clay t. whitehead

studying the last century’s history is so engaging. there was so much exciting stuff happening like the holocaust and the death of princess diana of wales that we sometimes forget about those who became ridiculously rich without catching the whole world’s eye in the process.

have you ever looked back and wondered: who was the director the white house telecommunications policy from 1970 to 1974?

i have. anyone who knows me knows i’m a huge nixon and kissinger nerd. so let me tell you: his name was clay t. whitehead.


Between 1969 and 1970, Whitehead served as Special Assistant to President Richard Nixon. In this capacity, he crafted an “Open Skies” domestic satellite policy that allowed any qualified private company to launch communications satellites, thereby rejecting the monopoly model for the technology. The policy enabled cable television networks like C-SPAN, CNN, and HBO to prosper and created a ripple effect that ultimately led to sweeping and lasting changes in the telecommunications landscape. In 1970, Whitehead helped create the White House Office of Telecommunications Policy (OTP,) which he was then asked to lead. One of OTP’s accomplishments included ending the regulatory freeze on the infant cable industry, which then permitted it to compete with television broadcasting and, eventually, the established telephone industry. Whitehead’s policies also impacted broadcasting directly. “He was credited with formulating policies that gave more autonomy to local stations in the public broadcasting system, which was seen by some PBS executives as an attack on the service in large part because of Dr. Whitehead’s early reputation for antagonizing the press.” In a noted 1972 speech, Whitehead used the terms “elitist gossip” and “ideological plugola” to echo the Nixon administration’s claims of liberal bias in network news. Walter Cronkite claims in his memoir that Whitehead suggested to affiliate stations that they need not carry network news reports such as Cronkite’s, and instead could rely on wire dispatches. In 1974, Whitehead was one of five men to secretly plan Vice President Gerald Ford’s transition to the Presidency before Nixon’s resignation. After his career at OTP, Whitehead joined Hughes Aircraft and started the Hughes Communications subsidiary that launched the Galaxy satellite system, one of the first geostationary satellites. The Galaxy business became the model for satellite television distribution and broadcasting around the world. Whitehead left Hughes in 1983 and founded the first private satellite business in Europe. Now known as SES Astra, it replaced government-run television and grew tremendously to become one of the continent’s most profitable satellite systems and the largest fixed satellite operator in the world.

and now you know who clay t. whitehead was.

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