"FREEZE" OF 1948

On 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.

Ultimately, 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 spectrum space.

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.

The 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 The FCC rescinded its approval of the CBS system in 1950 and, in 1953, accepted the RCA system as the standard.

The 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.


Channel 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.

Channel 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.

The 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


Barnouw, E. A History of Broadcasting in the United States, Volume II: The Golden Web. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970.

___________. A History of Broadcasting in the United States, Volume III: The Image Empire. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970.

___________. Tube of Plenty: The Evolution of American Television. New York: Oxford University Press, 1975.

Bergreen, Laurence. Look Now, Pay Later: The Rise of Network Broadcasting. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1980.

The First 50 Years of Broadcasting: The Running Story of the Fifth Estate. ed. by The Editors of Broadcasting Magazine. Washington, D.C.: Broadcasting Publications, 1982.

Kahn, F.J. Documents of American Broadcasting. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1968.

Sterling, C.H., and J.M. Kittross. Stay Tuned: A Concise History of American Broadcasting. Belmont, California: Wadsworth, 1990.


See also Allocation; Color Television; FCC; Hennock, Frieda B.; License; National Educational Television Center; Educational Television