On this day in 1961, FCC Chairman Newton Minow proclaimed American television a "vast wasteland" in a speech to the American Association of Broadcasters.
In 1961 there were 3 channels, nearly all Americans still watched TV in black and white, and while vast might not be especially accurate, it was the wasteland part that caught the American public's attention.
When television is good, nothing—not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers—nothing is better.
But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.
The whole speech is pretty fascinating. It's a snapshot of attitudes from a different era.
47 years later, the vast part is no longer debatable, but we keep going at it on the wasteland question.
Part of Minow's fear was due to the shared view that broadcast spectrum was horrifically restricted:
I did not come to Washington to idly observe the squandering of the public's airwaves. The squandering of our airwaves is no less important than the lavish waste of any precious natural resource.
Needless to say, we seem to have found a work around on this question.
There'a also an interesting early statement on corporate social responsibility, which could easily be mistaken for something playing on CNBC as we speak:
You [broadcasters] can tell your advertisers, "This is the high quality we are going to serve -- take it or other people will. If you think you can find a better place to move automobiles, cigarettes, and soap, then go ahead and try." Tell your sponsors to be less concerned with costs per thousand and more concerned with understanding per millions. And remind your stockholders that an investment in broadcasting is buying a share in public responsibility.
Read or listen to the whole thing here.