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.

About Heather Hendershot

Heather Hendershot studies TV news, conservative media, political movements, and American film and television history. She has held fellowships at Vassar College, New York University, Princeton, Harvard, Radcliffe, and Stanford, and she has also been a Guggenheim fellow. Her courses emphasize the interplay between creative, political, 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 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: The History Politics and Economics of America’s Only TV Channel for Kids (2004) and the author of Saturday Morning Censors: Television Regulation before the V-Chip (1998), Shaking the World for Jesus: Media and Conservative Evangelical Culture (2004), What's Fair on the Air? Cold War Right-Wing Broadcasting and the Public Interest (2011), and Open to Debate: How William F. Buckley Put Liberal America on the Firing Line (2016). For five years she was the editor of Cinema Journal, the official publication of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies. Her latest book—When the News Broke: Chicago 1968 and the Polarizing of America—is forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press in fall 2022.

 
 

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