• U.S.

Radio: Mopper-Upper

3 minute read

Two years ago Franklin Roosevelt plucked pitcher-eared little Frank Ramsay McNinch from the Federal Power Commission to make him chairman of the turbulent Federal Communications Commission. McNinch’s assignment was a clean-up job supposed to last about three months. Under Cleaner-Upper McNinch, FCC has been more turbulent than ever. FCC Commissioners were at odds on its investigations into superpower and radio rates, practically disavowed Commissioner Walker’s drastic 1,100 page report on American Telephone & Telegraph Co. Capping the thunder-headed cumulus was Chairman McNinch’s unrelenting war on two fellow-Commissioners, publicity-hunting George Henry Payne and the Navy’s Commander Tunis Augustus MacDonough Craven, the Commission’s only technical man.

This year Chairman McNinch dragged FCC’s brawls into Congress with a reorganization bill that would let him eliminate Commissioners Payne and Craven, remove many lesser FCC jobs from civil service. But neither Frank McNinch nor his Chief is so popular with Congress as he once was, and the FCC reorganization bill was shelved.

Last week 66-year-old Chairman McNinch, ill since April with a stomach ailment, resigned. As he often does in such cases, Franklin Roosevelt published their exchange of letters, praised Frank McNinch’s work. Broadcasting-Broadcast Advertising, radio’s authoritative trade journal, observed: “He certainly was not lacking in courage, and no one questions his sincerity, though many in radio have not seen eye to eye with him on the majority of his proposed ‘reforms.’ But … his selection of William J. Dempsey as general counsel has proved a boon to the efficiency of the FCC.”

Before the radio industry had time to cross its fingers over the President’s intentions, he acted. Once more Franklin Roosevelt went outside FCC to pick a chairman. Like Frank McNinch, 41-year-old James Lawrence Fly made his name with the New Deal program. TVA’s general counsel since 1937, able Jim Fly won TVA’s two major tilts in the Supreme Court. A tall, quiet, hard-working Texan who graduated from Annapolis and spent three years in the Navy before loping through Harvard Law School in two years, Lawyer Fly is a New Dealer on power questions but no zealot, won the respect of many private utilitarians by his moderation and tact in TVA disputes. By naming new Chairman Fly practically on the eve of Congress’ adjournment, Franklin Roosevelt did his best to insure the appointment against Senatorial objections. Observers guessed that Jim Fly’s assignment at FCC would be less a cleaner-upper than a mopper-upper.

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