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  • Michael James Kacey, Director
  • Dave Sanford (Producer), Producer
  • Mandisa Henry (Co-Producer), Producer
  • Penny Edmiston (Consulting Producer), Producer

A middle-aged black individual in a patterned sweater sits in front of a muted brown backdrop

About the Project

Exploring American radio’s obligation to serve the public interest, this four-part limited docuseries traces the battle for control of the public airwaves by private companies, weighing the impact of public interest successes and failures in shaping our world today.

In The Public Interest takes a long-overdue look at why this phrase was inserted into the law and what it means today.

In 1927, a critical choice needed to be made: follow the BBC model of nationally-supported radio or turn the spectrum over to the private sector. Naturally, the private sector won out. However, there was one important caveat written into the new law: broadcasters would get free use of the airwaves so long as they also served “the public interest, convenience and necessity.” That phrase is still on the books today.

In The Public Interest is divided into four episodes: “Foundation” tells how American radio was first organized and maintained. “Conflict” looks at radio’s active involvement during an era of social unrest in the 1960s. “Solution” explains changes in regulations, culminating with the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Concluding with “Result,” we probe how consolidation has forced many owners and local voices out of the industry as nationally syndicated programs proved both profitable and persuasive in today’s radio.

Through expert interviews, rare archival sights and sounds, a vast array of music and intimate, personal stories, this documentary series revives the concept of the public interest in broadcasting and explores ways that this obligation can be useful in today’s polarized nation.