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Engineering the Public Interest, 1922-1925: Technological Rationality and Institutionalization of American Broadcasting
Unformatted Document Text:  16 member of the Institute of Radio Engineers argued that broadcasting was fundamentally a technical problem. They thought that engineers should play a special role in deciding national radio policy of whether the government should authorize high-power stations based on the judgment on the amount of interference their transmitters would produce. Supporters argued that superpower signified scientific and technological progress and should be authorized. At a purely technical level, their contention was true because interference was partly resulted from the technical limitation in fully using the airwave spectrum. It also appealed to average listeners because the radio issue was narrowed down to their everyday life experience of interference. 40 In the debate, elite radio engineers extended their scientific authority beyond technological areas and translated the public interest standard in instrumental quantitative terms. Goldsmith contended that regulation “must be guided by the idea of the greatest good for the greatest number.” The superintendent of radio operations at Westinghouse, C.W. Horn, testified that “the public wants the big features that occur, wherever they occur.” Their languages reflected particular social and economic views. Still to emphasize their neutral position, a GE executive noted at the Conference that their radio engineers were attending as representatives of a professional engineering association, not as company employees. 41 Against such technical framing, Cyrill Jansky, an important engineer, joined opponents of superpower and urged the Conference participants to take into account not only the engineering factors but also the economic, political, and social aspects. Jansky and other opponents pressed Hoover to evaluate the impact of superpower broadcasts on local, low power stations. A participant from Boston criticized radio experts for making unrealistic judgments about interference based on “superior equipment” to tune out superpower stations, which the average listener did not own. He emphasized that his position was taken “from the viewpoint of the listener-in entirely” drawn from the public survey and supported the interconnecting of local

Authors: Baek, Misook.
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16
member of the Institute of Radio Engineers argued that broadcasting was fundamentally a
technical problem. They thought that engineers should play a special role in deciding national
radio policy of whether the government should authorize high-power stations based on the
judgment on the amount of interference their transmitters would produce. Supporters argued that
superpower signified scientific and technological progress and should be authorized. At a purely
technical level, their contention was true because interference was partly resulted from the
technical limitation in fully using the airwave spectrum. It also appealed to average listeners
because the radio issue was narrowed down to their everyday life experience of interference.
40
In the debate, elite radio engineers extended their scientific authority beyond
technological areas and translated the public interest standard in instrumental quantitative terms.
Goldsmith contended that regulation “must be guided by the idea of the greatest good for the
greatest number.” The superintendent of radio operations at Westinghouse, C.W. Horn, testified
that “the public wants the big features that occur, wherever they occur.” Their languages
reflected particular social and economic views. Still to emphasize their neutral position, a GE
executive noted at the Conference that their radio engineers were attending as representatives of
a professional engineering association, not as company employees.
41
Against such technical framing, Cyrill Jansky, an important engineer, joined opponents
of superpower and urged the Conference participants to take into account not only the
engineering factors but also the economic, political, and social aspects. Jansky and other
opponents pressed Hoover to evaluate the impact of superpower broadcasts on local, low power
stations. A participant from Boston criticized radio experts for making unrealistic judgments
about interference based on “superior equipment” to tune out superpower stations, which the
average listener did not own. He emphasized that his position was taken “from the viewpoint of
the listener-in entirely” drawn from the public survey and supported the interconnecting of local


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