Boob Tube – Idiot Box – Savior Of Mankind – Television In 1940 – Past Daily Reference Room
Click on the link here for Audio Player – Sen. Ernest Lundeen Discusses Future of Television and The FCC – April 1940 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection
When Television was in the experimental stage – when it was just at the dawn of being realized as a communication medium, there were grave doubts over its future.
The parties responsible for Radio were clamoring at the possibilities that Television would be a wonderful Advertising medium. And that’s what worried the FCC. In 1940, it was a big source of concern that the Public Interest (remember that?) would not be served by Television, much the same way Radio had fallen into the Advertising trap. Radio, it was argued, wasn’t fulfilling its original promise of being the Great Communication Tool – the medium by which all the great ideas and cultural benefits, promised by radio in the beginning, were being chipped away in favor of Ad dollars.
So how was it going to be any different with Television? One of the early developers of Television was RCA, who also owned NBC. RCA went to great lengths, and an extensive promotion/publicity campaign to convince the public that Radio had indeed fulfilled its promise, that it was being used in schools, that Radio was one of the great purveyors of Art and Culture. And that they would do the same thing with Television. And to prove that point, RCA set up an elaborate exhibit at the New York World’s Fair in 1939 just to show how wrong the skeptics could be.
It proved to be one of the hits of the Fair. The idea that Television, no matter how crude it actually was at the time, still tantalized the public in a way only comparable to the present day Electronics shows. The possibilities, it was universally agreed, were endless.
But the FCC was skeptical, since it was a case of “once bitten – twice shy”, and urged halting of any further commercial development of Television until these issues were sorted out.
Well. Needless to say, that idea didn’t sit very well with RCA and anyone else involved in development of Television. RCA quickly withdrew their massive advertising and promotion campaign and instead focused on lobbying those members of Congress who would persuade the FCC, via Capitol Hill, to reconsider their provocative stance.
One of those members of Congress appealing for the FCC to reconsider its position was Senator Ernest Lundeen, a member of the Interstate Commerce Committee and a somewhat controversial figure from Minnesota. Aside from being an isolationist, and under investigation by the FBI for allegedly being a Nazi sympathizer, he was very much in favor of the commercial possibilities of Television and was heading up an Interstate Commerce Committee to investigate the FCC over the Television issue.
His argument was “Let Television Advance”. He believed the Government was acting out of bounds when it proposed putting a temporary moratorium on the further development of Television and wanted to investigate what its motives were, saying that Television had every right to be a commercial enterprise.
Had he known then what we know now . . . .or perhaps he did.
Here is that discussion, as aired over NBC and Mutual in April of 1940.