Newton Minow and the Vast Wasteland Speech, May 9, 1961

Posted on May 9, 2016 at 8:00 am

Here is my wonderful dad, Newton Minow, on his famous “vast wasteland” speech, delivered when he was the new Kennedy Administration FCC Chairman to the National Association of Broadcasters on May 9, 1961, 55 years ago today.

Although he said many good things about television, producer Sherwood Schwartz was so insulted by Dad’s comments he decided to name the sinking ship on “Gilligan’s Island” after him — the S.S. Minnow. When he was chairman of the FCC his primary goal was giving viewers more choices, through the establishment of what would become PBS, and technological improvements like cable television, UHF channels, and cable TV. He has since worked on many more important projects including the development of the Presidential Debates. He still serves as Vice Chair of the Debates Commission. And he’s the world’s best dad.

There is a a wonderful one-hour documentary about him from Mike Leonard, which is available online.  It includes many of our favorite stories: Eleanor Roosevelt’s call to ask Dad to intervene on behalf of Reverend Robert L.T. Smith, a black candidate in Mississippi who was not allowed to buy commercial time, LBJ yelling at him about Vietnam, his now unclassified role during the Cuban missile crisis, and his telling JFK why a communications satellite would be more important than putting a man on the moon. And it has some of our favorite family memories, too.

We had a wonderful 90th birthday party celebration for Dad in January and his colleagues had a very cute children’s book made in his honor about a new and a minnow. I have one to give away. Send me an email at with Minnow in the subject line and tell me the worst show you ever saw on television. Don’t forget your address! (US addresses only) I’ll pick a winner at random on May 16, 2016.

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