The Other Speech

Related: 'Wasteland' Revisited

B&C was there for Newton Minow's May 9, 1961 speech to the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Washington, where the magazine was then based. It was the first speech to the broadcast group for the 35-year-old chairman.

While the show featured an address by the new president (that would be John F. Kennedy) and an appearance by an astronaut at a time when they outshined sports figures and movie stars in the national pantheon of heroes, what is most remembered was Minow’s branding of TV as a “vast wasteland.”

The magazine reported on the speech under the headline “Black Tuesday at the NAB Convention.”

But what is sometimes forgotten is that the day before, NAB’s own president gave his members what B&C called an “eloquent spanking.” In a way, Minow was simply putting an exclamation point on the issue of content quality, though one with the imprimatur of potential government action.

NAB President Gov. Leroy Collins told attendees that the public was waiting for broadcasting “to measure up to the full stature of its mighty potential,” especially in terms of more quality and diversity in programming, B&C reported.

“I do not indict broadcasting now as wholly failing to serve the public interest,” he said, damning somewhat with faint praise. “In many important ways broadcasters now respond magnificently to this challenge. But when measured against the range of our potential, there is still much more we can and should do…We simply cannot adjust a thinking broadcaster’s future with a mediocre program taste.”

According to the Minow at the time, as reported by B&C, in the week or so following his speech, the chairman received almost 800 letters and telegrams from the public, only two of which criticized him.

To read all of Broadcasting’s coverage of the convention, go to

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.