1961: Newton Minnow gives his “Wasteland Speech”

This one is under the wire for the month for it happened on May 9, 1961; roughly four years into the new Kennedy administration, FCC Chairman Newton Minnow declares American TV a vast wasteland. Pretty funny given that there were only three broadcast networks to choose from if you live in the big cities; my adopted home of Austin didn’t have a dedicated ABC affiliate until 1971! Not sure about the non-affiliated stations yet but again, I think you had to live in a metropolis. Mr. Minnow is still alive too. I’m sure he has quite choice words given all the selections we have via digital transmissions (over the air), cable/satellite and streaming.

Truth be told, he was a proponent of TV being more than just an outlet for entertainment because PBS didn’t exist and the commercial stations were abandoning their public-service obligations in the name of profit. He wanted the networks to move more towards being a hybrid of the BBC and what they currently were. The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) hated him and were pissed at JFK for appointing him. When LBJ got the job, he made sure Minnow was out yet as I blathered on in an earlier post celebrating NPR turning 50, PBS’ creation may have been the compromise.

I think Minnow remains semi-pleased. Documentaries are more popular today than they may have been 60 years ago. You can find scores of them on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max and not just PBS. He may still take issue over all these outlets being pay channels instead of being free. However, the FCC has little say on what streaming services show even though they’re transmit on the people’s Internet.

His other lasting contribution to Pop Culture? TV Producer and King of Schmaltz, Sherwood Schwartz wasn’t a fan of Newton’s tenure at the FCC. It’s why he named the ill-fated boat the S.S. Minnow for his low-brow hit comedy Gilligan’s Island.

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