When did Mutual stop being mutual?

I’ve been noticing a clear pattern in the old radio news broadcasts. Especially in the ’50s, Mutual was far more objective and independent than the Big Three. CBS was wholly owned by Deepstate, with NBC and ABC not far behind. Frank Edwards was at Mutual, and he was cancelled by pressure on his sponsor, not by the network. He later returned to Mutual from a different angle.

Mutual began as a true mutual benefit association, not a corporation. There was no central studio in Hollywood or NYC. Each station produced its own drama and news and public affairs programs, and the rest of the network could pick up a program that they found interesting or profitable.

I’d gathered the impression that the mutuality was fading in the ’50s. This article in Broadcasting Mag from Jan 54 shows that the system was still mutual, but was starting to transition toward centralized with the coming of TV.

MBS affiliates will have a chance to offer their individual ideas about the type of service to be provided by the network when they meet Jan. 18 -19 at Buena Vista Hotel, Biloxi, Miss. The convention is strictly an affiliate-sponsored project, with top network officials invited to attend as guests of the stations, according to Victor C. Diehm, head of the Diehm station group in the Northeast and chairman of the Mutual Affiliates Advisory Committee. “This will be the affiliates’ own convention,” Mr. Diehm told BT. “At least 250 of the 560 affiliate stations will be represented, possibly 300, judging by replies to a questionnaire survey conducted around the nation by individual MAAC members. The 560 affiliates will have a chance to say what they think and to make any suggestions about network-station service and programming”

On the agenda, of course, will be the new affiliation concept developed last summer by the MAAC group and submitted to the network. This plan provided that affiliates get their payments from the network in the form of free programs for local sale rather than in
dollars.

That’s how a real coop works, and Mutual was still working as a true coop.

The article describes friction between a large group of network-owned stations and the older group of independents, presaging a gradual convergence to the centralized norm. Mutual didn’t succeed in TV, where more central investment was needed for each program, and quickly faded after 1960.