John F. Banzhaf III was watching soccer on tv together with his household within the Bronx on Thanksgiving 1966 when he realized that essentially the most strategic performs have been being made off the sphere — within the cigarette commercials whose jingles, gags, slogans and pictures of virile cowboys and urbane ladies glamorized smoking.
Two years had elapsed since the US surgeon normal declared that smoking brought about lung most cancers. However whereas Congress had voted to require well being warning labels on cigarette packaging, it had, in the meanwhile, not required them for TV commercials.
Mr. Banzhaf, a 25-year-old current graduate of Columbia Legislation College, complained in a letter to the Federal Communications Fee that whereas tv information protection included each side of the tobacco debate, the cigarette commercials didn’t. Below the so-called equity doctrine, which required that each side of a problem of public concern be introduced, weren’t opponents of smoking entitled to free airtime?
“When his letter got here in, it struck a responsive chord, and I assumed why not use it?” Henry Geller, the F.C.C. counsel on the time, recalled in an unpublished memoir.
Mr. Geller, who died on April 7 in Washington at 96, did simply that. He advised that one antismoking public service message be broadcast free for each paid cigarette commercial.
That proposed system so unnerved station homeowners afraid of jeopardizing their licenses, and tobacco firms involved about competing with highly effective antismoking commercials, that Congress was lastly capable of ban the promoting altogether.
“The trade desperately wished to cease these counter adverts and did so by eliminating its own ads,” Mr. Geller stated. “From April 1, 1970, ahead, all cigarette promoting was eradicated from radio and tv.”
In impact, Mr. Banzhaf stated this week, “Geller fortuitously made new federal regulation in a most uncommon method, and possibly helped to avoid wasting tens of millions of lives.” (Mr. Banzhaf grew to become a professor at George Washington College Legislation College and a litigious defender of public well being, difficult cigarette, quick meals and smooth drink companies.)
Mr. Geller later profoundly influenced American politics by efficiently difficult the equal time doctrine as a personal citizen, a problem that led to a ruling permitting for televised debates between the main presidential candidates. Such debates have been held in each presidential election since 1976.
In 1960, the networks had been granted a particular dispensation by Congress to broadcast the groundbreaking face-off between Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard M. Nixon. Below the unique doctrine, a dozen or so minor get together candidates would have been entitled to take part within the debates.
After no televised debates have been held in 1964, 1968 and 1972, Mr. Geller persuaded the fee that broadcasting debates was the equal of masking another breaking information occasion, and was subsequently exempt from that requirement.
Mr. Geller was also instrumental in increasing the channels obtainable to new cable subscribers in 1970, whereas he was nonetheless on the F.C.C. The fee voted to permit the cable trade to import distant tv alerts and distribute them to its clients. It additionally required the trade each to subsidize instructional programming and to compensate native broadcasters.
Not like lots of his colleagues in authorities, Mr. Geller by no means capitalized on his public service to get a high-paying job within the personal sector. He labored for the RAND Company, the Aspen Institute and, from 1980 to 1991, Duke College’s Washington Middle for Public Coverage Analysis. As its director he helped draft and efficiently foyer for federal laws that imposed limits on how a lot promoting was allowed on youngsters’s programming.
Henry Geller was born on Feb. 14, 1924, in Springfield, Mass., to Jewish immigrants from Jap Europe. His father, Samuel, was a homebuilder. His mom, Sadie (Kramer) Geller, was a homemaker.
He grew up in Detroit, graduated from the College of Michigan at 19 in 1943 with a level in chemistry, after which served with the Military within the Pacific throughout World Warfare II. When he returned, he started graduate examine in chemistry at Michigan. However, he later recalled, when he encountered a number of regulation faculty college students and discovered that they hardly ever studied, he enrolled in Northwestern College College of Legislation.
“I assumed Henry was the neatest man in regulation faculty,” Newton N. Minow, who was a yr behind him at Northwestern and who later grew to become F.C.C. chairman, instructed Broadcast journal in 1979. “He was a film nut. He’d go to 3 motion pictures a day and by no means hit the books till per week earlier than exams.”
Mr. Geller graduated second in his class in 1949, went to work for the F.C.C. after which for the Nationwide Labor Relations Board, and clerked for an Illinois state choose.
In 1955 he married Judy Foelak, who ran a audio system’ bureau. She survives him and confirmed his loss of life, from issues of bladder most cancers, at their residence in Washington. He’s additionally survived by their youngsters, Peter Geller and Kathryn Edwards, and a grandson.
Mr. Geller was the F.C.C.’s normal counsel from 1964 to 1970 and a particular assistant to the chairman till 1973. From 1978 to 1980, he was the primary administrator of the Nationwide Telecommunications and Info Administration.
He remained present on evolving expertise; not way back he stated he was attempting to determine how one can persuade Congress to mandate attribution for on-line political promoting.
A rumpled man with a desire for sneakers and denims, Mr. Geller performed tennis into his 90s, taught himself quantum physics and will argue a posh case with out a single notice. He most popular motion pictures to tv; borrowing from Frank Lloyd Wright, he referred to TV as “chewing gum for the eyes.” And when he did tune in, he normally confined himself to nature documentaries or quirky British comedy like “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.”
Mr. Geller was that uncommon former public official who couldn’t solely chuckle at himself but additionally admit a mistake — like when he suggested Mr. Minow, the newly put in F.C.C. chairman, towards utilizing what would change into Mr. Minow’s signature phrase.
In a scathing speech to the Nationwide Affiliation of Broadcasters in 1961, Mr. Minow praised good tv however challenged broadcast executives to spend a full day in entrance of their units with none distraction. “What you’ll observe,” he stated, “is a vast wasteland.”
“I instructed him to not say it,” Mr. Geller recalled in an oral history interview for the Fordham College Libraries in 2010. “I stated, ‘You’ve got each proper to say they’re not delivering public service, however you shouldn’t go round on the standard of packages.’ The federal government can’t do high quality. It’s subjective. It violates the First Modification.”
“He laughs now,” Mr. Geller continued, “and he all the time introduces me saying, ‘That is the person who instructed me to not say huge wasteland.’”