Newton Minow, the former Federal Communications Commission chairman who jolted television executives by calling the medium a “vast wasteland” during a 1961 speech, died Saturday. He was 97.
Minow died at his home in Chicago, The Washington Post reported. His daughter, Nell Minow, said the cause of death was a heart attack, according to the newspaper.
Minow was appointed as FCC chairman by President John F. Kennedy in early 1961, The Associated Press reported.
Minow’s greatest challenge to television executives came on May 9, 1961, during his first speech as FCC chairman, the Post reported. Addressing the National Association of Broadcasters, Minow told them to pay more attention to the quality of programming and less to their organizations’ ledger sheets.
“When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better,” Minow said. “But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you.
“I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.”
According to The New York Times, the executives sat “aghast” as Minow continued his speech.
“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 it, try it.”
Minow’s catchphrase “vast wasteland” was inspired by T.S. Eliot’s poem, “The Waste Land,” according to the Times. It triggered a national debate over the television viewing habits of adults and children.
The phrase “vast wasteland” would later pop up on television shows like “Jeopardy!” and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” the Times reported.
Minow used the attention he generated to win federal funding to increase the number of educational television stations. That network of stations would form the basis for the Public Broadcasting Service in 1969, the Post reported.
Minow resigned as FCC chairman in May 1963 to become executive vice president and general counsel for Encyclopedia Britannica Inc. in Chicago, according to the AP.
Minow was also noted for getting legislation passed that required TV sets sold in the U.S. to be equipped to receive ultra-high-frequency (UHF) signals in addition to the very-high-frequency (VHF) broadcasts that were dominant at the time, the Post reported.
Minow also favored legislation that opened the era of satellite communications.
Minow became the first government official to receive a George Foster Peabody award for excellence in broadcasting, the AP reported.
Minow received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2016.
Dean & Rog Mornings
Def Leppard / Journey / Steve Miller Band at Minute Maid Park
Dean & Rog’s Thousand Dollar Minute
Winning Weekend: Enter To Win Tickets To See REO Speedwagon LIVE
Best Excuse To Get Out Of A Bad Date!
Winning Weekend!! Win Tickets To See Santana LIVE August 17