In 1844, Samuel Morse successfully demonstrated an invention known as the telegraph. The telegraph, which Morse invented in 1832, consisted of a current charged wire, location points (A and B), and a current breaker, which could be used to send dashes and dots. These dashes and dots could be successfully understood at the other end of the cable, thus introducing the world to Morse code. Thirty-two years later, a man by the name of Alexander Graham Bell introduced a device that would come to be known as the telephone. With Grahams device, people could actually talk to each other by using a series of connecting lines placed between the sender and receiver. At the time, the United States wanted to use this as a means for communications at sea. The only problem was that there was not a wireless form in existence. In 1897 everything changed.
An Italian inventor named Guglielmo Marconi, developed the first wireless system and patented it in Great Britain. In 1899, a steam ship was equipped with Marconis device and used it to transmit the results of a yacht race back to the shore. The beginning of a new era in mass communications was beginning. As the dreams of transmitting speech and live concerts to secondary locations grew, a man by the name of Reginald Fessenden (flyboy Regi F to his peepsnot really but I though that might help break up the monotony of reading twenty papers over the same subject) stepped in with his application of a continuos wave super imposed on another wave created by sound.
In 1905, a man by the name of Lee de Forest developed a radio vacuum tube that he called the Audion. The Audion was inspired by the invention of a glass bulb detector that had been created a few years earlier by John Fleming. This enabled the telephone to receive and amplify sound and was a key element in the development of radio broadcasting. In order to gain publicity for his ventures, de Forest spent a night on top of the Eiffel Tower broadcasting music, which was received by people up to 500 miles away. De Forest used radio as a medium to educate and uplift his audience by broadcasting operas and broadcasting the presidential returns in 1916. By 1917, there were close to nine thousand radio transmitters in the United States. When the U.S. declared war on Germany, transmitters were either shut down, or taken over by the armed forces.
With the First World War, came advances in the industry. The Allies convinced all the companies to work together in establishing interchangeable parts. Over the course of the War, the Navy continued to communicate with Americas armed forces and in 1918, even broadcast President Wilsons appeal for peace to the citizens of Germany. The Navy became worried by the end of the war that Marconis British company might be in the position to take over control of world communications. In an effort to pre-empt Marconi, Navy officials and General Electric president Owen Young formed the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in 1919. The government then turned over all of the American Marconi stations that had been seized by the Navy during the war, to RCA. With the support of AT&T and General Electric, RCA would soon dominate communications in and out of America.
By the 1920s, radio had become more than just a means for ship to shore communication. Stations began to pop up all over the country and corporate America, along with the public, began to take notice. Westinghouse began manufacturing and selling radio units. As an incentive to buy the units, programming was developed. AT&T was not pleased. They believed that under the RCA agreement, they were the only ones who could set up radio stations. In their view, radio stations were nothing short of over sized telephone booths that could be used to communicate over long geographical distances. In order to keep people listening in the interim, they began having people on the air to play music or to sing.
In 1922, AT&T was approached by a developer who wanted to build Hawthorne Estates. His proposal was to pay AT&T money to talk about the project and to provide it with a certain amount of hype; the advertisement was born. In order to get an audience, programs were developed to keep up with the ever-increasing advertisements. By 1924, AT&T and the Radio Groups had clusters of stations connected together by phone lines. The concept of the network and affiliates was about to be born. General Electric and Westinghouse wanted in on the deal and in 1926, AT&T agreed to sell their station for one million dollars. Later that year, AT&T (red) and G.E/Westinghouse (blue) banded together to form the National Broadcast Company (NBC). A year later in 1927, a music promoter named Arthur Judson, found that he could not do business with NBC and so he formed his own 12 station network known as the Columbia Phonograph Broadcasting System. CPBS later merged with a record company to form Columbia Broadcasting Systems (CBS). During that same time, another network, known as the Mutual Broadcasting System came into being. This network was different from the others because instead of owning its affiliates, the affiliates owned the network. Most of the programs run on the MBS were produced by affiliates.
The networks had four primary functions. They were: to provide programming to their affiliates, arrange relays or feeds, sell time to advertisers, and to earn a profit for the shareholders. Some of the networks offered programs to affiliates at no charge but in return wanted option time. Option time was a guaranty of a minimum amount of time that sponsored programs would run. This practice led to an FCC investigation which culminated with the Supreme Court ruling that networks could not own talent agencies, affiliates could give the network no more than three hours of option time during any parts of the major broadcast day, and that NBC, which had split into a red and a blue division, must sell one, thereby eliminating the threat of a monopoly. NBC blue became the American Broadcast Company in 1942.
In the 1940s, companies such as Ever Ready and B.F. Goodrich were sponsoring their own types of shows and the networks (who often produced the shows with live audiences in their New York studios) would send the programs out via relays to the affiliates. There were variety shows hosted by folks like Jack Benny, and there were anthologies, and soap operas (aptly named because they were sponsored by soap companies. There were also detective shows, childrens shows, and Westerns. Radio was becoming Americas number one source of entertainment and news. By the beginning of the 1950s, the networks began taking their money out of radio and investing it in television. Radio would have to change. In the 1960s, it did.
In the 1960s we developed the technology to contain the FM signal. This was a much clearer signal and stations slowly began to migrate to FM.
FM had been patented in 1933 by its inventor, Edwin Armstrong. It had not been used for anything more than simulcasting until the 1960s. In the early 60s the AM band was becoming saturated and the economics of the radio industry was calling for more stations. The FCC had also passed a ruling saying that a company that owned both an AM and an FM station in the same market could not broadcast the same program on both stations simultaneously. FM station owners began to look for a programming format that would distinguish FM from AM. FM had a higher fidelity and therefore found its match with music. Music was gathering more of an audience and in turn the stations began receiving more ad dollars.
Programming in todays market seems to be geared much more to the FM band. There are enough stations so that virtually all kinds of music have found a home on radio. Talk has also found a home on the radio. Most talk shows (political) can be found on the AM band along with some oldies stations and the occasional alternative (foreign, Russian symphony, etc.) stations. I think that the role of radio in todays society isnt nearly as great as it once was. It is still used as a form of communication, but for the most part, I believe it has become more of a form of entertainment. I think that deregulation of radio is a good thing. The government has said that the airwaves belong to the public and I believe it should be the public who decides what they want and what they dont. The only problem that arises from the airwaves being owned by the public is that in reality, its not the waves that matter, its the corporations who own the stations that have access to the signals. As long as there is diversity in the market, I dont have a problem.