50th Anniversary of Wasteland Speech

Friday, May 06, 2011


Fifty years ago, speaking to the National Association of Broadcasters, FCC Chairman Newton Minow called television a "vast wasteland." It was one of the most celebrated speeches ever delivered. WNYC’s Sara Fishko looks back at the seminal address.

Comments [9]

Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

Newt, himself, and the current Chair on C-SPAN this week, wow! Great minds think alike or is that group think?

May. 11 2011 02:34 PM
Ron Rosenthal from California

>The BBC is an example of government running the media. . . . it has a consistent left of center limited political point of view

Maybe the problem is your right of center view?

May. 10 2011 01:42 PM
Alan Smithee

TV is again a vast wasteland, with most quality programming rendered unwatchable by constant onscreen network and station logos (even our local PBS stations are using them!) and almost twice as much commercial time as there used to be, plus program-length 'infomercials'!

May. 09 2011 05:19 PM
John Rabe from Los Angeles

Nice piece, Sara!

Regarding Mr Margolis' comments, isn't there a clear distinction between, say, a newspaper, which uses its own property to publish and distribute, and a broadcaster, which uses what's considered public property (the airwaves)?

In any case, I did a long interview with Minow on my show Off-Ramp on 89.3-KPCC, and we've released an extended version as a podcast on i-Tunes or at http://www.scpr.org/programs/offramp/2011/05/09/. I also talked with historian Robt Thompson at Syracuse, and actor Don Murray, who said that TV pre-Minow was a vast wasteland for actors.

PS: No mention of the thing everyone under 50 knows Minow for? The namesake for the SS Minnow on "Gilligan's Island." It may not be vital, but it sure is lasting.

May. 09 2011 03:55 PM
Nell Minow

Great piece about my dad and his speech! My dad's work both at the FCC and thereafter was never about canceling anyone's license. It was about expanding choice, which is why his two biggest initiatives at the FCC were requiring all televisions to have UHF receivers (with the first ever production of silicon chips for consumer use) and the launch of the first ever telecommunications satellite (leading to superstations, cell phones, etc.). I'd say that was a success.

You can watch his 50th anniversary update on C-SPAN (another thing he made possible) tonight.

Oh, and can you correct the spelling of our name? It's Minow, one n.

May. 09 2011 02:42 PM
D Hoag

The BBC is an example of government running the media. While much of its nonpolitical reporting and programming is of high quality, it has a consistent left of center limited political point of view.

I find it extremely discouraging that in this country, where we have a constitutional right to free speech, the left thinks they can force "public interest programming" on the listening and viewing public.

The real agenda of the left is to silence political speech of the right. Once the right is silenced then their point of view will once again dominate media, much like the BBC does in Britian.

May. 08 2011 08:16 PM
R Bryant from Princeton, NJ

Interesting piece on the insightful thoughts of Newton Minnow and the widespread de-emphasis of programming for the "public good" in the Johnson Administration. To that point, it was in reality the Assassination of President Kennedy that was responsible for that change. Much was lost with his death and some of us are still scratching our heads. Thank you for refreshing us on the important "Vast Wasteland" speech. How true it is.

May. 08 2011 01:28 PM
S Katz

Excellent segment: I sat in the car, and listened, with the engine off. Truly another classic NPR 'driveway' moment.

And as someone who used to work for NPR and has become disaffected since the 1980s, I have to tip my hat at OTM generally, for a job well done.

May. 08 2011 10:40 AM
Joel Margolis from Herndon, VA

According to the narrator of "50th Anniversary of Wasteland Speech," the National Association of Broadcasters considered the Vast Wasteland speech a "bombshell" because it threatened to restrain them from "making money." Was that the NAB's only objection? Or did the speech also pose a risk that the FCC would violate the First Amendment by regulating programing content?

I'm surprised NPR overlooked the First Amendment issue. The organization is, after all, a collection of broadcast stations.


May. 07 2011 08:31 AM

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