Public Broadcasting Act of 1967

The Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 (47 U.S.C. § 396) issued the congressional corporate charter for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a private nonprofit corporation funded by taxpayers to disburse grants to public broadcasters in the United States, and eventually established the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and National Public Radio (NPR).

Public Broadcasting Act of 1967
Great Seal of the United States
Long titleAn 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 bythe 90th United States Congress
EffectiveNovember 7, 1967
Public law90-129
Statutes at Large81 Stat. 365
Titles amended47 U.S.C.: Telegraphy
U.S.C. sections amended47 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 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"), NPR founder and creator of All Things Considered Robert Conley, and Senator John O. Pastore of Rhode Island, then chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, during 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 of Michigan 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]

Most political observers viewed the Act as a component of Johnson's "Great Society" initiatives intended to increase governmental support for health, welfare, and educational activities in the U.S. The support that the Act and similar legislation addressing other matters received reflected the liberal consensus of the period.

Educational televisionEdit

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 National Educational Television in 1963) 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 by the American public. The higher budgets of the commercial networks and stations were making it difficult for the educational programs to attract viewers' attention, due to their smaller budgets and, thus, lower production values.

Networks and stations that previously aired a modest amount of educational programming began to eschew it in the early 1960s in favor of a near-total emphasis on 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 technological gap created by budget constraints (typically caused by being no more than a line item on a municipality, state, or university's annual budget that could not be adjusted in the middle of a year to address arising needs), it was increasingly difficult to produce programming with high production values that viewers had become accustomed to.

In 1965, the increasing distance between commercial and educational programming and audience size led to the Carnegie Corporation of New York ordering its Commission on Education Television to conduct a study of the American ETV system 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, operated usually by community organizations, state and local governments, or universities, were able to be seen and 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 were mostly used by major networks and local broadcasters in order to attract advertisers and make as large a profit as possible, often with little or no regard to the general welfare of their audiences, except for news broadcasts shown only a few hours per day and public-affairs programs that aired in low-rated timeslots such as Sunday mornings, when a considerable segment of the American public attended religious worship. Smaller stations were unable to make much impact due to their lack of funds for matters such as program production, properly functioning equipment, signal transmission, and promotion in their communities at large.[7] The act provided a window for certain broadcasters to get their messages, sometimes unpopular ones, across and, in some cases, straight to the point, without fear of undue influence exerted by commercial or political interests. Even people who had no access to cable television (at the time of the Act's adoption, a medium used to receive and amplify distant TV signals for clear viewing and not available everywhere in the U.S.; the first cable-only network did not appear until 1972, with HBO) were usually provided with public television as an alternative viewing option to the Big Three television networks of the time; only some larger markets had independent television stations prior to the late 1970s.

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 legislation. Some other shows, aimed at adults, provide information to address everyday needs or concerns. To increase funding, stations began offering privileges and merchandise as rewards to induce private household donations; however, these were generally targeted at larger audiences than those who normally watched. This became a source of controversy among some in the industry in later years, particularly beginning in the 1970s with reductions in Federal funding that occurred because of political and economic changes from the days of the Act's 1967 inception.


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][failed verification] The nonprofit organization also reaches almost 117 million people through television and nearly 20 million people online each month.[10][failed verification]

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

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Burke, John (1972). An Historical-Analytical Study of the Legislative and Political Origins of the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967. ISBN 9780405117565.
  2. ^ House Roll Call 140, 1967
  3. ^ a b Remarks of President Lyndon B. Johnson Upon Signing the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 at
  4. ^ Hellewell, Emily (8 November 2012). "How Public Radio Scotch-Taped Its Way Into Public Broadcasting Act". Retrieved 20 March 2013.
  5. ^ Burke, John Edward (1980). An Historical-Analytical Study of the Legislative and Political Origins of the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967. Dissertations in Broadcasting. Ayer Publishing. ISBN 0-405-11756-6. Retrieved 2012-05-01.
  6. ^ a b "Television in the United States". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2012-05-01.
  7. ^ a b "Public Broadcasting Act of 1967". Enotes. Retrieved 2012-05-01.
  8. ^ "About the Corporation for Public Broadcasting".
  9. ^ "Corporation for Public Broadcasting". Archived from the original on 2015-05-11.
  10. ^ a b "PBS".
  11. ^ "About NPR: Overview and History". NPR.

External linksEdit