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What’s Fair on the Air?

Cold War Right-Wing Broadcasting and the Public Interest

The rise of right-wing broadcasting during the Cold War has been mostly forgotten today. But in the 1950s and ’60s you could turn on your radio any time of the day and listen to diatribes against communism, civil rights, the United Nations, fluoridation, federal income tax, Social Security, or JFK, as well as hosannas praising Barry Goldwater and Jesus Christ. Half a century before the rise of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, these broadcasters bucked the FCC’s public interest mandate and created an alternate universe of right-wing political coverage, anticommunist sermons, and pro-business bluster.
A lively look back at this formative era, What’s Fair on the Air? charts the rise and fall of four of the most prominent right-wing broadcasters: H. L. Hunt, Dan Smoot, Carl McIntire, and Billy James Hargis. By the 1970s, all four had been hamstrung by the Internal Revenue Service, the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine, and the rise of a more effective conservative movement. But before losing their battle for the airwaves, Heather Hendershot reveals, they purveyed ideological notions that would eventually triumph, creating a potent brew of religion, politics, and dedication to free-market economics that paved the way for the rise of Ronald Reagan, the Moral Majority, Fox News, and the Tea Party.

272 pages | 32 halftones, 3 line drawings, 1 table | 6 x 9 | © 2011

History: American History

Media Studies

Political Science: American Government and Politics


“Heather Hendershot achieves something rare and sublime in this book: capturing the baroque strangeness of the mid-century American right, without sacrificing empathy for them as reasonable political actors—recovering the severe discontinuities between far-right broadcasters and today’s Fox/Limbaugh world, while also honoring what has been constant in the history of American right-wing depredation of liberalism. And as broadcast history, it’s exceptionally subtle and useful.”

Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America

“Heather Hendershot’s history of America’s ‘primordial version of Fox News’—the overlooked, forgotten, and sometimes actively erased far-right broadcasts of the 1960s—does more than bring an essential piece in the puzzle of modern conservatism to light. What’s Fair on the Air? challenges us to rethink widely accepted notions of free speech, fundamentalism, and modernity. That’s a big task; fortunately we have Hendershot’s brilliant—and often funny—book to help us begin.”

Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family  and Sweet Heaven When I Die

What’s Fair on the Air? is a meticulously researched and astutely analyzed history of the right-wing broadcasting movement of the 1950s and 1960s. By focusing on the careers of several key and colorful conservative activists, Hendershot puts a human face on this movement, dispels both conservative and liberal stereotypes about it, and recovers a rich understanding of the legal and political struggles over broadcasting of the period. This close look at the travails of Limbaugh’s and Beck’s predecessors, in the end, sheds new light on the origin and character of the contemporary political landscape.”

Thomas Streeter, author of Selling the Air

Table of Contents


Introduction. Right-Wing Media vs. Cold War America: “Lace, Luncheons, and Frying Pans” Collapse into a “Nightmare of Raw Violence and

Chapter 1. “A Strong Reek of the Not-Quite-Crackpot”: H. L. Hunt, Right-Wing Radio’s “Constructive” Conservative

Chapter 2. Right-Wing Broadcasting’s Supreme Individualist: Dan Smoot and the Tactics of Constitutional Conservatism

Chapter 3. God’s Angriest Man: Carl McIntire, Neoevangelicalism, and the Long-Lingering Fundamentalist Fires

Chapter 4. A Story of “Epic Proportions”: The Battle between the FCC and WXUR 137

Chapter 5. Everything Old Is New Again: Billy James Hargis, Extremist Tactics, and the Politics of Image

Conclusion. From Birchers to Birthers?



Association of American Publishers: PROSE Book Award
Honorable Mention

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