
will not be the fault of the FCC.
Fifth: I am unalterably opposed to governmental censorship. There
will be no suppression of programming which does not meet with
bureaucratic tastes. Censorship strikes at the tap root of our free
Sixth: I did not come to Washington to idly observe the squandering
of the public's airwaves. The squandering of our airwaves is no less
important than the lavish waste of any precious natural resource. I
intend to take the job of chairman of the FCC very seriously. I
happen to believe in the gravity of my own particular sector of the
New Frontier. There will be times perhaps when you will consider
that I take myself or my job too seriously. Frankly, I don't care if
you do. For I am convinced that either one takes this job seriously
-- or one can be seriously taken.
Now how will these principles be applied? Clearly at the heart of
the FCC's authority lies its power to license, to renew or fail to
renew, or to revoke a license. As you know, when your license comes
up for renewal, your performance is compared with your promises. I
understand that many people feel that in the past licenses were
often renewed pro forma. I say to you now: renewal will not be pro
forma in the future. There is nothing permanent or sacred about a
But simply matching promises and performance is not enough. I intend
to do more. I intend to find out whether the people care. I intend
to find out whether the community which each broadcaster serves
believes he has been serving the public interest. When a renewal is
set down for a hearing, I intend, whenever possible, to hold a
well-advertised public hearing, right in the community you have
promised to serve. I want the people who own the air and the homes
that television enters to tell you and the FCC what's been going on.
I want the people -- if they're truly interested in the service you
give them -- to make notes, document cases, tell us the facts. And
for those few of you who really believe that the public interest is
merely what interests the public, I hope that these hearings will
arouse no little interest.
The FCC has a fine reserve of monitors -- almost 180 million
Americans gathered around 56 million sets. If you want those
monitors to be your friends at court, it's up to you.
Now some of you may say, "Yes, but I still do not know where the
line is between a grant of a renewal and the hearing you just spoke
of." My answer is: Why should you want to know how close you can
come to the edge of the cliff? What the Commission asks of you is to
make a conscientious, good-faith effort to serve the public
interest. Everyone of you serves a community in which the people
would benefit by educational, and religious, instructive and other
public service programming. Every one of you serves an area which
has local needs -- as to local elections, controversial issues,
local news, local talent. Make a serious, genuine effort to put on
that programming. And when you do, you will not be playing
brinkmanship with the public interest.
Now what I've been saying applies to the broadcast stations. Now a
station break for the networks -- and will last even longer than 40
seconds: You networks know your importance in this great industry.
Today, more than one half of all hours of television station
programming comes from the networks; in prime time, this rises to
more than three fourths of the available hours.
You know that the FCC has been studying network operations for some
time. I intend to press this to a speedy conclusion with useful
results. I can tell you right now, however, that I am deeply
concerned with concentration of power in the hands of the networks.
As a result, too many local stations have foregone any efforts at
local programming, with little use of live talent and local service.
Too many local stations operate with one hand on the network switch
and the other on a projector loaded with old movies. We want the
individual stations to be free to meet their legal responsibilities
to serve their communities.
I join Governor Collins in his views so well expressed to the
advertisers who use the public air. And I urge the networks to join
him and undertake a very special mission on behalf of this industry.
You can tell your advertisers, "This is the high quality we are
going to serve -- take it or other people will. If you think you can
find a better place to move automobiles, cigarettes, and soap, then
go ahead and try." Tell your sponsors to be less concerned with
costs per thousand and more concerned with understanding per
millions. And remind your stockholders that an investment in
broadcasting is buying a share in public responsibility. The
networks can start this industry on the road to freedom from the
dictatorship of numbers.
But there is more to the problem than network influences on stations
or advertiser influences on networks. I know the problems networks
face in trying to clear some of their best programs -- the
informational programs that exemplify public service. They are your
finest hours, whether sustaining or commercial, whether regularly
scheduled or special. These are the signs that broadcasting knows
the way to leadership. They make the public's trust in you a wise
They should be seen. As you know, we are readying for use new forms
by which broadcast stations will report their programming to the
Commission. You probably also know that special attention will be
paid in these forms to reports of public service programming. I
believe that stations taking network service should also be required
to report the extent of the local clearance of network public
service programs, and when they fail to clear them, they should
explain why. If it is to put on some outstanding local program, this
is one reason. But if it is simply to run an old movie, that's an
entirely different matter. And the Commission should consider such
clearance reports carefully when making up its mind about the
licensee's over-all programming.
We intend to move -- and as you know, and as I want to say publicly,
the FCC was rapidly moving in other new areas before the new
Administration arrived in Washington. And I want to pay my public
respects to my very able predecessor, Fred Ford, and to my
colleagues on the Commission, each of whom has welcomed me to the
FCC with warmth and cooperation.
We have approved an experiment with pay TV, and in New York we are
testing the potential of UHF broadcasting. Either or both of these
may revolutionize television. Only a foolish prophet would venture
to guess the direction they will take, and their effect. But we
intend that they shall be explored fully, for they are part of
broadcasting's New Frontier. The questions surrounding pay TV are
largely economic. The questions surrounding UHF are largely
technological. We are going to give the infant -- the infant pay TV
a chance to prove whether it can offer a useful service; we are
going to protect it from those who would strangle it in its crib.
As for UHF, I'm sure you know about our test in the canyons of New
York City. We will take every possible positive step to break
through the allocations barrier into UHF. We will put this sleeping
giant to use and in the years ahead we may have twice as many
channels operating in cities where now there are only two or three.
We may have a half dozen networks instead of three.
I have told you that I believe in the free enterprise system. I
believe that most of television's problems stem from lack of
competition. This is the importance of UHF to me: with more channels
on the air, we will be able to provide every community with enough
stations to offer service to all parts of the public. Programs with
a mass market appeal required by mass product advertisers certainly
will still be available. But other stations will recognize the need
to appeal to more limited markets and to special tastes. In this
way, we can all have a much wider range of programs. Television
should thrive on this competition, and the country should benefit
from alternative sources of service to the public. And, Governor
Collins, I hope the NAB will benefit from many new members.
Another and perhaps the most important frontier: Television will
rapidly join the parade into space. International television will be
with us soon. No one knows how long it will be until a broadcast
from a studio in New York will be viewed in India as well as in
Indiana, will be seen in the Congo as it is seen in Chicago. But as
surely as we are meeting here today, that day will come; and once
again our world will shrink.
What will the people of other countries think of us when they see
our western bad men and good men punching each other in the jaw in
between the shooting? What will the Latin American or African child
learn of America from this great communications industry? We cannot
permit television in its present form to be our voice overseas.
There is your challenge to leadership. You must reexamine some
fundamentals of your industry. You must open your minds and open
your hearts to the limitless horizons of tomorrow. I can suggest
some words that should serve to guide you:
Television and all who participate in it are jointly accountable to
the American public for respect for the special needs of children,
for community responsibility, for the advancement of education and
culture, for the acceptability of the program materials chosen, for
decency and decorum in production, and for propriety in advertising.
This responsibility cannot be discharged by any given group of
programs, but can be discharged only through the highest standards
of respect for the American home, applied to every moment of every
program presented by television.
Program materials should enlarge the horizons of the viewer, provide
him with wholesome entertainment, afford helpful stimulation, and
remind him of the responsibilities which the citizen has towards his
Now those are not my words. They are yours. They are taken
literally, verbatim, from your own Television Code. They reflect the
leadership and aspirations of your own great industry. I urge you to
respect them as I do. And I urge you to respect the intelligent and
farsighted leadership of Governor LeRoy Collins, and to make this
meeting a creative act. I urge you at this meeting and, after you
leave, back home, at your stations and your networks, to strive
ceaselessly to improve your product and to better serve your
viewers, the American people.
I hope that we at the FCC will not allow ourselves to become so
bogged down in the mountain of papers, hearings, memoranda, orders,
and the daily routine that we close our eyes to this wider view of
the public interest. And I hope that you broadcasters will not
permit yourselves to become so absorbed in the daily chase for
ratings, sales, and profits that you lose this wider view. Now more
than ever before in broadcasting's history the times demand the best
of all of us.
We need imagination in programming, not sterility; creativity, not
imitation; experimentation, not conformity; excellence, not
mediocrity. Television is filled with creative, imaginative people.
You must strive to set them free.
Television in its young life has had many hours of greatness -- its
"Victory at Sea," its Army-McCarthy hearings, its "Peter Pan," its
"Kraft Theaters," its "See It Now," its "Project 20," the World
Series, its political conventions and campaigns, and the Great
Debates. And it's had its endless hours of mediocrity and its
moments of public disgrace. There are estimates today that the
average viewer spends about 200 minutes daily with television, while
the average reader spends 38 minutes with magazines, 40 minutes with
newspapers. Television has grown faster than a teenager, and now it
is time to grow up.
What you gentlemen broadcast through the people's air affects the
people's taste, their knowledge, their opinions, their understanding
of themselves and of their world -- and their future.
Just think for a moment of the impact of broadcasting in the past
few days. Yesterday was one of the great days of my life. Last week
the President asked me to ride over with him when he came to speak
here at the NAB. And when I went to the White House he said, "Do you
think it would be a good idea to take Commander Shepard?" And, of
course, I said it would be magnificent. And I was privileged to ride
here yesterday in a car with the President and the Vice President,
Commander and Mrs. Shepard. This was an unexpected, unscheduled
stop. And Commander Shepard said to me, "Where are we going?" "What
is this group?" And I said, "This is the National Association of
Broadcasters at its annual convention."
This is the group, this is the industry that made it possible for
millions of Americans to share with you that great moment in
history; that his gallant flight was witnessed by millions of
anxious Americans who saw in it an intimacy which they could achieve
through no other medium, in no other way. It was one of your finest
hours. The depth of broadcasting's contribution to public
understanding of that event cannot be measured. And it thrilled me
-- as a representative of the government that deals with this
industry -- to say to Commander Shepard the group that he was about
I say to you ladies and gentlemen -- I remind you what the President
said in his stirring inaugural. He said: Ask not what America can do
for you; ask what you can do for America."¹ I say to you ladies and
gentlemen: Ask not what broadcasting can do for you; ask what you
can do for broadcasting. And ask what broadcasting can do for
I urge you, I urge you to put the people's airwaves to the service
of the people and the cause of freedom. You must help prepare a
generation for great decisions. You must help a great nation fulfill
Do this! I pledge you our help.
Newton N. Minow