This is the General History Section of
The Broadcast Archive
Barry Mishkind - The Eclectic Engineer
THE CLEAR-CHANNEL MATTER
This is the fifth in a series of six
articles about the history of clear-channel AM radio stations.
time, we discussed the FCC’s landmark 1961 Report and Order that duplicated 13
of the 25 1-A clear channels. It wasn’t long before Class II stations began
turning up in the Western states. Nighttime radio reception would be changed
forever. In that Report and Order,
the FCC noted the remaining 12 unduplicated 1-A channels would be protected for
only three more years while it considered potential “super-power.” It
temporarily froze all applications that might conflict with super-power
operation on those 12 channels. The 1961 FCC vote was not unanimous.
Commissioner Robert E. Lee’s voice was heard in strong dissent; he continued
to advocate super-power as the correct approach to nighttime “white-area”
coverage. In spite of Lee’s eloquence, momentum was building toward
the breakdown of the remaining 12 clears.
1961 order was a significant victory for opponents of the clear-channel
broadcasters, but the order triggered an avalanche of reaction. Attorneys and
lobbyists stalking the halls of Congress are expected as a matter of daily
political life. Groundswell opinion from the masses is another matter and there
may be no advocacy tool more effective than a 50-kW powerhouse exhorting its
listeners to “contact your congressman so your radio service doesn’t go
away.” The Clear Channel
Broadcasting Service launched a massive publicity campaign and political
crusade. Bills were introduced in
Congress to stop the 1-A duplication and to authorize super-power. In the end,
they didn’t pass. The other side had a larger voice.
Congress stirred the pot via HR 714, suggesting that the FCC grant a one-year
stay of the 1961 order, “to allow all Class 1-A clear channel stations to file
for higher power.” Some
clear-channel broadcasters responded immediately. The record shows the following
17, 1962: WLW(AM) applied for 750 kW on 700
18, 1962: WJR(AM) applied for 750 kW on 760 (KFMB agreed not to protest)
20, 1962: WSM(AM) applied for 750 kW on 650
12, 1962: WGN(AM) applied for 750 kW on 720
16, 1962: WHO(AM) applied for 750 kW on 1040
applications were all denied a few weeks later, the commission saying that
super-power could only be authorized through the process of rule making. In
response, the CCBS immediately sought such a rule making, “to permit power in
excess of 50 kW by all Class 1-A stations.” The CCBS request and others before the FCC would be
disregarded for more than a dozen years. HR 714 accomplished nothing.
1-A stations tried other approaches. In
1963, WLW and KSL filed applications for experimental authorization, at powers
of 750 and 500 KW respectively. In that same year at least two stations, WGN and
WJR, went before a court of appeals to challenge the FCC order denying their
super-power applications. The courts turned them down.
In a separate request, dated June 19, 1964, WCCO, citing its “critical
Civil Defense obligations,” filed a petition for rule making asking for 750 kW
“developmental/test authority” on 830. The FCC returned the WCCO application
on July 2, 1967. All of these
filings for super-power were attended by exceptional publicity generated by the
applicants. The CCBS pulled out all
the stops, suggesting national defense communications would be imperiled and
noting that super-power authorizations would put the United States in a better
bargaining positioning with the Mexicans, with respect to that country’s “Border
1962 the FCC reaffirmed its 1961 order duplicating 13 of the clears.
They reiterated the goal of providing “at least four dependable
night-time signals to the entire country”.
They saw the problem as follows: “Is white-area night-time service best
achieved by adding duplicate stations on the 1-A channels, or by permitting high
power on a few “national stations”?
course there was another solution available, but the FCC still wouldn’t
consider FM as a radio service and it ignored NBC’s proposal that the
commission authorize FM stations in the white areas, in lieu of duplicating
service on the AM clears.
Commissioner Robert E. Lee dissented strongly. He continued to promote
super-power and suggested the majority of the commissioners were “sparring
with windmills” in their rush to a duplication of the clears.
The lobbying and maneuvering would go on for another 18 years! Most of
the members of the Clear Channel Broadcasting Service urged their listeners to
turn up the heat on their congressmen, “so you don’t lose your Full Service
Radio.” Clear-channel stations
broadcast promos around the clock and published “educational” literature
supporting “the protection of full-service radio.”
the broadcasters worked to stir up public reaction, the FCC seemed to be doing
its part to nourish the angst. In
1966 the commission staff suggested publicly that 650, 830, 870, 1040, 1160 and
1200 “best met staff criteria for use of super-power.” That sent a signal to the industry that the issue was still
alive. And one day in late 1975,
the FCC issued yet another trial balloon. The headline in the Washington Star
read “FCC Ready to OK Super-Power Radio on 10-12 Channels.” The story quoted
FCC sources and made it clear that super-power authority was indeed a
weeks later the commission announced Docket 20642, re-opening the clear-channel
inquiry that had been terminated with the Report and Order of 1961. The
commissioners planned to deal with the super-power requests from CCBS, WSM, WCCO,
WWL and others that had been on file for more than a decade.
Their intent was to finally bring the entire clear-channel matter to a
conclusion, but it would be five years more before the FCC completed the
destruction of night time clear-channel service. The 1975 notice asked for
extensive and qualitative data to support the coming judgment. To evaluate
actual listening conditions, the Clear Channel Broadcasting Service commissioned
nighttime listening tests of all 1-A stations.
Station engineers recorded each other at night and prepared the tapes for
submission to the FCC.
re-opening the matter, the FCC also asked for information on the potential
social and economic impact of operation in excess of 50 kW. Among the issues was
the FCC’s concern that super-power would place an undue concentration of
influence in the hands of a few; that this could impact the national advertising
picture and perhaps even hinder the ability of smaller stations to secure
network affiliations. Music to the ears of the opposition!
1975 notice also asked the 1-A licensees to declare whether, and at what level,
they would apply for super-power, if that were the recommended solution. On the
flip side of that coin, the FCC asked for comments on whether it should simply
eliminate sky-wave protection altogether on the 1-A channels.
This unfortunate proposal was stimulated by certain congressmen goaded
into action without the benefit of engineering realities by the Daytime
1975 docket was the beginning of the end of clear-channel operation and the
final trauma in a matter nearly half a century old. With the stakes involved,
the paper record was incredible. In response to the 1975 proceeding, many early
ideas on how to serve white areas were dusted off, refined and resubmitted.
Among them was a proposal to use the band 150 to 185 kHz for extended
ground-wave coverage. The
Corporation for Public Broadcasting, looking for frequencies, suggested a
reduction in channel spacing to 9 kHz or even 8 kHz and suggested expanding the
band above 1600 and below 540 kHz. The
NAB even suggested using FM translators to extend AM coverage! And for the first
time, the FCC suggested in its 1975 notice that FM might be included in
calculating nighttime service areas.
the Daytime Broadcasters Association was back. This time they proposed an
extension of Pre-Sunrise and Post-Sunset Authority. Later, they would propose
breaking up the clears to provide additional Class IV local stations, even
suggesting that 1-A operators should not
be protected beyond their “home market.”
response to general questions about interference, respondents suggested the best
way to combat rising interference would be across-the-board power increases “on
all channels except the 1-As and 1-Bs.” AT&T
weighed in on the question of interference that might be caused by super-power,
suggesting that AM super-power would cause “unacceptable interference to
and unfortunate proposals aside, the official record would morph into some
thoughtful technical analysis. The
issues under consideration for a possible super-power environment included
blanketing, self-interference and adjacent-channel interference. Also discussed
were the potential effects of non-ionizing radiation and a sky-wave
cross-modulation effect variously labeled the “Amsterdam” or “Luxembourg
Effect.” (It had been demonstrated that high-power RF actually changed the
levels of ionization in the atmosphere and even caused plasma wave generation.)
High-power advocates countered NIR concerns by commissioning a study by
Fritz Leydorf, a P.E. who took part in the original WLW high-power work. Leydorf
went into great detail about how “folks had lived and worked near the high RF
fields and apparently felt no ill effects.”
our final installment we’ll see how all the brouhaha turned out.
Durenberger welcomes questions and comments about this series
via e-mail to