FCC Chairman Ajit Pai (Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images)


A kid who grew up listening to radio is now in control of it. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai was the child of immigrants from India who arrived in the United States with nothing but a transistor radio and $10.

Young Ajit used that same radio to explore America, listening to ballgames at night on AM, and learning about news and culture from such diverse voices as Paul Harvey and Dr. Demento.

Now as chairman of the federal agency that regulates radio, TV, telephone, cable and more, Chairman Pai talks about the romance and challenges of radio, and the power of the spoken word.

From broadcast to broadband, this is the man who will shape American policy during his 5-year term as FCC chairman.

Chairman Pai grew up in Parsons, Kansas, and told us “I still remember on summer nights tuning into KLKC 1540 am and hearing the Royals game, especially during that magical season of ’85. I remember also driving to school my parents would have on Paul Harvey. There’s something about his voice that I just found so appealing — it almost felt like he was speaking to me, as silly as that sounds. Even now when I hear his voice on some of the clips that remain online, it’s a familiar voice that really was a presence in my life for a long time. And so Paul Harvey and Dr. Demento — as odd as that combination is — would probably be the things that stick out to me.”

“It’s especially amazing for younger Americans who might have been familiar with (Paul Harvey). In that Super Bowl ad a few years ago, “And God made a Farmer” he told the story in such a way that you don’t see often on any medium these days because everything is so fast — myself included — and there are no pauses. And just the way he tells that story — it almost touches you in your heart in a way that nothing else does.”

On AM radio:

“It becomes harder everyday to get a quality AM signal. Those who listen on the AM band know that with the noise floor — as the engineers call it — getting greater with the signals, at night especially bouncing off the ionosphere and traveling further, it’s not easy for a lot of for broadcasters to be able to reach the communities that rely on them. And so one of the things I proposed way back in 2012, almost five years ago, was for the FCC to take a look at ways to revitalize the AM band. It hadn’t been talked about for a generation. We’ve gotten across the finish line a number of different improvements that hopefully will build a bridge to the future for AM broadcasters in terms of getting FM translators and the like. And moving forward we want to do even more to explore the other things like skywave protection and other technical improvements.”

On the angry protests he is getting over ending Net Neutrality: “It goes with the territory. We’re going to follow the facts and the law where they take us.” By ending net neutrality, Pai predicts “America’s internet economy is going to be stronger than ever, more robust than ever, more innovative than ever — if we return to the Clinton-era “light touch” regulatory framework. At the end of the day your Internet is going to be faster, cheaper, more ubiquitous than ever before.”

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