Newton Minow 50th

Doug Drown
Tue May 17 22:41:12 EDT 2011

There were many cities, particularly smaller ones, that didn't have ABC 
affiliates until the mid- to late '60s.  The local NBC and CBS stations 
would share secondary affiliations with ABC.  I remember those days well. 
Despite its having a number of hit shows, ABC --- like Fox, more 
recently --- was sort of the "also-ran" network for many years.  I don't 
recall the specifics of what helped turn that around, but I'm sure the 
beefing-up of its news operations bore some significance in the 
rocess.  -Doug

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "A Joseph Ross" <>
To: <>
Sent: Tuesday, May 17, 2011 9:03 PM
Subject: Re: Newton Minow 50th

> 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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