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Engineering the Public Interest, 1922-1925: Technological Rationality and Institutionalization of American Broadcasting
Unformatted Document Text:  1 Engineering the Public Interest, 1922-1925: Technological Rationality and Institutionalization of American Broadcasting Herbert Hoover, Secretary of Commerce, first introduced the principle of the public interest in the First National Radio Conference convened in February 1922 to develop the new phenomenon of broadcasting. Then, the public interest emerged as a leading regulatory principle through a series of National Radio Conferences between 1922 and 1925. The Radio Act of 1927 came to incorporate the phrase, the “pubic interest, convenience, and necessity,” as a legal cornerstone of the American commercial broadcasting system. When broadcasting emerged, it was praised as a new communicative tool to uplift democracy, culture, and education of the nation; and also considered as a new business area to mobilize profits through providing entertainment and consumer services. These two—often, conflicting—goals had created a great deal of controversies in policy discussions and choices in organizing American broadcasting. This study examines how technological rationality used the principle of the public interest in making policy decisions and formulating regulatory framework during the early years of institutionalizing broadcasting. For this purpose, both popular radio magazines published in the 1920s and documents of the four annual Radio Conferences will be used as major resources. These sources will allow this study to take a close look at policy and regulatory debates at several levels: administration, the radio industry (the market), and listeners. In the First Radio Conference, Hoover applied the public interest to curb amateurs’ use of the airwaves in order to secure the airwave bands for commercial broadcasting stations. He defined amateurs’ use as private against the public interest. The radio corporations—such as Radio Corporations of America (RCA), Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company

Authors: Baek, Misook.
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Engineering the Public Interest, 1922-1925:
Technological Rationality and Institutionalization of American Broadcasting
Herbert Hoover, Secretary of Commerce, first introduced the principle of the public
interest in the First National Radio Conference convened in February 1922 to develop the new
phenomenon of broadcasting. Then, the public interest emerged as a leading regulatory principle
through a series of National Radio Conferences between 1922 and 1925. The Radio Act of 1927
came to incorporate the phrase, the “pubic interest, convenience, and necessity,” as a legal
cornerstone of the American commercial broadcasting system.
When broadcasting emerged, it was praised as a new communicative tool to uplift
democracy, culture, and education of the nation; and also considered as a new business area to
mobilize profits through providing entertainment and consumer services. These two—often,
conflicting—goals had created a great deal of controversies in policy discussions and choices in
organizing American broadcasting.
This study examines how technological rationality used the principle of the public
interest in making policy decisions and formulating regulatory framework during the early years
of institutionalizing broadcasting. For this purpose, both popular radio magazines published in
the 1920s and documents of the four annual Radio Conferences will be used as major resources.
These sources will allow this study to take a close look at policy and regulatory debates at
several levels: administration, the radio industry (the market), and listeners.
In the First Radio Conference, Hoover applied the public interest to curb amateurs’ use
of the airwaves in order to secure the airwave bands for commercial broadcasting stations. He
defined amateurs’ use as private against the public interest. The radio corporations—such as
Radio Corporations of America (RCA), Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company


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