Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
This dissertation re-examines a particular period of American broadcasting regulation in the 1920s, namely the "chaos" period traditionally labeled as the brief time in between the breakdown of federal radio regulation in early 1926 and the passage of the Radio Act of 1927. Using the ideas of heteroglossia and vernacular discourse drawn respectively from Mikhail Bakhtin and Gerard Hauser, I argue that the media scholarship understanding of chaos needs to be expanded beyond the conventional interpretation of a fatalistic moment which inevitably resulted in the support for broadcast commercialization on a national scale. This theoretical expansion reflects three trends that can be studied in this period: several years of uncertainty in regulatory decision-making, the attempted emergence of a greater variety of stations, and a substantive public debate about the direction of regulation towards commercialization. Chaos can ultimately be looked at as a positive term with ties to the traditional ideal of public interest in broadcasting.
I explore three levels and local examples of public discourse to make this argument about chaos, in the process concentrating on Chicago area stations, in particular WCFL and WJAZ, and their experiences during this period. First of all, congressional records of debate over radio regulation as well as the early actions of the Federal Radio Commission establish a level of governmental discourse that struggled to rationalize the elimination of stations towards network commercialization. Second, trade journals such as Radio Broadcast reflect a level of public discourse in close collaboration with regulators, but also reflective of listener voices resistant to the predominance of big commercial stations. Thirdly, WCFL programming, as characterized differently by both Chicago newspaper accounts and station literature, is regarded as contemporary evidence of the heteroglossic and vernacular quality of local broadcasting in urban environments, to be affected negatively by the regulatory turn towards the networks. Re-exploring this period with a more positive evaluation of "chaos," however, can aid scholars in drawing on historical support for media reform movements in an ever-changing communication environment.
Copyright 2009 James Herbert Pobst