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RCA’s inolvement in the development and commercialization of the radio and televison

April 22, 2010
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by Brian White

What is television?

Is it the box you stare at that provides you with hours of mindless entertainment such as “reality T.V.?” Is it your source of “news”? Is it where you follow your favorite team or league? Perhaps you just do it for the “real life drama.” Well for whatever reason, Americans love television. I mean, who doesn’t? No matter what show or genre is your favorite one thing is for certain: television is awesome. So who knows what a television is? Who invented it? Or how in the world did it evolve from actual family programing of Leave it Beaver to the not so age appropriate Intervention? In order to fully understand the morphing that has taken place within the content of television, however, it is important to understand where the technology came from and how its introduction into culture changed society.

So lets jump- way back- to the early 20th Century.
Whats going on? We got the Titanic (no not Jim’s epic Romance), we have cars breaking their way into consumer culture with the use of production line employing conveyor belts and we have this thing called the radio slowly emerging as the world’s newest form of media. The radio greatly owes its invention to two other technologies: the telegram and the telephone. These two devices were the first to use wireless technology a term that when said likely emotes images of iPhones and Laptops, but is actually a concept that has been around for over a century. So what does this have to do with television?

Many of the famous players in the invention of The Radio would eventually be the landmark names in creating the television.

Well, not quite LL status... yet.

Inventors
As for who exactly can be attributed as the inventor of the radio or of television for that matter is wildly controversial. There are many innovators who’s work led to what we now know as the radio. The chief names, however, are Heinrich Hertz, Guglielmo Marconi, Edwin Armstrong, Lee DeForest and David Sarnoff. Of all these contributors, Sarnoff contributed the least in innovation. Sarnoff’s contribution, rather, came in the marketing and development of radio (and later television) as a popular medium. Although the inventors themselves are important, Sarnoff’s contribution is most important to this class, because he dealt with the business end of the medium.
Sarnoff got involved in the business at a very young age. He met Marconi in 1912 and soon there after began working for the American Marconi branch of radio. At the time Marconi was the largest producer of radio broadcasting. A few short years later the American Government approached General Electric and asked it to invest its interests in starting an American broadcasting company and Sarnoff left Marconi to join the new company. General Electric, Westinghouse, A T and T and United Fruit signed a cross-licensing agreement resulting in the creation of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA).

David Sarnoff

Sarnoff began working for RCA in 1919 and by 1921 he was promoted to general manager where he would remain for 26 years. His involvement in the Second World War would prove monumental to both the government, as he was awarded the honorary title of Brigadier General, and to RCA, as he was appointed to CEO. Sarnoff remained with RCA until 1970 a year before his death.

Television. Wow.

The early innovation and success of the radio provided a concrete market in which television would not only exist, but soon dominate. The 1920s saw rapid innovation to not only the radio device itself, but the programming as well. Sarnoff pushed for mass production of “radio music boxes” and also supported the continued evolution of the types of programs offered. Just as radio was gaining in popularity, television was getting its start.

In 1926 John Logie Baird gave the world its first glimpse of the mechanical television transmitting a broadcast from London to New York. The television only offered 30 lines of definition and over the next decade he continued to develop it improving it to about 250 lines. Baird’s lack of electrical knowledge, however, crippled his ability to innovate at a fast rate and he soon reached his capacity for improvement.
During the same time as Baird’s creations in Scotland, RCA was busy in America making its own history. Due to anti-trust agreements and internal competition, in 1932 RCA emerged as an independent company. In 1926 RCA introduced its first radio network, NBC, and only a few years later its second NBC Blue. So now in 1932, not only was RCA its own company, but it was producing and selling its own equipment (before it was mainly the marketing head responsible for selling GE, A T and T, United Fruit and Westinghouse products).
RCA soon focused its efforts elsewhere in television. RCA considered its position in radio unsurmountable, and in many ways it was, so they invested their efforts in research and development and television and under the direction of Vladimir Zworkyin, would soon solidify itself atop the television industry as well.

The RCA-like all-electronic 405-line system, created under the direction of Zworykin, surpassed Baird’s mechanical television in 1936. RCA began regular broadcasting for television in 1939. So at this time RCA was both selling televisions (they offered four different sets ranging from $199 to $599), but they were also producing programing to be enjoyed on them becoming the first official television network.


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April 21, 2010
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