This is the History section of
The Broadcast Archive

Maintained by:
Barry Mishkind - The Eclectic Engineer
Last update: 4/23/09

How was early radio regulated?

Before 1910, there were no restrictions on who could build and operate a radio station. Regulation began following the Berlin Convention in 1906, which was where call letters were first assigned to individual nations.

Department of Commerce, Bureau of Navigation:

Original regulation fell under the purview of the Secretary of the DOC. The Radio Act of June 24, 1910 led to the creation of the Radio Division of the DOC on July 11, 1911. It quickly became clear the new medium was outrunning the legal system. Court challenges rapidly diluted the minimal control exercised by the Commerce Department.

The Federal Radio Commission:

The FRC was created February 23, 1927, by the Radio Act of 1927 to deal with the 732 stations now on the air. While progress was made, and some of the regulations tried to "catch up" with the fledgling industry, this Act did not close all the regulatory loopholes, leading toward ...

The Federal Communications Commission:

Further regulatory needs were filled with the Communications Act of 1934, when the FCC was created. It opened on 7/11/34. With some modifications by Congress, this has served as the basis for Communications Law ever since.

How can I find original records of broadcast stations?

The FCC has a library and information on all current broadcast stations, available in the Public Referene Reading Room (CY-A257) at the FCC offices in "The Portal" at 445 12th Street SW in Washington, DC (Metro: Smithsonian or L'Efant Plaza Stations). However, for most individual station files, you must make a request the materials in advance of the date you wish to see them.

How can I get information about a station that went off the air in 1925?

All station records prior to 1984 and all stations that have ceased operation are sent to the archives at the Washington National Records Center in Suitland, MD, where these records live (?). Again, a request must be made at the FCC Public Information Reading Room is needed to have the records made available for inspection. 

The condition of the records is deteriorating, as can be seen from the following pictures of the 52-A-51 series of archives. Yes, they are kept in boxes as shown. The manila folders are acid based, so when you pick your way through these brittle folders, your hands start to "burn" slightly. Still, seeing the original licenses for some of the pioneer stations is quite a thrill for the intrepid researcher. (Pictured below is James Snyder, HDTV engineer, and Oldradio researcher.)


Station License and Logging notes

Licenses for Operators

Operators (engineers) have been licensed for most of the history of broadcasting. The earliest licenses appear to be more focused on the station than the operator, but this was changed over time.


Some more detailed information on the history of station and operator licenses is found on Harold Hallikainen's site: