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John C. Doerfer

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Title: John C. Doerfer  
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Subject: Federal Communications Commission, Frederick W. Ford
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John C. Doerfer

John C. Doerfer (November 30, 1904 – June 5, 1992) served as Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission from July 1, 1957 to March 10, 1960.


  • John C. Doerfer's obituary
Government offices
Preceded by
George McConnaughey
Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission
July 1957–March 1960
Succeeded by
Frederick W. Ford

Prior to his chairmanship of the FCC John C. Doerfer was the City Attorney for West Allis, Wisconsin, a southwestern suburb of Milwaukee. He served on Milwaukee Mayor Frank P. Zeidler's Metropolitan Transportation Committee an ill fated attempt to establish a southeastern Wisconsin Regional Transit Authority which in addition to Milwaukee County would have also encompassed Racine, Kenosha, Waukesha and Washington Counties. The committee was headed by rail publisher Albert C. Kalmbach of the Kalmbach Publishing Company. The authorities main goal was to save the failing Milwaukee Rapid Transit & Speedrail Company which had acquired the local rapid transit and interurban line to Waukesha. The state legislature passed the enabling bill in 1950 but last minute amendments introduced by upstate legislators forbidding the inclusion of any line carrying freight rendered the law useless since Speedrail carried a minor amount of freight. The line entered bankruptcy in November, 1950 but was unable to find investors willing to provide the necessary $250,000 of capital needed to reorganize the company. Service ended on June 30, 1951 and the line was sold for scrap.

    In 1950 John C. Doerfer became chairman of the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin, the state body that oversees all public utilities. He created some controversy when in a public speech in 1951 he decried the $250,000 figure cited by Milwaukee Attorney Bruno V. Bitker who had been appointed trustee by the federal bankruptcy court when he stated that the $250,000 was "a makeshift solution" and stated that the real figure was closer to $2.5 million. His comments were challenged by Bitker, Kalmbach and others trying to save the Speedrail line and included protests to Wisconsin Gov. Walter Kohler whereupon Doerfer backed off of his earlier remarks.
    In 1957 John C. Doerfer was appointed to head the Federal Communications Commission by President Dwight Eisenhower. A short time into his term he came under suspicion for accepting trips and other gifts from the broadcasters he was supposed to regulate. The eruption of the T.V. game show rigging scandal that same year brought widespread criticism for Doerfer and the F.C.C. for their failure to properly police these shows.

Suspicions about the acceptance of gifts continued to circulate. In March, 1960 investigation revealed that Doerfer had been the guest of Florida radio station owner George Storer on his luxury yacht. In the wake of these revelations he resigned on March 14, 1960. I am the author of the book, "Speedrail: Milwaukee's Last Rapid Transit?" (Interurban Press, Glendale, CA. 1991). I have been researching the Speedrail Company since 1965.Further information concerning Mr. Doerfer came from the book, "Prime Time and Misdemeanors: Investigating the 1950's T.V. Quiz Show Scandal".

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