Public Broadcasting Act of 1967

Public Broadcasting Act of 1967
Great Seal of the United States
Long title An Act to amend the Communications Act of 1934 by extending and improving the provisions thereof relating to grants for construction of educational television broadcasting facilities, by authorizing assistance in the construction of non-commercial educational radio broadcasting facilities, by establishing a nonprofit corporation to assist in establishing innovative educational programs, to facilitate educational program availability, and to aid the operation of educational broadcasting facilities; and to authorize a comprehensive study of instructional television and radio; and for other purposes.
Enacted by the 90th United States Congress
Effective November 7, 1967
Public law 90-129
Statutes at Large 81 Stat. 365
Titles amended 47 U.S.C.: Telegraphy
U.S.C. sections amended 47 U.S.C. ch. 5 §§ 390-397, 609
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the Senate as S. 1160
  • Passed the House on September 21, 1967 (266-91, in lieu of H.R. 6736)
  • Signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on November 7, 1967

The Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 (47 U.S.C. § 396) set up public broadcasting in the United States, establishing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and, eventually, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), and National Public Radio (NPR).

The act charged the CPB with encouraging and facilitating program diversity, and expanding and developing non-commercial broadcasting. The CPB would have the funds to help local stations create innovative programs, thereby increasing the service of broadcasting in the public interest throughout the country.[1]


President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Act on November 7, 1967.

The act was supported by many prominent Americans, including Fred Rogers ("Mister Rogers"), one of the founders of NPR and creator of All Things Considered Robert Conley, and Senator John O. Pastore, then chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, during the House and United States Senate hearings in 1967.

The United States House of Representatives passed the bill 266-91 on September 21, 1967, with 51 members voting "present" and two not voting.[2]

When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the act into law on November 7, 1967, he described its purpose as:

"It announces to the world that our nation wants more than just material wealth; our nation wants more than a 'chicken in every pot.' We in America have an appetite for excellence, too. While we work every day to produce new goods and to create new wealth, we want most of all to enrich man's spirit. That is the purpose of this act.[3]
"It will give a wider and, I think, stronger voice to educational radio and television by providing new funds for broadcast facilities. It will launch a major study of television's use in the Nation's classrooms and its potential use throughout the world. Finally — and most important — it builds a new institution: the Corporation for Public Broadcasting."[3]

The act was originally to be called the "Public Television Act" and focus exclusively on television, worrying supporters of public radio. However, in a sudden change of fortune, Senator Robert Griffin suggested changing the name to the "Public Broadcasting Act" when the bill passed through the Senate. After several revisions, including last-minute changes added with Scotch Tape, the law signed by Johnson included radio. This set the path for the incorporation of National Public Radio (NPR) in 1970.[4]

Educational television

In addition to the progress made by the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, other areas such as educational television (ETV) made headway as well. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had reserved almost 250 channel frequencies for educational stations in 1953,[5] although, seven years later, only 44 such stations were in operation.[6] However, by 1969, the number of stations had climbed to 175.

Each week, the National Education Television and Radio Center (renamed in 1963 to National Educational Television) aired a few hours of relatively inexpensive programs to educational stations across the country. These programs were produced by a plethora of stations across the nation, such as WGBH in Boston, WTTW in Chicago, and KQED in San Francisco. Unfortunately, with the growth of commercial radio and television, the more poorly-funded educational programming was being largely ignored. The higher budgets of the commercial media were making it difficult for the educational programs to compete, due to their smaller budgets.

The networks airing educational programming began to favor the commercial entertainment programs because they lured more people, and thus more advertising dollars. Locally run, nonprofit television and radio tried to "fill in the gaps"[7] but, due to the technology gap created by budget constraints, it was increasingly difficult to produce the high-tech programming that consumers were used to.

In 1965, the increasing distance between commercial and educational programming led to the Carnegie Corporation of New York ordering its Commission on Education Television to conduct a study of ETV and, from that study, derive changes and recommendations for future action regarding ETV. The report created from the study was published about two years later and became a "catalyst and model"[6] for the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967.

With the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, smaller television and radio broadcasters were able to be heard by a wider range of audiences, and new and developing broadcasters were encouraged to display their knowledge to the country. Before 1967, commercial radio and television was widely used by major networks in order to attract advertisers. Smaller networks were unable to make much impact due to their lack of budget.[7] The act provided a window for broadcasters to get their message across and, in some cases, straight to the point. Even people who could not afford premium channels were always provided with PBS as an additional network to the Big Three.

Many adults and children today would have grown up without some of the more well-known PBS shows, such as Sesame Street and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood without this act. Many other shows are informative to everyday needs or concerns. Local events and special offers were a bonus but were generally targeted at larger audiences so they were not always beneficial for the station.


Public broadcasting includes multiple media outlets, which receive some or all of their funding from the public. The main media outlets consist of radio and television. Public broadcasting consists of organizations such as CPB, Public Broadcasting Service, and National Public Radio, organizations independent of each other and of the local public television and radio stations across the country.[8]

CPB was created and funded by the federal government; it does not produce or distribute any programming.[9]

PBS is a private, nonprofit corporation, founded in 1969, whose members are America’s public TV stations — noncommercial, educational licensees that operate nearly 360 PBS member stations and serve all 50 states, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and American Samoa.[10] The nonprofit organization also reaches almost 117 million people through television and nearly 20 million people online each month.[10]

NPR is a multimedia news organization and radio program producer, with member stations and supporters nationwide.[11]

The Act

The Public Broadcasting Act begins:

(a) Congressional declaration of policy

The Congress hereby finds and declares that --

(1) it is in the public interest to encourage the growth and development of public radio and television broadcasting, including the use of such media for instructional, educational, and cultural purposes; (2) it is in the public interest to encourage the growth and development of nonbroadcast telecommunications technologies for the delivery of public telecommunications services; (3) expansion and development of public telecommunications and of diversity of its programming depend on freedom, imagination, and initiative on both local and national levels; (4) the encouragement and support of public telecommunications, while matters of importance for private and local development, are also of appropriate and important concern to the federal government; (5) it furthers the general welfare to encourage public telecommunications services which will be responsive to the interests of people both in particular localities and throughout the United States, which will constitute an expression of diversity and excellence, and which will constitute a source of alternative telecommunications services for all the citizens of the nation; (6) it is in the public interest to encourage the development of programming that involves creative risks and that addresses the needs of unserved and underserved audiences, particularly children and minorities; (7) it is necessary and appropriate for the federal government to complement, assist, and support a national policy that will most effectively make public telecommunications services available to all citizens of the United States; (8) public television and radio stations and public telecommunications services constitute valuable local community resources for utilizing electronic media to address national concerns and solve local problems through community programs and outreach programs; (9) it is in the public interest for the federal government to ensure that all citizens of the United States have access to public telecommunications services through all appropriate available telecommunications distribution technologies; and (10) a private corporation should be created to facilitate the development of public telecommunications and to afford maximum protection from extraneous interference and control.[12]

Recent developments

Bob McDonnell, the governor of Virginia, slashed $424,000 from the annual budget of public broadcasting in that state in 2012.[13]

Public broadcasting exec to speak at KBBG banquet

PBS anchor Jim Lehrer said that there is a need to increase federal funding in order to meet the need of serious journalism as broadcasters and commercial newspapers see decline. Lehrer said, "Public media needs to produce more local news and serious journalism because other channels are being used to tease and to entertain and only to inform across the surface. I have a good source on why this is a problem. The source is Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson told the folks back when this country was founded that the only way this democratic society we just created is going to work is if there is an informed electorate."[14]

Public broadcasting funding is to retain most of what President Barack Obama had set aside for it.[15]

See also


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