What’s Fair on the Air?: Cold War Right-Wing Broadcasting and the Public Interest

The rise of right-wing broadcasting during the Cold War has been mostly forgotten today. But in the 1950s and ’60s you could turn on your radio any time of the day and listen to diatribes against communism, civil rights, the United Nations, fluoridation, federal income tax, Social Security, or JFK, as well as hosannas praising Barry Goldwater and Jesus Christ. Half a century before the rise of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, these broadcasters bucked the FCC’s public interest mandate and created an alternate universe of right-wing political coverage, anticommunist sermons, and pro-business bluster.

A lively look back at this formative era, What’s Fair on the Air? charts the rise and fall of four of the most prominent right-wing broadcasters: H. L. Hunt, Dan Smoot, Carl McIntire, and Billy James Hargis. By the 1970s, all four had been hamstrung by the Internal Revenue Service, the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine, and the rise of a more effective conservative movement. But before losing their battle for the airwaves, Heather Hendershot reveals, they purveyed ideological notions that would eventually triumph, creating a potent brew of religion, politics, and dedication to free-market economics that paved the way for the rise of Ronald Reagan, the Moral Majority, Fox News, and the Tea Party.

Honorable Mention for the Prose Book Award, Association of American Publishers.

For sale at the University of Chicago Press.

Heather Hendershot

About Heather Hendershot

Heather Hendershot studies conservative media and political movements, film and television genres, and American film history. She has held fellowships at Vassar College, New York University, and Princeton University, and she has also been a Guggenheim fellow. Hendershot is particularly interested in the complicated relationship between “extremist” and “mainstream” conservatism and in how that relationship is negotiated by conservative media. Her courses emphasize the interplay between industrial, economic, and regulatory concerns and how those concerns affect what we see on the screen (big or little). Students are encouraged to consider the ways that TV and film writers, directors, and producers have attempted creativity and innovation while working within an industry that demands novelty but also often fears new approaches to character and narrative. Hendershot is the editor of Nickelodeon Nation (2004) and the author of Saturday Morning Censors (1998), Shaking the World for Jesus (2004), and What's Fair on the Air? (2011). For five years she was the editor of Cinema Journal, the official publication of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies. During the 2014–2015 academic year, she was a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University where she wrote Open to Debate: How William F. Buckley Put Liberal America on the Firing Line.