Speeches That Didn’t Change The World

Today is the anniversary of Newton Minow’s “vast wasteland” speech.  It’s a landmark in the history of broadcasting because Minow had just been elevated from his position as just a guy with a name that sounds like an idea for a fish-flavored soft cookie, to the the exalted chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, appointed to lead the regulatory agency by President John F. Kennedy.

Minow was talking to the 1961 convention of the National Association of Broadcasters and he didn’t mince words as he challenged his listeners to watch a day of television from the moment of sign on,  when the programming started, to sign off, when it stopped.

Yes, children, there was a time in history when the television stations would actually be quiet at the end of a day.

Minow argued that “a vast wasteland” was on display.

“You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you’ll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it.”

The speech was a challenge to broadcasters to change their programming approach and do their work in the public interest. Wikipedia claims it was selected as one of twenty five “Speeches That Changed the World,” which is a ridiculous claim.

Minow didn’t change the world.  Broadcasters pretty much ignored him and went about their business.  When Gilligan’s Island debuted three years later, the shipwrecked boat was named after Minow.

Years later, Minow said he was really advocating for providing more choices for viewers, and in 2015 we can see that technology has certainly taken care of that.   But the broadly uplifting and ardently educational medium he imagined at the time did not materialize outside the creation of Masterpiece Theater and Sesame Street.

If Minow did anything at all in 1961, he merely predicted the empty, miserable, disappointing future of broadcasting.

When have you said the thing your audience didn’t want to hear?

44 thoughts on “Speeches That Didn’t Change The World”

  1. I often have to give bad news, like telling parents that their child has autism, or an itellectual disability, or telling someone they have dementia. We are in Fargo, and the bad news I didn’t want to hear is that a winter storm is going to hit back home tonight with up to a foot of snow in some places. I refuse to rush back early, so we may be in Fargo longer than we planned. Ish! Snow? On Mother’s Day?

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  2. i just watched a movie that my wife ordered because i expressed interest based on the netfliz trailer that highlighted the storyline. we have had it a week and i have tried to watch it twice before and it puts me to sleep. this morning i watched it and it is the worst movie i have ever seen. no redeeming qualities at all. a sit ended i was getting the tub ready for my morning dip and i realized it was over. i looked over at my wife and asked her how she could let me watch this crap and waste a chunk of my life. she just laughed.
    i went to a bankers presentation yesterday morning where it was a 1/2 ohour or 45 minutes of watching some poor vet talk about how banking is better thna the beach over there in afganastan. what was i thinking…

    whe have i said sothig the audience didnt want to hear? i try to choose my audiences carefully but every now and again i miss or there is a sniper in wait to heckle my left leaning presentations. you gotta love those tea party intellectuals. ( i spelled it right) but as far as speaking so it is something they want to hear… thats what fox news is for

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  3. The Fargo marathon is today. Brr. No snow here,. The storm is only predicted in the far West. I think that woodchipper was in Bemidji.

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  4. Thank you, Dale for more Gilligan’s Island trivia. I consider myself a bit of an authority on the subject, so it is always fun to learn something new.

    I taught a year of Intro to Theatre at Luther before the nativity of the s&h. As a theatre professional, I simply did not “get” the concept that this was supposed to be an “easy A” for bright seniors who had not gotten around to fulfilling their fine arts requirement. I actually took the subject seriously and expected them to as well.

    I put a fair number of inconvenient truths out there . Some of my students thanked me, some hated my guts.

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    1. Probably old news to MIG: My DIL and #1Son’s baby shower was held at Mother’s Beach in Marina Del Ray last October. I was told that the part of the lead-in where the Minnow leaves the marina was filmed there.
      (I suppose the fact that DIL and #1son had a baby shower IS news to MIG – and not interesting or relevant news at that)

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Nice job, Dale. I especially enjoyed “a guy with a name that sounds like an idea for a fish-flavored soft cookie.” How do you come up with that sort of thing? I also agree with mig that the Gilligan’s Island trivia is a nice touch, even though I can’t make claim to know the first thing about the show. Don’t believe I’ve seen a single episode.

    I suppose the folks I fired during my career in office administration didn’t want to hear that news. On the other hand, the offenses were usually so egregious that it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to most of them. With one notable exception, the comedian Liz Winstead. Liz was probably elated to be let go from a job that was clearly dead end, and an audience that didn’t appreciate her considerable talent.

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  6. After 911, when I told our staff that there was no way that we could ever truly be safe. Yeah, they didn’t really want to hear that…

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  7. We have gone through a long battle to get our TV and Internet to work. All the time I kept thinking we are going through this for Sandy to watch the Twins, two game shows, and HGTV and for me to watch a bit of public TV.
    I in the end forced the hand of the provider to get seruous. About five problems were fixed and I bought my own router for the Internet.

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      1. I just thought of an audience: my clients! I say a lot of things they don’t want to hear 🙂 I was thinking of an “audience” as multiple people. If I were to get into a fraction of the things I’ve said that others haven’t wanted to hear, it’d take pages.

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  8. For several months I had the job of giving academic advice to students in the College of Liberal Arts at the U of MN. The group assigned to me was defined by two facts: 1) they were all pre-med majors, and 2) their overall academic scores were significantly less than 3.0. So these were kids were mostly getting Cs and Ds in their biology and chemistry classes. To put that another way: these were kids whose academic work was never going to qualify them for a medical school.

    I saw these kids three times a year. I’m sure they dreaded those sessions, for it was my job to show them that their dreams of becoming a doctor were unrealistic unless they suddenly became academic superstars. Some had picked a pre-med program to suit their parents. Some had financial ambitions. Some were impressed with the doctors they saw on TV. Maybe a few of those students were relieved to hear from me that they should consider another path, but what I mostly remember is the sad arguments I had with delusional young folks who had lofty dreams but dubious ability.

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  9. I just did something that wiped out my reply. That was a accident. However, there have been many times when an accident of that kind would have been a good thing. I have attended many meetings where I spoke up about various things which I should have kept to myself.

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    1. I knew a man named Sonny. Or maybe it was Sunny. He had a nose that pointed toward his right shoulder at a steep angle. I asked him about that. He said, “Oh, you know, that happened one night when I was sitting on a bar stool. It was one of those moments when I should have been listening instead of talking. I keep thinking I might meet some guy with a good left hook and get my nose straight again.”

      It interests me, Jim, that just about everyone has keen memories of times we spoke up when it would have been better to be quiet. I don’t know that I ever heard anyone say, “I really made a mistake there. I regret not saying anything.” You might think that having so many regrets about speaking up would make us more modest and quiet. But, no.

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      1. I have noticed that there are people who don’t speak up very often at meetings which is what I should do. Perhaps some of those people who don’t speak up very often have learned the value of being modest and quiet.

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      2. i was brand new as a board member of the eden prairie foundation for schools. everyone was republican and kind of impressed with themselves for being on such a prestegious board. i cracked a couple jokes as the group went around the circel introducing themselves and it gave me the distinct impression that screwing around was an unfamiliar contribution to this group. as they went along discussing their mission which is t o create scholarships and help funding in the eden prairie classrooms with stuff the budget didnt allow for wa comment was made that one of the guys had a friend who was a financial advisor who could figure what bonds or investment vehicles should be considered for the 50,000 dollar contribution they had just received from a big shot donor

        i wanted to speak up and tell them that with the market where it was today i would suggest buying gold but i resisted and figured this guys bufddy was the way the system worked and i should have listened rather than speaking up.
        the group met every two weeks and at the next meeting it was announced that the guys friend wouldnt return the calls and it was suspicioned that he had invested in morgan stanley just as their stock had been deemed worthless. a total loss. at the same time gold increased and continued to increase for the foreseeable future.
        they went back to the philanthropist and told him they lost the 50k fully expecting him to fork over another 50k and he said he appreciated the honesty about how they lost all his money, not many would be so open about such a big mistake. he didnt offer and never offered again.
        i i did get more open about discussing my ideas including nixing ideas like bringing other organizations to join ours and share in the fundraising pie which would in turn raise the lame hired fundraising vice presidents salary in order to accommodate the increased work.
        i reently was commenting to a co worker how i am not a very good silent colleague and he laughed out loud for an extended perioud of time. i cant stand being silent. if you want someone to be careful about what ehey say choose elsewhere. some of the best stuff that comes out of my mouth is stuff that shouldn’s and some of the most unfortunate unspoken words are the ones i tried to bury to avaiod confrontation.
        bring on the confrontation. it makes for discussions that matter and decide something of value.

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  10. Back home having skirted the storm in the central part of the state by about an hour. We knew we had a window of opportunity to get home and we took it. Neither husband nor I were happy to hear the news that we had forgotten his Cpap machine at the hotel, but daughter retrieved it and took it to NDSU to best friend’s mother,who will bring it back home for us. BFF”s mother is Fargo for the Sunday performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Friday performance was wonderful. Best Friend was superb as Titania.

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    1. there is a company called spee dee delivery that does shipments for real cheap if you eever rn into thwat sitation again. i think you need to have an account but i believe you can use mine and it will be like mayvbe 5 bucks to ship something reasonable with north south dakota minnesota wisc and parts of illinois and iowa. really a ogod deal if you use it. or are getting old and absent minded

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  11. y laptops screen makes it darn near impossible to ready the screen while im working on it. at work i have a screen i plug it into. i guess i need one at home too. the computer is a good one but i beat the crap out of equipment and this one has been ridden hard and put away wet.
    im not good at proofreading when im good, im terrible at it when i have an excuse

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  12. I have told directors I did not have time nor budget to build sets the way they wanted them, I told one director that she ought to quit redesigning my set with the costumer, I have had to tell someone we were cutting back his hours, and I recently told the leader of my division, “yeah, the culture clash with some teams pretty much sucks and that’s why we are losing people.” The last two were not comfy conversations to have. Ick.

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  13. Ha ha. I’m a single parent – not a day goes by that I don’t say something that Child/Teenager/Young Adult doesn’t want to hear!!

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