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A Brief History of Radio, page 2

AM RADIO: WHEN RADIO AS WE KNOW IT CAME TO BE

AM (amplitude modulation) Radio, in a form that we would recognize today, began in 1906, when Reginald A. Fessenden transmitted the first broadcast containing speech and music from Bryant Rock, MA. Reginald built a complete system of wireless transmitters and receivers using amplitude modulation, or AM radio waves. His initial listening audience was confined to ships at sea as radio receivers did not yet exist for the ordinary household. This was the first time speech and music were transmitted through the air to an audience.

THE VACUUM TUBE

As technology evolved, radio started to penetrate the market. In 1920, the first broadcasts to the general public were made as commercial radio stations were opened including KDKA in Pittsburgh and WWJ in Detroit. This coincided with the invention of vacuum tube radios that used loudspeakers (previous crystal radios could only be listened to one person at a time through earphones) enabling entire families to listen at once. This allowed radio signals, containing speech and music, to reach the mass market.

AND BROADCASTING WAS BORN

Broadcasting is the process of transmitting and distributing audio or video content to an audience that is widely dispersed by way of an electronic mass communications medium. Up until the Internet, radio waves were used to transmit content in a one-to-many model.

TECHNOLOGY IN SEARCH OF AN AUDIENCE

The first radio programs were without sponsors—they were seen by radio manufacturers and radio set retailers as the hook to get people to buy radio receivers. As radio’s market penetration grew, radio stations sought to monetize this audience—first by selling naming rights for programs to sponsors, then by selling in-show commercial spots. By 1930, 40% of American households owned a radio. Ten years later, radio was present in 83% of America’s homes. This set the stage for radio networks to usher in the Golden Age of Radio.

THE NETWORKS

Radio networks began in 1922 and provided great economies of scale in both content and advertising. Local radio stations received content from their network leading to better content for less money. Advertisers could buy sponsorships and radio spots in multiple markets in one buy, rather than dealing with individual buys on individual stations.

NBC RADIO

AT&T launched the first radio network in 1922 that linked 38 stations via their telephone lines to simultaneously transmit the programming of WEAF radio in New York City. RCA established their own network transmitting WJZ (New York) programming. In 1926, the AT&T network was sold to a group headed by RCA, out of which the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) was formed. Initially, NBC maintained two networks—NBC Red (WEAF) and NBC Blue (WJZ).

CBS RADIO

The Columbia Broadcasting system (CBS) began in 1927. That same year saw the formation of the Federal Radio Commission (FRC), the forerunner to today’s FCC (which was established in 1934).

ABC RADIO

In 1943, the Supreme court broke up the NBC network (NBC Red out of New York and NBC Blue out of Detroit). In 1945, NBC Blue was sold as a result of the decision and became the American Broadcasting Company (ABC).

MUTUAL BROADCASTING SYSTEM (WESTWOOD ONE)

MBS started out as a radio cooperative in 1934. Unlike the other networks who owned the local stations, MBS’ flagship stations owned the network and contributed their content to MBS as opposed to the other networks practice of top to bottom content distribution. It was sold to Westwood One in 1985.

Together, the networks provided content to a mass, widespread audience. America entered the Golden Age of Radio.

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