Tuesday, June 6, 2017


So, how much of a media geek am I? Last Sunday night (6/4) I was glued to C-SPAN for Brian Lamb’s interview with Thomas Hazlett about his new book The Political Spectrum.  For a person like me who eats call letters for breakfast this hour of television is as good as it gets.

Check out the C-SPAN interview online here.

The Political Spectrum is about the intersection of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the electronic media spectrum and political influence.   

It is the definitive work about how and why the FCC has made decisions regarding radio, television, cable, the Internet and mobile devices. 

These decisions have made some people billionaires and other people paupers.

Hazlett’s new book is filled with cases studies about how the FCC handles, and sometimes mishandles, new and emerging technologies. With each new device and platform, the FCC rules and policies must adapt existing practices. In many ways, the FCC is trying to regulate and define “the genie in the bottle.”

Most FCC decisions have been helpful to the growth of electronic communication industries but there have situations when the FCC has stifled progress. Hazlett has plenty of examples of both in The Political Spectrum.

Thomas Hazlett is uniquely qualified to explore these topics. In the early 1990’s he was Chief Economist of the Federal Communications Commission, the person responsible for gaging the economic impact of FCC decisions. After working for the FCC, he has devoted his work to education, research and commentary on the impact of political decisions on government policy.

Thomas Hazlett
Today Hazlett is the H.H. Macaulay Endowed Chair in Economics at Clemson University, where he also is director of the Information Economy Program [link]

He previously held faculty positions at the University of California, Davis, Columbia University, the Wharton School, and George Mason University School of Law. 

Hazlett’s reporting and commentary has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, The Economist, Slate, Politico and Time.

Best of all, Hazlett is a terrific storyteller with a wry sense of humor and irony. This makes the book a fun, fast read.


I haven’t received my copy of the book yet so I am basing this review on what I heard and saw on C-SPAN and other reviews.

Hazlett’s premise is that while the FCC is necessary to regulate “the ether,” when applied to new media, the higher the stakes, the higher for the potential of waste and political backscratching.

His narrative begins with the popular legend that the FCC’s predecessor, the Federal Radio Commission (FRC) was established in 1927, the radio spectrum was in chaos, with broadcasting stations blasting powerful signals to drown out rivals. This situation led to ever-increasing federal regulation of electronic media to impose necessary order. But, regulators pushed the FCC to block competition, impair free speech and protect the powerful and politically connected owners of media.

In The Political Spectrum, Hazlett reports how spectrum overseers produced a “vast wasteland” that they publicly criticized but privately protected. His story recounts the losing battle by Edwin Armstrong to establish FM, the untold story of how President Lyndon Johnson’s family became rich by easily acquiring radio and television station licenses and the FCC’s embrace of a HD Radio scheme that ignored common sense.

Hazlett’s book is certain to enlighten and anger readers on the left and right. Here is a sample of the reviews:

“Among [the] proponents of a market for spectrum, none is more vocal and persuasive than …Thomas Hazlett…. Hazlett has done an extraordinary service demonstrating the harm of government-managed spectrum.”

“Few understand spectrum, and yet few things are more important to our networked future. Tom Hazlett covers it all superbly.  A monumental work.”

"Tom Hazlett describes convincingly and clearly how federal regulation of the radio spectrum epitomizes crony capitalism in the U.S.  With colorful writing and extensive research, The Political Spectrum demonstrates how spectrum regulation provides politicians and regulators with a goody bag of campaign contributions while in office and high-salaried jobs afterwards, all at the expense of the general welfare."

The Politic Spectrum was released in late May 2017 and is available from Amazon [link] and local booksellers.

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