Topical Argumentation Practice: Selected Historical Readings in Post-War Commercial Radio Broadcasting in the United Kingdom
Professor Gilder is from the United States of America (PhD, The Ohio State University), with professional academic experience spanning over thirty-five years of teaching undergraduate and post-graduate programs at colleges and universities in the USA, Romania, Korea, and Liberia, as well as being a higher education specialist consultant for (inter) national organizations such as the Open Society Foundation and UNESCO (among others). In Romania, he is affiliated with the Department of Anglo-American and German Studies at the Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu and the UNESCO Chair in Quality Management of Higher Education and Lifelong Learning.
I first met and began a continuing association with Eric Gilder in 1983, after reading his recently filed Master’s thesis at the University of North Texas: “The History of Pirate Broadcasting in Britain and the End of BBC Monopoly in Radio Broadcasting in the United Kingdom.”
As part of our thirty-plus year road to academic discovery we became involved in a series of related cross-border broadcasting ventures that became more of a public service educational endeavor resulting in personal contact with maritime and broadcasting authorities in Panama; the United States of America (USA), and the United Kingdom (UK).
While many governments have engaged in cross-border broadcasting, commercial operators of transmitters which target listeners from outside the borders of the country in which their senders are located have been ‘branded’ as ‘pirate’ broadcasting stations. This application of the word ‘piracy’ which by definition is the forcible ‘taking’ of ‘property’, has also been applied to unlicensed transmissions emanating from within any targeted country’s borders.
Collectively, these ‘pirate’ transmitters are often accused of causing interference to domestic licensed senders engaged in sending out crucial information from such bodies as air traffic control; ambulance and police services. Further defined, this application of the word ‘piracy’ to broadcasting, frequently incorporates allegations of ‘stealing’ listeners from licensed stations by employing the non-approved taking of copyrighted material for use in their programs without payment, and thus in breach of international conventions.
This is not a new issue. It began with the censorship of unauthorized (licensed) messages in manuscript form, and it was then applied to handwritten messages between remote individuals. It was further extended to cover all point-to-point methods of electrical communication, and then to general ‘broadcast’ of messages from one sender to multiple receivers of those messages. In 1924, this matter was brought into public debate in both the UK and the USA.
In the UK, the issue was obscured from view due to the nature of UK sovereignty which emanates from a Crown corporation sole. Thus, it was ‘sold’ to the public as a ‘right’ enjoyed by the Crown, and not the general population subject to the authority of the Crown. In the USA its written Constitution protects the rights of citizens to form a government of The People, and for The People. At least in theory, that is how its system is supposed to work. When applied to broadcasting in the UK, this foundational issue of governmental control resided in the Crown so that both senders and receivers of broadcast information were required to obtain a license.
The essence of this issue can be traced back to 1660, which is prior to the formation of the UK. In that year, a General Post Office (GPO) was created as a monopoly by the corporation sole which was at that time known as the English Crown. The GPO was granted power to regulate the distribution of all point-to-point handwritten communications between remotely located individual persons.
Censorship of books began much earlier with powers exercised by the authorized Church. This was long before the invention of the printing press made facsimile production of manuscripts a possibility, but because books are not intended to be read by one person, they became a benchmark for broadcasting laws that followed centuries later. The licensing of books is memorialized by the word ‘index’ as used in the List of Prohibited Books (Index Librorum Prohibitorum), with origins dating back before the Sixteenth Century
In 1922, the GPO forced all major and minor electrical companies operating in the UK into a single commercial cartel. Approximately half of these business ventures were “British” and approximately half were “American”. (“British” being a geographical identifier for the UK; Channel Islands, and Isle of Man, and in this instance, “American” is used as a geographical identifier for a company registered within one of the States of the USA.)
This cartel was registered under the name of the British Broadcasting Company Ltd (BBC), and the GPO influenced the hiring of its managing director John Reith who was the son of the Scottish Presbyterian manse. Reith applied his theologically based personal values to the BBC, although in keeping with many theologically motivated leaders, his personal life was not always in conformity with his expressed beliefs concerning societal behavior.
British newspapers have a long history of lining up to support political parties and their candidates, and there is no numerical limit on any print publication title or subject matter. But in the UK, broadcasting stations have been limited in both number and the sale or donation of their airtime to political and religious causes. Since the BBC began as a cartel, poor comparisons have been made with American broadcasting stations, and sponsorship via the purchase of airtime, has been restricted.
The forerunner of cable television was by wired services carrying BBC and external stations, but they were put out of business by government legislation, and thus began a drum-beat claiming a lack of wavelengths on which to broadcast. For publishers there is no restriction of paper on which to print, but in reality, there have always been enough outlets on which to broadcast. The chokehold has been political, and the explanation has been manufactured to suit the desired result.
But while the root cause of the problem began with a political desire to create a BBC monopoly, that political desire was countered by scientific fact: radio waves do not respect political boundaries. While broadcast methodology employed by both senders and receivers has changed over the decades, so have political attempts to prevent these transmissions, and they have been accompanied by the attempted shaming of receivers, mostly without success.
As John Reith pointed out, broadcasting is the best medium of all because it can afford repletion and dramatization: “Good material can stand advertising, and broadcasting is an advertising medium unexcelled.” For a centrally controlled political system called the Crown, this is a constant source of danger to its own stability.
When I began investigating this subject in conjunction with Dr Gilder, I did so from the standpoint of my own exposure to the medium of broadcasting. I looked once more at the pebble tossed into a still body of water. I observed that ripples emanate in all directions. But then something became apparent that I had thought about before.
If that pebble had been thrown by John Reith or David Sarnoff, their ‘ripples’ would have interconnected with each other, and with many of the big issues of the day. But because my own exposure to the subject of broadcasting has been (after years of effort) intentionally obfuscated by some of the people involved, I only perceived what I was supposed to see when that ‘pebble’ was dropped into the water. But due to the number of research articles that Dr Gilder and I have now produced, it has become obvious that self-perspective is a self-delusional approach to this subject since neither Dr Gilder nor I dropped that first pebble into the water, and consequently we did not cause those ripples to emanate in all directions.
We interacted with those ripples, but they were not all made by us. Therefore, the articles that follow are those seen through an obfuscated prism, and I have thus concluded that the only way to research this (or any other subject), is to not only apply academic standards of peer review, but to test every aspect of evidence as if in a courtroom where the conclusory standard is “beyond reasonable doubt.”
The problem we faced over the last decades became one of trying to discern what was true versus what was intentionally created propaganda intended to deceive would-be investigators. This led from one answer to another question, ad infinitum. What we had assumed in good faith to be a given statement of documented fact in one article soon turned into a host of new questions about the sources and purposes behind that information in the next, and so on. Consequently, the articles which follow are not intended to reflect the “final word” on any aspect of this topic, because further insight and research data has resulted in a continually expanding understanding, which, in some instances has rendered previous information invalid.
The included articles have been assembled to follow more of an explanation of our progressive knowledge base, rather than a chronological sequence in which they were written. What has emerged, and what is still emerging is a geopolitical story that is wrapped around current affairs. Therefore, far from being a simple story about ‘free’ broadcasting of ‘pop’ music during the Sixties, this project of discovery is unraveling the lives lived by many prominent persons during that time, thus the lives these personalities claimed to have lived actually took place within a ‘yesterday that never happened.’