This article originally appeared in the issue of June 12, 1935.
THANKS in part to the skill with which members of the American Newspaper Publishers’ Association keep their right hands from knowing what their left hands do, the American people will get more news by radio in the future than heretofore. The news-strangulation program imposed upon broadcasters by the publishers fourteen months ago has just gone down the chute, largely because the publishers undermined their own restrictions.
The story of this somersault in the A. N. P. A. makes strange reading. To understand it, one has to go back two years to the time when radio stations were broadcasting as much news as they pleased, without benefit of the A. N. P. A. Indeed, newspaper-owned or affiliated radio stations were among the most enthusiastic broadcasters of news in those days. News broadcasts were popular and increasingly profitable. Advertisers were happy to pay thumping sums for the privilege of touting cigars or bathroom fixtures before, during, and after a program of swift-moving, vivid news stories. Sometimes they even withdrew their ads from the newspapers and allocated the major portion of their advertising budgets to radio news programs. And radio, of course, was happy to serve them. A news broadcast could be and generally was an inexpensive program. Get a raconteur with a good voice, a lively imagination, and a copy of the afternoon paper, and there was your program.
The publishers who owned radio stations (now more than one hundred) generally found news broadcasts as good business as did the other broadcasters. But the publishers who didn’t own stations, or have connections with stations, got acute pains in the pocket-book nerve. They joined in violent protest. The upshot was a conference attended by publishers from the A. N. P. A., representatives of the three large news services–Associated Press, United Press, and International News Service–and representatives of the two large broadcasting systems, Columbia and NBC. The publisher representatives came to the conference armed with threats, which they brandished with great effectiveness at the broadcasters. First, they threatened to omit broadcasting programs from their columns except as paid advertising unless the broadcasters canceled their news programs. And then, just to harass the broadcasters a little more, they suggested that a Congressional investigation into the methods by which wave bands were allocated might have to be called for if news broadcasting didn’t stop. Radio, already constrained to go to Washington every six months, hat in hand, for renewal of its license to operate, had no stomach for investigations. So radio, that is, the chains, surrendered.
Out of the conference emerged the news-strangling press-radio set-up which went into effect on March 1, 1934. Under that set-up Columbia and NBC agreed to abandon all their former news broadcasts (NBC had none at the time anyway), and in their stead send out two five-minute daily news broadcasts made up from the joint reports of the A. P., U. P., and I. N. S.; these agencies, it was understood, would no longer permit their news to be broadcast except through this official arrangement. Two press-radio bureaus were established, one on either coast, to make up these reports. To insure staleness, the time of the news broadcasts was set from five to eight hours after newspapers containing the same items were on the streets.