HENNOCK, FRIEDA BARKIN

U.S. Attorney/Media Regulator

Frieda Barkin Hennock served as a Federal Communications Commissioner from 1948 to 1955. Appointed by President Harry S. Truman, she was the first woman to serve as a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In this position she was instrumental in securing the reservation of channels for non-commercial television stations, an FCC decision that enabled the development of the system of public broadcasting that exists in the United States today.

Before her nomination to serve on the FCC, Hennock had been practicing law in New York City. She had, as she told the Senate Committee during her confirmation hearings, no experience in broadcasting other than using radio to raise money for the political campaigns of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and other Democratic candidates. After her confirmation in 1948, she quickly began to study the technical questions and policy issues facing the FCC, issues that would shape the future of the broadcast industry. Several systems for broadcasting color television were vying for FCC approval. Plans to use UHF frequencies were under discussion. Interference was being reported between signals from the sixteen television stations already on the air. It was clear that more formal allocation plans were needed to assure that all parts of the country would have access to television broadcasts. To allow time to study these issues and others, the FCC announced a freeze on awarding television licenses.

In addition to the technical issues she faced as a commissioner, Hennock became convinced that television had the power to serve as an important educational tool. As the proposed table of television channel assignments was developed during the freeze, however, there were no reservations for educational stations. Hennock was determined that the opportunity to use television for educating the audience not be lost. She wrote a strong dissenting opinion and became an outspoken advocate for channel set-asides.

Anticipating that commercial interests would quickly file for all the available television licenses, Hennock understood the need to alert the public. She consulted with members of the Institute for Education by Radio and the National Association of Educational Broadcasters. She accepted invitations to speak to many civic groups. She wrote articles for The Saturday Review of Literature and other publications. After she appeared on radio and television programs to discuss the importance of using television for educational purposes, listeners and readers responded with a flood of letters supporting her position. Educators formed the Joint Committee on Education Television and prepared to testify at the FCC hearings.

Hearings on the television allocation plan were held in the fall of 1950. Commercial broadcasters testified that reservations for non-commercial stations were not needed because their programs served the educational needs of the audience. Educators produced the results of studies monitoring those programs. The studies found few programs that could be considered educational except in superficial ways.

Hennock was able to use these monitoring studies and other evidence presented during the hearings to build a strong case for channel reservations. When the FCC published its notice of rule making in March 1951, it included channel reservations for education. Still, it was not clear that these were to be permanent. Hennock wrote a separate opinion urging that reservations for non-commercial stations should be permanent.

In June 1951, President Truman nominated Hennock for a federal judgeship in New York. The nomination proved to be controversial. In spite of strong support from her fellow FCC commissioners and several bar associations, confirmation by the senate seemed unlikely and Hennock asked that her name be withdrawn.

Back at the FCC, Hennock renewed her commitment to educational television. When the FCC issued the Sixth Report and Order in April 1952, the allocation plan included 242 specific channel reservations for non-commercial stations. Hennock encouraged universities and communities to apply for these non-commercial licenses. She provided guidance on procedural matters, suggested ways to gain the support of community leaders and organizations, and enlisted the cooperation of corporations in providing grants to help these new stations buy equipment. Her belief in educational broadcasting was being realized. In June 1953, the first educational television station began to broadcast. KUHT-TV in Houston, Texas, invited Frieda B. Hennock to speak during its inaugural program. By mid-1955, twelve educational stations were on the air and over fifty applications for non-commercial licenses had been filed.

Hennock was not surprised when her term as FCC commissioner was not renewed. Many of the positions she had taken were unpopular with powerful broadcasters. She was an outspoken critic of the practices of commercial networks. She criticized violence in television programming and warned about the growth of monopolies in the broadcast industry. She wrote many dissenting opinions questioning FCC actions. But as her assistant Stanley Neustadt told oral historian Jim Robertson, when she took a position on an issue "she was ultimately--sometimes long after she left the Commission--ultimately shown to be right." At the end of her term as FCC commissioner, Frieda B. Hennock returned to private life and private law practice.

-Lucy A. Liggett

 

FRIEDA BARKIN HENNOCK. Born in Kovel, Poland, 27 December 1904. Educated at Brooklyn Law School, LL.B., 1924. Self-employed criminal lawyer, 1926-27; corporate lawyer, law firm of Silver and Hennock, 1927-34; independent lawyer and assistant counsel of the New York State Mortgage Commission, 1935-39; lawyer for Choate, Mitchell and Eli, 1941-48; served as first woman member of the Federal Communications Commission, 1948-1955; private practitioner in Washington, D.C., 1955-1960. Died 20 June 1960.

PUBLICATIONS

"The Free Air Waves: An Administrative Dilemma." Women Lawyers Journal (New York), Fall 1950.

"TV 'Conservation'." The Saturday Review of Literature (New York), 9 December 1950.

"TV--Problem Child or Teacher's Pet?" New York State Education (Albany), March 1951.

"Educational Opportunities in Television." The Commercial and Financial Chronicle (New York), 15 March 1951.

"Television and Teaching." Educational Outlook (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), May 1951.

Hennock personal paperss: correspondence, speeches, published articles, and documents related to her work at the Federal Communications Commission. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Hennock official papers related to her tenure at the Federal Communications Commission. Harry S. Truman Library, Independence, Missouri.

FURTHER READING

"First Woman Member of FCC Makes Impression on Senators with Frankness." The Washington (D.C.) Post, 6 July 1948.

"Frieda Hennock." Current Biography: Who's News and Why 1948. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1949.

"Frieda Hennock Simons Dead." The New York Times, 21 June 1960.