Carl McIntire and his crusade against the Fairness Doctrine

by Farabaugh, Patrick, Ph.D., THE PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIVERSITY, 2010, 187 pages; 3417719


This dissertation examines the role that fundamentalist radio commentator Carl McIntire and his station, WXUR, played in the demise of the Fairness Doctrine. McIntire’s “crusade” against the Federal Communications Commission and the Fairness Doctrine brought national attention to the doctrine. This attention influenced the FCC, and in 1987, the Commission repealed this regulatory policy. WXUR is the only radio or television station in American history to be denied license renewal by the FCC as a direct result of Fairness Doctrine violations. This dissertation argues that McIntire and WXUR are underappreciated factors that contributed to the demise of the doctrine.

Introduced in 1959 when Congress amended the 1934 Communications Act, the doctrine required radio and television stations to meet two requirements: (1) devote a reasonable percentage of broadcast time to discussions of issues of public importance within the community the licensee served, and (2) design and provide programs so that the public had a reasonable opportunity to hear different and opposing views and arguments on the public issues of interest within that community.

In 1970, 17 years before the Fairness Doctrine’s demise, McIntire and WXUR were denied license renewal by the FCC and forced off the air because the station, according to the Commission, did not make reasonable efforts to comply with the doctrine. Despite their historical significance with regards to the Fairness Doctrine, McIntire and WXUR have been largely ignored by media studies scholars. While volumes of research related to the Fairness Doctrine have been produced by media studies scholars, few academics outside of religious studies have explored the fascinating career of Carl McIntire. And no one has provided a detailed account of McIntire and WXUR’s role in the eventual repeal of the Fairness Doctrine. This dissertation addresses this oversight.

McIntire and WXUR must be recognized for their role in the history of governmental regulation of speech in the United States. McIntire launched a national crusade against the Fairness Doctrine, using his radio station, WXUR—a station licensed by the FCC and obligated to meet the Commission’s fairness requirements—as the primary tool in his campaign. His crusade against the doctrine influenced the opinions of lawmakers, policymakers, the courts and the American public regarding the FCC’s fairness rules. In his campaign, which he conducted through the 1960s and early 1970s, McIntire wasted no opportunity to expose the problems he perceived with the Fairness Doctrine. He blazed a path for another campaign against the doctrine, one conducted by the Freedom of Expression Foundation during the 1980s. The Freedom of Expression Foundation employed strategies similar to those utilized by McIntire in an effort to press lawmakers and the FCC to re-examine the “fairness” of the Fairness Doctrine. Ultimately, the FCC abandoned this regulatory policy in 1987.

McIntire’s legacy in American broadcasting, however, did not end when the FCC suspended its fairness requirements. The Fairness Doctrine’s demise has contributed to a resurgence of politically conservative commentary on America’s radio airwaves in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Today, the nation’s talk radio stations are dominated by politically conservative commentators, thanks, at least in part, to the path cleared by McIntire decades earlier.

This dissertation seeks to increase our understanding of McIntire and WXUR and their underappreciated contribution in shaping not only communication policy in the United States, but also America’s contemporary talk radio landscape. Research for the study draws from an online collection of radio broadcasts and sermons by McIntire; The Christian Beacon, a weekly publication McIntire launched in 1936 to complement his radio broadcasts; books McIntire authored; FCC records and various legal cases and related regulatory proceedings; and a number of contemporary periodicals.

AdviserRussell Frank
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsAmerican history; Political Science; Mass communication
Publication Number3417719

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