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History of Radio

History of Radio

History of Radio

SPARK 1895 by Marconi AM 1906 by Fessenden SHORTWAVE 1921 by Conrad FM 1931 by Armstrong DIGITAL 2000 by XM

A. Scientists

  • Heinrich Hertz - first to detect radio waves in 1887 by causing a spark to leap across a gap that generated electromagnetic waves - built oscillator and resonator by 1893
  • Oliver Lodge in Britain, Alexander Popov in Russia, Edward Brauley in France - filled a glass tube with metal filings that would cohere under electromagnetic waves and when the tube was tapped, the filings would collapse to break the circuit - built coherer to detect radio waves by 1894

B. Inventors

Marconi at his Instrument in the station on Signal Hill, St John's, Newfoundland, from Scientific American
  • Guglielmo Marconi invented his spark transmitter with antenna at his home in Bologna, Italy, in December 1894. He took his "Black Box" to Britain in Feb. 1896 and although it was broken by custom officials, he filed for British Patent number 12039 on June 2, 1896. He formed his first Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company in Britain in 1897 at age 23 and the world's first radio factory on Hall Street in Dec. 1898. The American Marconi Co. was formed in 1899. Marconi controlled patents for the Lodge tuner of 1900 with dial, and Fleming valve of 1904 that acted as a diode tube to amplify electrical current in one direction. His company sold spark transmitters to the U.S. Navy for point-to-point transmission.
  • Reginald Fessenden of Canada invented a continuous-wave voice transmitter 1905 using a high-frequency alternator developed by Charles Steinmetz at GE 1903, made voice broadcast over North Atlantic Christmas Eve 1906; this broadcast was heard by wireless operators on banana boats of the United Fruit Company that developed crystal receivers for its ships; Fessenden sold to Westinghouse in 1910 the patent for a heterodyne receiver that used the joint operation of two AC currents for a third frequency.
  • Lee de Forest patented his audion tube 1906, had visited the Fessenden lab in 1903 and stole the design for a "spade detector," promoted idea of multi-point broadcasting, sold patents to AT&T.
  • Harold D. Arnold at AT&T developed the amplifying vacuum tube in 1913 that made possible the first coast-to-coast telephony and the first transatlantic radio transmission in 1915.
    crystal radio receiver 1921 from GEC Archives
  • Edwin Armstrong patented the regenerative circuit in 1913 that fed a radio signal through an audion tube 20,000 times per second to caused stronger oscillations in the tube that generated radio waves. He made long-distance voice transmissions 1914, developed superheterodyne circuit during World War I that combined high and low frequency waves, was promoted to Major in the Signal Corps, sold patents to RCA 1920, discovered FM transmission 1933 but rejected by Sarnoff at RCA who was trying to develop television.
  • De Forest began the longest lawsuit in radio history in 1915 when he sued Armstrong over the basic regenerative patent, but lost in 1921 and 1923 when it was demonstrated in court that de Forest could not explain how or why his audion tube oscillated; Armstrong did understand and made a clear explanation of regeneration. De Forest would win the final court battle in his 13th lawsuit in 1930, on a technical interpretation of the words used to describe oscillation, and was awarded the basic radio patent, causing him to become known as the "father of radio." The Ken Burns 1991 documentary Empire of the Air focused on the 3 men who "made radio" - de Forest, Armstrong, Sarnoff - but unfortunately ignored the contribution of many other important engineers and amateurs and pioneers.

C. Amateurs

  • Charles Herrold began regular broadcasting in San Jose 1912
  • Prof. Earle Terry in Madison, Wisconsin - 9XM
  • Fred Christian in Hollywood with 5-watt transmitter in his bedroom - 6ADZ
  • William Scripps in Detroit broadcast music from office of his newspaper, the Detroit News, on station 8MK that became WWJ
  • Hiram Maxim of American Radio Relay League testified at Congressional hearings in 1918 - 8500 amateurs transmitting to 200,000 receivers - many had returned from World War I with experience using Signal Corps SCR-70 vaccum-tube radios - most popular were simple inexpensive crystal radio receivers rather than tube sets
  • Frank Conrad was engineer for Westinghouse, built SCR-70 receivers during war for Signal Corps and began broadcasting music from his garage in Pittsburgh - 8XK
  • RadioShack Corporation formed in 1921 in Boston to sell equipment to "ham" operators, taking its name from the small wooden building for radio equipment on ships.
  • The American Radio Relay League in Dec. 1921 made the first successful transatlantic shortwave broadcasts with small superheterodyne receivers, and Frank Conrad would develop regular commercial shortwave broadcasting.

D. Government

  • Law of 1912 - due to Titanic disaster April 14, all ships required to have radios with 2 operators and auxiliary power and all transmitters must be licensed.

E. Corporations

from Sarnoff Corp.
  • RCA incorporated Oct. 17, 1919, to control patents of GE, AT&T, Westinghouse, United Fruit, according to the plan of GE lawyer Owen D. Young to buy out American Marconi and create American monopoly. The Navy approved of plan to keep radio out of the control of British Marconi, German Telefunken, French interests. David Sarnoff became General Manager of RCA in 1919, sought mass production of "radio music boxes" using Armstrong's superheterodyne circuit.
  • Westinghouse VP Harry Davis joined Conrad Sept. 30, 1920, to create 100-watt transmitter in Pittsburgh - given call letters KDKA by Commerce Dept. Oct. 27 - transmitted election returns Nov. 2 - began regular scheduled broadcasts every evening 8:30-9:30 pm - power of transmitter increased to 500 watts 1921 - Midcontinent chain of 6 stations by 1925.
  • AT&T toll broadcasting began 1922; the first radio commercial was broadcast on Aug. 28 by the Queensboro Corp. that paid $100 for 10-minute message promoting the sale of apartments in Long Island; the AT&T stations were anchored by WEAF in New York with a "clear channel" and featured a broadcast of the opening of Congress 1923, and the Democratic National Convention 1924.
  • RCA anchored by WJZ (classical) and WNY (popular) - RCA licensed other companies to make receivers, e.g., Philco, Zenith, Emerson, Sylvania.
  • New York radio station WJZ made broadcasting history when it used a live studio audience for the first time for a show called The Perfect Fool on February 19, 1922.
  • Hazeltine Electronic Corp. developed automatic volume control 1924.
  • Herbert Hoover and Commerce Department favored large corporations; the 1923 allocation of frequencies from 187.3-100 MHz created high power "clear" channels, medium and low power channels.
  • NBC was formed July 7, 1926, owned by RCA (50%), GE (30%), Westinghouse (20%), leased telephone lines from AT&T, bought WEAF from AT&T for its "red" network of popular music to complement "blue" network from WJZ and the Pacific network, for a total of 48 affiliate stations; sold "sustaining" programs to affiliates and broadcast "sponsored" programs produced by advertisers such as American Tobacco Co.
  • Arthur Judson in 1927 created United Independent Broadcasters with 16 stations, helped by William Paley of La Palina Cigar Co. and the Columbia Phonograph Co., and is reorganized in 1928 as the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) with 47 affiliate stations including WABC that would later become WCBS in New York.
  • Paley gave CBS affiliates free "sustaining" programs in exchange for ad time sold to national advertisers.
  • in January 1928 NBC produced a 47-station coast-to-coast program The Dodge Victory Hour with Al Jolson in New Orleans, Fred Stone in Chicago and Paul Whiteman in New York and Will Rogers from his home in Beverly Hills (he did a Coolidge imitation, the first time a presidential imitation was done on radio), to the largest national audience since Lindberg's return in 1927, estimated at 35 million, sponsored by Dodge new Victory Six auto, the front page of the New York Times next day declared "All America Used As a Radio Studio"; a second show of the "Dodge Victory Hour" was broadcast in March 1928, again with Hollywood stars and Whiteman's band; United Artists installed extra speakers in theaters so a greater audience could hear the show.
  • The Mutual Broadcasting System (MBS) was created in 1934 as a cooperative shared by WOR in New York, WGN in Chicago, WLW in Cincinnati, and WXYZ in Detroit. Unlike the two larger networks, it had no production studio or centralized corporate owners and owned no stations. The network carried popular programs such as the Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet, and attracted a larger number of affiliate stations than the other networks, but mostly in rural and small markets.

F. Programs

  • Radio programming would shift from music and local talk programs to drama and news by 1940
  • Interwoven singing commercial by the Happiness Boys, Billie Jones and Ernie Hare 1921-1939
  • Major Bowes and His Original Amateur Hour, (variety, 1935) with "the wheel of fortune" catchphrase and a gong sound if contestant lost
  • Jack Benny Program (comedy, 1932) featured character interacting with his "gang" of Mary (Mary Livingstone), Dennis (Dennis Day), Phil (Phil Harris), Don (Don Wilson), and Rochester (Eddie Anderson), one of the first regular black radio performers, at 7 pm Sundays on NBC for Jell-O
  • Fred Allen Show (comedy-variety, 1932) had a "feud" with Jack Benny and a face-to-face meeting March 14, 1937, for one of the largest radio audiences of the 1930s.
  • Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy (adventure, 1933) on CBS sponsored by Wheaties
  • Let's Pretend, (children, 1934) in the "public interest" without commercials by CBS until the 1940s
  • Amos and Andy, (comedy, 1928) originated as "Sam 'n Henry" in 1926, then syndicated nationally using transcription records of shows mailed to radio stations; early example of the sitcom genre with Freeman Gosden as Amos and Charles Correll as Andy, at 7-7:15 pm 5 nights per week on NBC, dramatically boosted the sales of Pepsodent in 1929, appealed to families and was the most popular show during the depression 1930-32, with 40 million listeners, emphasizing optimism and traditional values
  • Easy Aces, (comedy, 1930) from Kansas City written and acted by Goodman Ace, a witty, urbane domestic comedy
  • Fibber, McGee and Molly, (comedy, 1935) created for Johnson Wax with commercials integrated into the show's narrative, at 9:30 pm Tuesday ("comedy night" on NBC), with opening closet by Fibber at home on Wistful Vista, running for 15 years, one of radio's longest shows
  • NBC allowed its local stations to make and use recordings May 1, 1932, but not for network use. In 1935, NBC created a division to make disc recordings of radio programs; see Elizabeth McLeod in Documenting Early Radio
Next - Radio's Golden Age 1935-50

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