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Robert D. Swezey (1907-1979), an attorney and broadcasting executive for nearly 40 years, was prominent in the drafting of both the radio and TV codes of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) as chairman of special committees which revised the radio code in 1947 and wrote the TV code in 1952. He was director of the NAB's Code Authority from 1961 to 1963 before serving as secretary-treasurer of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting from 1968 to 1970.
Swezey entered broadcasting in 1939 with NBC. The contracts he negotiated between NBC and various trade unions associated with the broadcasting industry, such as AFRA (American Federation of Radio Artists) and the AGMA (American Guild of Musical Artists), provide a behind-the-scenes look at the realities of radio work during the early years of broadcasting.
The Swezey papers include contracts, speech scripts, articles, correspondence, and some biographical materials; inclusive dates are 1938 to 1964.
1.5 Linear Feet
Robert D. Swezey (1907-1979) had a distinguished career in the broadcasting industry. First known for his skill in contract negotiations, Swezey went on to become a leader in the campaign to promote compliance with the Radio and Television Code, recognized for his many speaking engagements on the Radio Code and other subjects.
Born in Somerville, Massachusetts in 1907, Swezey attended Harvard for his bachelor's and law degree. After earning his degree, he practiced law in Boston and worked as a legal assistant for a New York City bank. Moving to Washington in 1934, Swezey became a legal advisor to the treasurer of the Home Owner's Loan Corporation. A position with the Public Works Administration followed, after which Swezey moved to New York City in 1938. An eventful year in Swezey’s life, he took a position in NBC’s legal department and in April married Helen Brereton, with whom he raised three sons. From 1944 to 1948 Swezey was vice-president and general manager of the Mutual Broadcasting System.
Though a member of several professional organizations, including the American Bar Association, the City of New York, and the Federal Communications bar associations, Swezey proved to be a maverick who left a law firm in Boston after being told that “no one ever leaves” the firm. At other points in his career, Swezey took positions contrary to the wishes of many in the broadcasting industry.
When long-simmering controversies over radio content and programming practices came to the fore in the late 1930s, raising the threat of increasing regulation by the FCC, Swezey spearheaded efforts to get American radio stations to subscribe to the Radio Code. Anxious to exploit the potential of the medium, and feeling that national codes were not necessary, many stations resisted calls to moderate their own behavior. Public outcry over certain programming practices, Swezey argued, made clear the need for regulation. Later, when television stations confronted similar circumstances, Swezey campaigned for code compliance in the television field.
The post-war years were a time of great activity in his career. From 1949 to 1956 Swezey served on the boards of both the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and the National Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters (NARTB). This was followed, in 1956, when Swezey accepted a position as Executive Vice-President and General Manager of WDSU Broadcasting Corporation (New Orleans, LA), taking a position simultaneously at WAFB-Modern Broadcasting (Baton Rouge, LA).
His many activities as well as his conviction of the need for code standards in the broadcasting industry led to many speaking engagements. During the sixteen years from 1947 to 1963, Swezey spoke at some 40 events. In addition to his speeches, Swezey wrote several articles which appeared in newspapers and magazines.
Retirement allowed Swezey time with his wife and children, then living in the vicinity of Leesburg, Virginia. However, after more than 40 years serving the legal and broadcasting fields, Swezey remained active. He died at home in Virginia in September, 1979.
The collection is divided into two series.
The Robert D. Swezey papers were donated to the Library of American Broadcasting (LAB) by Mr. Swezey in December, 1977. Originally housed at the National Association of Broadcasters, the LAB collections were accessioned by the University of Maryland through a partnership agreement in 1994.
Part of the Special Collections and University Archives