Newton N. Minow, who as President John F. Kennedy’s new F.C.C. chairman in 1961 sent shock waves through an industry and touched a nerve in a nation addicted to banality and mayhem by calling American television “a vast wasteland,” died on Saturday at his home in Chicago . He was 97.
His daughter Nell Minow said the cause was a heart attack.
On May 9, 1961, almost four months after President Kennedy called upon Americans to renew their commitment to freedom around the globe, Mr. Minow, a bespectacled bureaucrat who had recently been put in charge of the Federal Communications Commission, got up before 2,000 broadcast executives at a luncheon in Washington and invited them to watch television for a day.
“Stay there without a book, magazine, newspaper, profit-and-loss sheet or rating book to distract you, and keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off,” Mr. Minow said. “I can assure you that you will observe a vast wasteland.”
The audience sat aghast as he went on:
“You will see a procession of game shows, violence, audience participation 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.”