by Roy Cohen
Democrats have themselves to blame for their lack of overall power and the huge red blobs of rural America on political maps. For 60 years, they haven’t been strategic, have bickering amongst themselves, focused on their own pet issues and specific constituency needs at the expense of winning elections. The last Democrat to appoint a Chief Justice was Harry Truman in 1946.
But wait. There is more. Right wing talk radio. Democrats simply accept it.
They ignore it. Just like they accept and ignore the other major threats Americans are faced with by the rightwing powerful moneyed interests in this country.
Here is some history and here are some facts from a guy who studied it in college and worked in the commercial TV industry for more than a decade:
The Federal Radio Commission was established in 1927 by Congress to license and regulate radio broadcasters in the US.
It was an ineffective disaster.
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In 1934, Congress passed the “Communications Act of 1934”, which today regulates most aspects of commercial and non-commercial broadcasting over the air in the USA. It also regulates common communications carriers with some limitations, as well as the technical aspects of microwave and radar communications. The Act created the Federal Communications Commission and empowered it to create and enforce federal regulations to implement and enforce the requirements laid out in the statute.
The FCC consists of 7 Commissioners appointed by the President and ratified by the Senate. One of the 7 is appointed Chairman. 4 of the seats are to be held by the Party in control of the Executive Branch, 3 the minority party.
And so Part 73 of the FCC Rules and Regulations governs/regulates broadcast licensees, i.e. radio and TV over the air stations.
A large part of that regulation is technical: allocation of operating channels, power requirements and limitations, frequency assignments and limits, etc.
There are esoteric and mundane record-keeping requirements, logging requirements, etc. At one time the FCC licensed commercial transmitter engineers.
The FCC also licenses and regulates Amateur Radio Operators, (“Ham” Radio) in the US.
The FCC does a lot of things, but let’s focus on a couple:
1. Licensing of broadcasters:
At one time broadcast, licensees were required to operate “in the public interest, convenience, and necessity.” Licenses are issued to a given city or other local governmental jurisdiction. Example: KPRC-TV, Houston. The owner of that TV station was required to ascertain community needs and propose to the FCC how it would or in case of renewal. is fulfilling those needs. Same thing with AM and FM radio.
Until the 1980’s much of this was sacrosanct and standard practice.
There was a very famous case involving a radio station in Red Lion, Pennsylvania. It involved broadcast defamation of an individual (s) and controversial issues. The outcome of the “Red Lion Case” prohibited on air defamation of private citizens and required licensees to offer equal opportunity to air all sides of a controversial issue of public importance.
This became known as “The FCC Fairness Doctrine”.
The Communications Act of 1934 gives the FCC enforcement powers, which are fines of various amounts, up to and including forfeiture of the station’s license to broadcast. The only defense a licensee has to a ruling against it by the FCC is a lawsuit in federal district court.
Because of all of these public interest requirements, until the 1980’s radio and TV national networks, consisting of owned and operated stations, as well as independently owned but affiliated stations, would handle their network news operations almost as a public trust. There was no profit motive pressure and generally no pressure from the “suits upstairs” influencing how news was covered. It was to be covered professionally objectively and to the highest journalistic standards. And for the most part, it was. The edgiest stand that gave CBS bosses ulcers was Edward R. Murrow taking on Senator Joseph McCarthy and bringing him down.
And then along came the 1980’s and Ronald Reagan.
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Longtime initial owners of ABC, CBS, and NBC, sold out to major corporate interests. Network news operations were now profit centers with SOME remaining semblances of fair journalism. The Reagan Administration gradually began lifting limitations on the number of broadcast licenses any entity could hold. And in 1987 it and Congress, with the stupid acquiescence of the standard cluelessness of Democrats, did away with the FCC Fairness Doctrine. The stated justification was “natural proliferation of media through cable TV and other means naturally provide ample opportunity for all sides of issues to be heard.”
In the background, AM station licensees had been financially suffering. With the development of much higher bandwidth and stereo technology on the FM broadcast band, most radio music programming was migrating to FM stations. That left AM licensees with the dilemma of what to program and how to pay for it.
News is expensive to program. It requires a large team of reporters, remote capabilities, etc. Sports programming also has high operating costs related to it.
The solution? Some guy sitting at a microphone talking to listeners and listeners joining the conversation by phone. That would be dirtbag cheap.
However, the talk had to attract a lot of listeners who would demonstrate loyalty and come back again and again, i.e., a loyal, dependable audience that could be sold to advertisers.
Only one problem: that pesky Fairness Doctrine. It put a damper on being able to have a stable, consistent audience and added to costs.
And so, the National Association of Broadcasters lobbied Reagan and Congress to get rid of it in 1987.
Within 6 weeks, Rush Limbaugh was syndicated nationally and the long nightmare of national and local right wing talk radio commenced.
What did the Democrats do about it? Not a GD thing. They ignored it. Pretended it wasn’t there. Pretended there was no problem.
A few attempts were made at liberal talk radio. No one listened.
Limbaugh was particularly effective because not only is he wickedly smart and a con man with an authoritative “radio” voice, but he was on air 3 hours a day, 5 days a week, midday. When salespeople, truck drivers, and other middle and lower middle class, people easily sold on resentment were available in their cars and trucks, as were middle age and older white heartland stay at home wives, as well as working wives who could listen to the radio while working.
Eventually, Multimillionaire Texan radio pioneer in San Antonio, Lowry Mays, founder of Clear Channel AM station WOAI Radio and Clear Channel Communications, set up Premiere Networks, a syndicator that contracted and held rights to Rush Limbaugh’s program.
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Limbaugh made so much money that he left NYC, bitching about high NY taxes, and set up a studio in a monster mansion he ensconced himself in, in Palm Beach.
Meanwhile a dozen others were emulating him, most of them successfully.
And still the Democrats ignored it.
The wingnut audience grew and grew. Many radio stations developed their OWN local right wing blabbermouths to compliment the nation wingnut blabbermouths.
Dan Patrick and later, Michael Berry, a former city councilman, got into the act in Houston.
In 2004 Rush Limbaugh made it his mission to destroy South Dakota Democratic Senator Tom Daschle, an intelligent, mild-mannered quiet man who rose to become Democratic Majority Leader.
Limbaugh BRANDED HIM. Branded him as BAD. A leftist. A socialist.
In 2004, 17 years after Limbaugh went on the air, John Kerry and Tom Daschle lost their races.
Daschle held a press conference the next morning. A reporter asked him, on live TV, “Senator, what role do you think Rush Limbaugh played in your defeat?”
Daschle looked at him quizically, like a deer caught in headlights.
The reporter repeated the question.
Daschle looked at him, thought for a moment , and then said, “Gee. I never thought of that. Maybe we should look into it.”
Really Senator? Effing REALLY? Limbaugh had been on the air 17 frickin’ years and it never occurred to you that Limbaugh is a force to be reckoned with, not ignored? REALLY?????? Senator EVERYBODY BUT YOU DEMOCRATIC POLITICIANS KNOW WHAT LIMBAUGH IS DOING AND HOW CHARMING AND FRICKIN’ DANGEROUS HE IS. YOUR CLUELESSNESS COST YOU YOUR SENATE SEAT.
And now a digression: US law and FCC rules require a broadcast station license to be less than 10% controlled by foreign entities. So what did then Australian citizen Rupert Murdoch do in 1986? He purchased 6 major markets, Metromedia owned TV stations to form the core of the new Fox Television Network. How did he get away with it? The Reagan Administration gave him a waiver through the FCC. He ultimately became a US citizen some time later. It could have been stopped. Democrats didn’t even make the sound of a whimper.
Back to 1927: a part of the law that created the FRC required that qualified candidates for public office, within 60 days of a general election or 45 days of a primary, be afforded equal time on broadcast stations to air their political speech. It required the airtime be sold at lowest unit out teach candidate. If one candidate was given an hour, the opponents were to be given an hour. It also indemnified the station licensee from anything aired by the candidate. Legitimate news coverage was exempt from any of these requirements.
This portion of the 1927 law was incorporated as Section 315 of the Communications Act of 1934 as Amended and is in effect today, with only minor amendments. It is known as the “Equal Time” law.
Penalty to a station licensee for violating Section 315 can be a fine at a minimum of $5000 on up to and including forfeiture of the station’s broadcast license, usually with millions of dollars.
Separate from the Communications Act of 1934 is a Federal statute that bars broadcast licensees from broadcasting “profanity, obscenity, or indecency”.
Similar penalties to licensees are associated with this statute also.
Note: it is NOT the program producer or network/syndicator that distributes the program that is liable. It is the individual station licensee.
This brings us to Friday and Rush Limbaugh airing a 2 hour, self-styled “Trump Rally” over several hundred radio stations. During that “rally”, Trump uttered a curse word live on the air.
If the airtime was not news content but campaigning, the station licensees are indemnified under Section 315 from that obscene utterance. By the same token, EVERY RADIO STATION IN AMERICA WHO CARRIED THAT CAMPAIGN “RALLY” IS LEGALLY OBLIGATED TO GRANT Joe Biden’s Campaign 2 FREE HOURS of weekday airtime. Hundreds of stations nationwide.
I find no evidence whatsoever of the Biden Campaign asking for even a millisecond of time. They have a 7 day window to do it by law.
It isn’t just about the free airtime. It is about putting iHeart Radio and other broadcasters on notice that they CANNOT flout the law and simply bash the Democratic candidates and provide them no platform. The price to be paid could actually jeopardize their license to broadcast.
Michael Berry at KTRH gave Dan Crenshaw an hour of free, glowing interview in afternoon drive time, which is premium airtime. Sima L was neither notified nor given the opportunity of equal time. Berry’s questions and discussion amounted to endorsing him and slamming Sima. That is NOT covering a bonafide news story. It is not at all clear that it is exempt.
It is against the law.
And what are the “oh woe is me nothing we can do about the right wing GOP/Conservative talk radio propaganda machine during this opportune 60 day window.
Just try to call the Biden people and tell them. No phone number to call. Maybe Beto could tell them. Oops. No way to call Beto.
Gilberto Hinajosa? Hah! IF one could get him on the phone he wouldn’t understand or press Biden or Jennifer O’Mally Dillon.
Tom Perez? You can’t even GET to a live human at DNC via phone.
As Democrats we do this crap to ourselves.
This is a rare opportunity to put right wing radio on notice that we will make every attempt to jam it to them/ hurt them financially or otherwise from a regulatory standpoint if they do not play by the rules 60 days before an election. They are sitting ducks.
It is one of the most powerful arrows in our arsenal today.
And we are gonna let ’em fly or swim away. Wasting it.