History Ph.D. Dissertations


Expertise at War: The National Committee on Education by Radio, The National Association of Broadcasters, The Federal Radio Commission and the Battle for American Radio

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Leigh Ann Wheeler


In 1930 a group of educators formed the National Committee on Education by Radio (NCER) to fight for the preservation of non-profit education radio stations while also combating the meteoric rise of commercial radio programs. Between 1930 and 1934 the NCER would do battle with the commercial radio industry and its trade organization, the National Association of Broadcasters, attempting to carve out a safe space for educational, non-profit radio through a mixture of lobbying efforts and grass-roots activism. Ultimately the NCER lost its battle with the passage of the Communications Act of 1934. Other scholars have explored this moment in American history, arguing that the NCER stood little chance for success because of its own ineptitude and a powerful commercial industry. This dissertation attempts to understand its choices and motivations in the struggle for educational radio while examining the broader implications of the NCER's arguments on our understanding of New Deal politics, associationalism, gender, and consumerism. The NCER waged a principled campaign to protect the home from commercialism and prevent Eastern cultural colonization of the United States by providing a redemptive space on the air. The NCER was an organization steeped in a fusion of humanitarian progressivism and populism that informed and limited its courses of action. It believed that it had valuable, relevant expertise to offer the federal government in deciding the model of American radio. I conclude that the NCER was not an inept organization that ultimately failed to achieve its goals. Instead it was a progressive group that watched the very progressive machinery its members once supported quash its campaign for radio reform and alter its conception of democracy, seeing federal regulators devalue its gendered expertise and watching educational radio sacrificed at the altar of the New Deal. However, the NCER posed a greater threat to the commercial industry than previously believed, and could have succeeded under different circumstances. The NCER fought against the conflation of consumerism and democracy while fighting to stave off cultural domination by the East coast, and it compels us to rethink the nature and periodization of progressivism.