Living with the FCC - a History

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On June 19, 1934, the Communications Act of 1934 created the Federal Communications. Its duties took over for the Federal Radio Commission, which was established by the Radio Act of 1927 on Feb. 3, 1927. John Battison looks back on the early days of the FRC and the FCC, recalling some of the simpler times and possibly better methods of another time.

Over the years the broadcast engineer has had a rather difficult path through the intricacies of the Federal Radio Commission (FRC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Starting in 1927, under the auspices of the Department of Commerce, the FRC dealt with matters of authorizing and licensing radio communications. In those days, the Commission included technically competent members such as Dr. Orestes H. Caldwell who designed the lighting system that gave the Rainbow Room at the top of the RCA building (now known as the GE building) its name. This avant garde lighting system was designed to change the color lighting of the Rainbow Room to complement the color of the dress of ladies entering the restaurant. I later met. Dr. Caldwell, and became associate editor of Teletech Magazine, which he founded and edited.

In 1934, the seven-member Federal Communications Commission took over the work of the five men of the FRC and for too short a time included at least one engineer among the commissioners. Some people may recall the names of Commissioners T.A.M. Craven and George Sterling. Since the days of the latter, engineers have been conspicuous by their absence from this ruling body, and it seems that only lawyers have determined technical matters sometimes aided by their engineering assistants.

For a long time, the FCC was housed in the old Post Office building in the old Federal triangle section of E Street NW, Washington, DC. The office buildings in the area provided homes for numerous attorneys and the relatively few consulting engineers of that period. Most of these engineers were located within a few blocks of the FCC's front door. Just prior to the commission's move to M Street the concentration seemed to increase. In the early 1960s the Munsey building on E NW Street was home to Dow, Lohnes and Albertson on the third floor, George Davis on the fifth, I was on the eighth and George Lohnes and Ron Culver were on the 10th floor. When the move to M street occurred most of the attorneys acquired luxurious offices in the newly available office space in the vicinity of Connecticut Avenue and M. Street.

At the old address, in addition to the convenience of having the FCC close at hand, there was the wonderful easy access to information from the FCC. If my memory serves me correctly the Public Reference Room was on the second or third floor. There was no restriction on entry to the building or the reference room -- a far cry from the Commission' s M street NW home, and even more so than its new Southwest Washington domicile.

The public reference room was under the command of a very helpful gentleman named George Simpkins who was also very cooperative. My recollection is that the room was not extremely busy all the time in the earlier years. Although FM had been authorized and the frequency band doubled since prewar days the majority of the traffic in the reference room concerned AM projects, and the "AM List" was the most popular reference document. This contained the pertinent information about every AM application as it was filed. Actually, in later years when Dataworld became active, its easily accessible data frequently proved to be more accurate than the FCC's! Incidentally, Dataworld first saw the light of day in the old offices of Kear and Kennedy on 18th St NW.

The normal easy access to information in the public reference room was not limited. A wonderful situation existed that I'm sure we shall never see again in these days when "security" governs every action. If George Simpkins happened to be away from his desk when a customer needed information it was not at all unusual to see the inquirer bypass George's desk and proceed straight to the file room behind George's desk where the desired material was kept. The required file would be located and used. After use the file would be placed in George's "in basket" together with a completed request form. As far as I am aware no one ever took advantage of George's gentleman's agreement. And it ran very smoothly, was very convenient and a great time saver.

These were the days of the late 1950's and early 1960's, offset printing and Xeroxing were coming into use and the completion of Form 302 involved the preparation of many pages of information. This was the era of the 10 percent rule, which generally required more maps and the miserable spaghetti map. As a result Forms 302 required still more paperwork to meet the Commission' s requirements. As has always been the case, the engineers of the Broadcast Bureau were very pleasant to work with and were always very cooperative.

This wonderful working relationship with the Commission was not limited to the Public Reference Room. It was not unknown for a Commission engineer to draw, unofficially, a consulting engineer's attention to an error in his engineering filing. And thus save him a red face -- or worse.

-- continued on page 2

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