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Johnson sabbatical work focuses on communication history and assisting Seneca Nation
Friday, November 13, 2015

Johnson sabbatical work focuses on communication history and assisting Seneca Nation

Dr. Laura Deen Johnson

Laura Deen Johnson, associate professor of Communication, will be taking a writing and research sabbatical during the 2016 spring semester. Her projects include completing a book and consulting with the Media Team at the Seneca Nation of Indians.

“Shall We Gather at the Radio: A History of Religious Noncommercial Educational Radio Licensing at the Federal Communications Commission” is a book project that grew out of Dr. Johnson’s dissertation research at the University of Florida.

Johnson noted that the Noncommercial Educational (NCE) FM band from 87.9 to 91.9 FM is the home of public radio, educational radio, alternative radio, community radio and religious noncommercial educational radio. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) created NCE licensing for curriculum-based educational radio stations connected to public school systems. Spectrum scarcity in the commercial FM band caused religious broadcasters to actively seek frequencies in the NCE band. Over time, NCE decisions at the FCC and the creation of public broadcasting relaxed the educational requirements and made it possible for religious groups to successfully argue that they were eligible for NCE licenses.

The case study employs historical and legal research methods to tell the story of individuals and organizations that helped define and challenge FCC policy, including the U.S. Office of Education led by John Ward Studebaker, the Moody Bible Institute (MBI) and the major decisions and policy statements at the FCC (and FRC) that defined educational and religious broadcasting policy from the earliest days of radio to the present.

The philosophical divide over public education and religion in the noncommercial FM band reflects a similar divide in the public sphere of American life. The purpose of the study is to show that the existence of the noncommercial educational category of licensing and the reason for denying access to religious organizations is rooted in the history of public education in America, in Progressivism, and its children, the New Deal and the Great Society. The FCC based its 1977 decision to allow access to religious broadcasters in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

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