30 September 1948 the Federal Communications Commissions (FCC) of
the United States announced a "freeze" on the granting of new television
licenses (those already authorized were allowed to begin or continue
operations). The Commission had already granted over 100 licenses
and was inundated with hundreds of additional applications. Unable
to resolve several important interference, allocation and other
technical questions because of this rush, the FCC believed that
the freeze would allow it to hold hearings and study the issues,
leading to something of a "master blueprint" for television in the
United States. This "time out" was originally intended to last only
six months, but the outbreak of the Korean War as well as the difficult
nature of some of the issues under study, extended the Freeze to
four years. During this time, there were 108 VHF television stations
on the air and over 700 new applications on hold. Only 24 cities
had two or more stations; many had only one. Most smaller and even
some major cities, Denver, Colorado and Austin, Texas, for example,
had none at all.
five major, not unrelated issues became the focus of deliberations:
1) the designation of a standard for color television; 2) the reservation
of channel space for educational, noncommercial television; 3) the
reduction of channel interference; 4) the establishment of a national
channel allocation map or scheme; and, 5) the opening up of additional
With the 14 April 1952 issuance of the Commission's 6th Report
and Order, the freeze was finally lifted. This document presented
to an anxious broadcast industry and impatient viewers the resolutions
to the five questions.
decision on color came down to a choice between an existing but
technologically unsophisticated CBS mechanical system which was
incompatible with existent television receivers (i.e., "color" signals
could not be received on black and white television sets) and an
all-electronic system proposed by RCA which was compatible but still
in development. The Commission approved the CBS system but it was
never implemented because the television set manufacturing industry
refused to build what it considered to be inferior receivers. The
FCC rescinded its approval of the CBS system in 1950 and, in 1953,
accepted the RCA system as the standard.
reservation of channel space for noncommercial, educational television
was spearheaded by FCC Commissioner Frieda B. Hennock. When the
channel reservation issue was raised for radio during the deliberation
leading up to the Communications Act of 1934, the industry view
prevailed. Broadcasting was considered too valuable a resource to
entrust to educators or others who had no profit motive to spur
the development of the medium. Exactly zero spectrum space was set
aside for noncommercial (AM) radio. Hennock and others were unwilling
to let history repeat in the age of television. Against heavy and
strident industry objection (Broadcasting magazine said such a set-aside
was "illogical, if not illegal"), they prevailed. Two hundred and
forty-two channels were authorized for educational, noncommercial
television, although no means of financial support was identified.
The Commission acquiesced because it reasoned that if the educators
succeeded, it would be viewed as prescient; if the educators failed,
at least the Commission had given them an opportunity. Additionally,
Hennock and her forces were a nuisance: the noncommercial channel
issue was helping keep the freeze alive and there were powerful
industry and viewer forces awaiting its end.
interference was easily solved through the implementation of strict
rules of separation for stations broadcasting on the same channel.
Stations on the same channel had to be separated by at least 190
miles (some geographic areas, the Gulf and Northeast regions, for
example, had somewhat different standards). A few stations had to
change channels to meet the requirements.
allocation took the form of city-by-city assignment of one or more
channels based on the general criterion of fair geographic apportionment
of channels to the various states and to the country as a whole.
The "assignment table" that was produced gave some cities, New York
and Los Angeles, for example, many stations. Smaller locales were
allocated smaller numbers of outlets.
question of opening up additional spectrum space for more television
stations was actually the question of how much of the UHF band should
be utilized. Eventually, the entire 70 channel UHF band was authorized.
Therefore, the television channels then available to American broadcasters
and their viewers were the existing VHF channels of 2 through 13
and the new UHF channels of 14 through 83. =- Kimberly Massey
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First 50 Years of Broadcasting: The Running Story of the Fifth Estate.
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Frieda B.; License;
Educational Television Center; Educational