Newton Minow 50th
Thu May 12 19:07:01 EDT 2011
Earlier this week, several sources marked the 50th anniversary of the famous Newton Minow "vast wasteland"
speech by reprinting it, or in at least one case, interviewing him about it. The latter was the approach of "Advertising
Age" magazine, which included one puzzling line. At the time he delivered the speech he was about to
commence his two-year-or-so tenure at the FCC, but he apparently didn't have a grasp of the broadcast TV
universe about which he was commenting. Here's a direct quote from the "Advertising Age" interview:
"The choice was extremely narrow. Many cities had only one TV station, some had two, a few had three."
He did note that New York and LA had seven (channel 13 in NYC was still commercial, in fact licensed to
Newark, NJ). He made the comment here in the spring of 2011, not when he delivered the speech; but
it appears that this was probably his mindset in 1961. Remember, except for the true pioneer telecasters
that began transmitting pre-WWII, a sizable number of TV stations started appearing in 1948, thirteen years
earlier. By then, Milton Berle and "I Love Lucy" had demonstrated the appeal and possible profitablity of
television, abnd the decades of the late 50s and early 60s were marked by stations falling all over themselves
in a rush to get on-the-air. I knew he was off-the-mark with that observation, so I went to
americanradiohistory.com's website to check how many cities had three or more commercial VHF
television stations, and came up with nearly 50 cities with that number: Albuquerque, NM (3); Amarillo, TX
(3); Atlanta, GA (3); Baltimore, MD (3); Boston, MA (3); Buffalo, NY (3); Chattanooga, TN (3); Chicago, Il (4);
Cincinnati, OH (3); Cleveland, OH (3); Columbus, OH (3); Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX (4); Denver, CO (4); Des Moines
/Ames, IA (3); Detroit, MI (3 + Windsor, Canada); El Paso, TX (3); Fargo/Valley City, ND (3); Honolulu,
HI (3); Houston, TX (3); Indianapolis, IN (3); Kansas City, MO (3); Las Vegas, Henderson, NV (3); Little
Rock, AR (3); Los Angeles, CA (7); Memphis, TN (3); Miami, FL (3); Minneapolis/St. Paul (4 not including
the fictional WJM-TV); Nashville, TN (3); New Orleans, LA (3); New York, NY (7); Norfolk, Portsmouth, VA (3);
Oklahoma City, OK (3); Omaha, NE (3); Philadelphia, Pa (3); Phoenix, AZ (4); Pittsburgh, PA (3); Portland, ME
(3...I'm including channel 8 atop Mt. Washington, NH); Portland, OR (4); Sacramento/Stockton, CA (3);
Saint Louis, MO (4); Salt Lake City, UT (3); San Antonio, TX (3); San Diego, CA/Tijuana, Mexico (3);
Seattle/Tacoma, WA (4...when I lived there, channel 11 was a Seattle-oriented station, channel 13
was really a Tacoma outlet); Spokane, WA (3); Tucson, AZ (3); Tulsa, OK (3); Washington, DC (4).
I culled these numbers from the Whites radio/TV logs and Broadcasting Yearbooks for 1961. By the
time 1962 and 1963 arrived, new VHFs popped up in Corpus Christi, TX; the upstate NY cities of Syracuse,
Albany, and Rochester; Charleston, SC; and a little later, Largo, FL just outside of Tampa, making these
metropolitan areas also 3-station markets. With a few exceptions, the overwhelming majority of people in
the US who depended on over-the-air broadcasts (there were nascent Community Antenna markets
in hilly or rural areas) could get at least three commercial stations, and at the same time, actual
educational stations on the VHF band (the precursors of "public TV") were coming on-the-air in several
major markets ( one commercial V in the NYC market switched to non-comm status at about that time).
So-called non- or de-intermixed cities like Springfield, MA or Scranton/Wilkes Barre, PA had viable UHF
outlets, but elsewhere UHF stations languished as silent ststions until Mr. Minow got the all-channel
TV set law passed during his tenure. If you go to Broadcasting Magazine's Yearbook for 1961, you may be
surprised to see how many UHF stations were listed as off-the-air, but had not turned in their licenses yet!
If the other Newt ever shows up at a lecture here in Boston or on a talk show and repeats his assertion
that only a FEW cities had as many as three TV stations, I may have to set him straight.
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