Carnegie Mellon University

The FCC, Media Policy, and American Culture (1944-1996)

Author: Kurt Sampsel
Degree: Ph.D. in Literary and Cultural Studies, Carnegie Mellon University, 2015

For eighty years, the Federal Communications Commission has played a part in shaping the character of the American media system and has produced its own brand of cultural policy. Yet, the agency’s work has often been unexamined or misunderstood. Many critical scholars have concluded that the agency has been “captured” by the industries it regulates and made to do their bidding. But my study takes a different approach. Instead of viewing the FCC as always allied with the media industries, I argue that the FCC functions as a site of contestation where diverse and competing interests wrangle.

Beginning in the mid-1940s, when radio was entrenched and the new medium of television was just around the corner, and ending in the mid-1990s, when digital media began to undermine the traditional mass-media model, I trace the extent to which activist personalities and political movements were able to impact media policy.