Newton Minow 50th

A Joseph Ross
Tue May 17 21:03:39 EDT 2011

On 5/12/2011 7:07 PM, Laurence Glavin wrote:

> 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
>'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.

I think there were several issues at the time.  It's true that by 1961 a 
lot more cities had three commercial stations, but there were still 
many, admittedly smaller, TV markets that did not.  And even in larger 
markets the arrival of a third station was very recent.  In Boston, the 
third commercial station came on in 1957, just four years earlier.  I've 
also read somewhere that ABC didn't reach parity in affiliates with the 
other two networks until sometime in the mid to late 1960s.

And even three commercial stations was just one per network, leaving 
little room for syndicated or locally-produced programming.  Requiring 
all new TVs to have UHF reception capability greatly expanded the number 
of stations that could go on the air.


A. Joseph Ross, J.D.                     617.367.0468
92 State Street, Suite 700          Fax: 617.507.7856
Boston, MA 02109-2004

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