Actually, Radio is NOT a First Amendment Issue

By Stanley JungleibNo Comments

Any more than is driving a car. You need a license. Otherwise you are presumed likely to hurt people due to ignorance and lack of skill—just like Limbaugh.

The indubitable reasoning instigating the Communications Act of 1934 realized that if everyone had a radio transmitter at their will, no radio system could work. Pretty simple and extremely rational: You would have a situation where all could shout, while none listen—in other words, today’s Internet. But I digress.

As a limited national resource, the nature of the radio medium does not permit of simple analogies with the public square nor freedom of the press. You can place twenty times the newspaper vending machines in a city block than you can allocate radio stations to serve it. If you prefer, fill the sidewalk with 1000 megaphones and petitioners; but you can’t just add 1000 radio stations.

So, broadcasters are obliged to maintain their limited number of competing licenses by sharing the airwaves on behalf of the public. Necessarily, not every viewpoint will get the infinite airtime it no doubt deserves. Responsibility for the public interest is not simply heaped equally upon each station. More realistically, FCC expects good faith attempts at serving the public interest largely by encouraging a general even-handedness of representative stations in a ‘market.’ Consistent with their recently tossing “the fairness doctrine,” FCC is happier seeing competing stations than forcing each to schizophrenically adopt opposing orientations to the listener’s confusion. The relevant discussion is not at the lofty heights of the Supreme Court but at the thoroughly empirical and gritty level of how broadcasters attend to their community in context with others, and in consideration of significant variation in national market traditions.

Even the police do not have ‘free speech’ on police radios, nor pilots on aviation channels. Though the mandates for the Amateur Radio Service or Citizen’s Band are different still, the principle remains the same: Free speech takes a back seat to the prescribed communication purposes of all radio Services. And most Services maintain constant lobbying to ensure the FCC receives no cause for thought about increasing their performance standards or restricting their spectrum allocations. Thus, large-scale complaint filings such as about the SuperBowl costume fiasco have been observed to make the broadcast industry abundantly nervous. For specific stations, a large complaint file can seriously complicate their license renewal.

Today’s dysfunctional FCC has not impressed anyone with responsiveness. Nevertheless, if you want to end broadcast hate-mongering save your time arguing about free speech with dittoheads, and use it to entreat your friends to file virtually daily complaints against that lard-ass, mentally- and morally-defective, excrement-luncher—this IS the internet, after all—at:

File Complaint | FCC.gov

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