|NATIONAL BROADCASTING COMPANY|
The National Broadcasting Company was created when RCA purchased radio stations WEAF New York, WCAP Washington, DC and the radio programming network from American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) in 1926 and merged those assets with its own WJZ New York, WRC Washington and radio programming network. The WEAF stations and network would become known as the NBC Red network, the WJZ stations and network would be dubbed the NBC Blue network (later to become ABC, the American Broadcasting Company).
The WEAF network was created by the American Telephone & Telegraph Company (AT&T) to serve as a research and development for technologies involved with transmitting audio over wire and radio. AT&T's Western Electric division manufactured radio transmitters and antennas and needed a real-world environment to test their design and ability to transmit audio. AT&T's long distance and local Bell operating divisions were developing technologies for transmitting voice and music grade audio over short and long distances, via both wireless and wired methods. These efforts came together to create radio station WEAF in New York City.
With a radio station broadcasting to the public, programming was needed. WEAF put together a regular schedule of programs of all types, and created some of the first broadcasts to incorporate commercial endorsements or sponsorships by commercial entities. The station met with great success, and with the opening of radio stations across the United States many stations wished to share programming. WEAF's first efforts in what would become known first as "chain broadcasting" and later as "networking" tied together The Outlet Company's WJAR in Providence, Rhode Island with AT&T's WEAF and WCAP in Washington, DC (named for the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company division of AT&T). With the success of this effort and the good audio quality of AT&T's phone line circuits, the WEAF network became a success.
At the same time, RCA was beginning to realize that sharing programming on stations in different cities also made sense. RCA licensed WRC in Washington, DC in 1923 and attempted to transmit audio between cities via low-quality telegraph lines, since AT&T refused outside companies access to their high-quality phone lines. The effort was poor at best, with the uninsulated telegraph lines incapable of good audio transmission quality and very succeptable to both atmospheric and man-made electrical interference.
In 1925 the management of AT&T decided that WEAF and its network were not compatible with AT&T's goal of providing phone service and began looking to sell the station and its network. AT&T found a ready buyer in RCA, whose primary business was radio broadcasting and manufacturing, then a deal was struck where RCA would buy WEAF and gain the rights to rent AT&T's phone lines to transmit radio programs between cities.
In 1926 RCA bought WEAF, closed WCAP, created the wholly-owned division called the National Broadcasting Company and operated the New York stations and the two network efforts side by side for about a year. In 1927 NBC formally created two radio networks, the NBC Red Network with WEAF as its originating station distributing mostly entertainment and music programming; and the NBC Blue Network with WJZ as its originating station and concentrating on news and cultural programming.
NBC became the primary tenant in the brand new Rockefeller Center project in 1936. It would serve to consolidate radio operations, some RCA corporate operations, and the home of the flagship theatres of RCA-owned RKO Radio Pictures in the Radio City Music Hall of the RKO Roxie theatre.
|On Christmas Eve, 1906, wireless operators on ships off the New England
coast wondered if they'd had a religious experience. Out of the midst of
Morse code dots and dashes beeping through their headsets came the sound
of a voice reading the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke and a violin
playing "Silent Night." The voice wished them a merry Christmas, and then
the dots and dashes started up again.
The voice was that of Reginald Fessenden (1866-1932), an inventor and engineer who had been working on producing voice radio since Marconi's first wireless broadcast across the Atlantic. After his Christmas experiment, Fessenden continued working to make voice radio practical. In 1907, Lee de Forest invented a new radio tube called the Audion. It soon made transmitting sound modulations much more effective and became standard radio equipment. The radio tube was gradually improved upon by other inventors, to increased clarity and power.
For 15 years or so, voice radio was the purview of engineers and hobbyists called hams. To most people it seemed amusing, but a novelty that would have no practical application. One obstacle to radio's acceptance was that the equipment was cumbersome and required a fair amount of knowledge and attention. After World War I, prosperity and technological advances -- some the offspring of the war effort -- brought more appliances into the home and created more technologically minded people. Radio companies formed to build and sell ready-made machines.
In 1920, Westinghouse, one of the leading radio manufacturers, had an idea for selling more radios: It would offer programming. Radio began as a one-to-one method of communication, so this was a novel idea. Dr. Frank Conrad was a Pittsburgh area ham operator with lots of connections. He frequently played records over the airwaves for the benefit of his friends. This was just the sort of thing Westinghouse had in mind, and it asked Conrad to help set up a regularly transmitting station in Pittsburgh. On November 2, 1920, station KDKA made the nation's first commercial broadcast (a term coined by Conrad himself). They chose that date because it was election day, and the power of radio was proven when people could hear the results of the Harding-Cox presidential race before they read about it in the newspaper.
KDKA was a huge hit, inspiring other companies to take up broadcasting. In four years there were 600 commercial stations around the country. To keep up with the cost of improving equipment and paying for performers, stations turned to advertisers. In August 1922, the first radio ad, for a real estate developer, was aired in New York City. Networks of local stations developed to share programming and became big business. In 1926, RCA (Radio Corporation of America) formed the first national network, called NBC (National Broadcasting Company). Their first nationwide broadcast was the 1927 Rose Bowl football game from Pasadena. The burgeoning industry made the airwaves so jammed and chaotic that the Federal Radio Commission was established in 1927 to assign frequencies to broadcasters.
The entry of mass communication into American homes meant, among other
things, the development of a mass culture. The same songs were heard across
the country, news travelled fast, and heroes like Charles Lindbergh or
Joe Louis were, in a new way, accessible to all. Technological refinements
in radio continued. Early in the 1920s, headsets were replaced with speakers.
In 1929, FM radio became available. The development of the transistor in
the late 1940s paved the way for the transistor radio's appearance in 1952.
Stereophonic sound and personal stereos would continue radio's evolution.