The former FCC chairman Newton Minow died on Saturday. He memorably described network television as a “vast wasteland”.
He passed away at his Chicago home. His daughter claims that he had a heart attack and died at the age of 97. In front of broadcast executives at a luncheon in Washington, Minow delivered his resonant words. “He wanted to be at home,” his daughter said to The Associated Press. “He had a good life.”
Former FCC Chairman Newton Minow Died
“Stay there without a book, magazine, newspaper, profit-and-loss sheet or rating book to distract you, and keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off,” Minow then said. “I can assure you that you will observe a vast wasteland.
He continued, “You will see a procession of game shows, violence, audience participation shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, Western bad men, Western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence and cartoons. And endlessly, commercials — many screaming, cajoling and offending. And most of all, boredom.” “If you think I exaggerate, try it.”
His comments ignited a nationwide discussion about the virtues of TV. Despite the FCC’s inability to require any content programming, Minow’s comments suggested that there would be issues with license renewals if there is no service on the publicly owned airwaves.
His daughters Nell, Martha, and Mary Minow as well as three grandchildren remain. There are no known memorial services scheduled.
President John F. Kennedy chose Minow to lead the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) at the beginning of 1961. He first met the Kennedys in the 1950s while working for Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson, who was the Democratic Party’s contender for president in 1952 and 1956.
Minow was the first member of the government to receive a George Foster Peabody Award for outstanding broadcasting. “At long last there is a man in Washington who proposes to champion the interests of the public in TV matters and is not timid about ruffling the industry’s most august feathers,” the New York Times critic Jack Gould (himself a Peabody winner) said.
Tonight, several presenters looked for sinister justifications for Mr. Minow’s demeanor. Mr. Minow has been watching television, which may be a bit beneficial in this situation.
Nell Minow, his daughter, told The Associated Press in 2011 that her father loved television and that he would be remembered for promoting the general interest in television programs rather than just a few phrases in his much more extensive speech.
“His No. 1 goal was to give people choice,” she told.