From Walter Sabo, esteemed head of SABOmedia, reprinted with permission:
CBS airs shocking Sunday night show. FCC, Congress, Public, outraged. Action demanded.
By Walter Sabo
The CBS network aired a broadcast event that caused massive reaction from the public, the FCC and Congress. It was on a Sunday, at a time when families were gathered and people were relaxed; vulnerable to media intrusion.
The event was so upsetting that immediately, all people involved in the broadcast were grilled by network staff and not allowed to go home for a day.
It was covered on the front page of every newspaper including THE NEW YORK TIMES. Editorials ran in every major paper. It was the talk of the nation.
An end to irresponsible broadcasting was announced by the FCC and Congress.
A demand for guidelines about what was appropriate and what wasn’t was debated in Congress and the FCC. Congressional hearings were demanded.
The broadcast inspired the belief that some form of government censorship was appropriate.
Among media moguls, self-regulation became the word of the day. Broadcasters feverishly rewrote their code of ethics regarding live broadcasts. They tried to determine how to warn the public of content that might not be appropriate for all audiences even if the event was live.
Many broadcasters feared that if they did not control such future events, they would lose their licenses. Others demanded that the FCC start to exercise the powers they had.
It became a time of fear in media management. Stations cut back on certain types of broadcasts, personalities, and worked hard to protect the audience from the capricious nature of live broadcasts.
Nothing in live broadcasting would ever be the same. New guidelines were given announcers for covering breaking news events and entertainment shows.
Janet Jackson’s breast incident? No, that was the response to the 1938, Orson Welles’ broadcast of War of the Worlds. Panic. Evacuations. Public uproar.
Then, unlike now, at least one company showed bravery. Campbell’s Soup. Until that night, Welles couldn’t get a sponsor. When Campbells saw the response—good and bad—they picked up the sponsorship. History suggests it’s always a good time to be brave.
You’ve read about the War of the Worlds before but you’ve never read the outrage it caused at the FCC and the revolution in broadcast regulations. You can in a book called: Manipulating the Ether. The Power of Broadcast Radio in the 30’s in America. By Robert J Brown