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Early History of Radio

Radio Lecture #2

Drew Hamilton

on 7 March 2011

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Transcript of Early History of Radio

Early History of Radio
Radio Grows
People really took notice of the impact of radio broadcasts on Election Day, 1920
KDKA broadcast the results of the Harding-Cox presidential election returns THE SAME DAY; well before newspapers
People also took note of all the free music, information, and commentary that was suddenly available to anyone with a radio set.
Home Radio
People began to start their own radio stations, so they could be heard by friends, neighbors, and strangers
But that caused huge problems
Drowned out
So many people were starting their own radio stations, there wasn’t enough space on the radio dial
You might be listening to "uncle Charlie's station," and all of a sudden someone else would turn on their transmitter and drown him out.
Who got drowned out when 2 people were broadcasting on the same frequency?
Whoever had less power!
Stations quickly got into a power battle, to keep from being drowned out
The power struggle got so bad, stations were broadcasting at 10 times what is today’s legal limit.
Broadcast Advertising
In 1922, a station in New York, WEAF, ran a 10-minute talk on the merits of some co-op apartments in Jackson Heights, N.Y and charged $50 for their effort. Thus, was created the first commercial
Commercials were originally called “toll broadcasts; you pay a toll to use a road, you pay a toll to use radio
Now, you could actually MAKE money with radio, by promoting products and services
With big $$$$$ being put into radio, the drowning out/power problems HAD to be fixed
Since corporate money and profit were involved (which largely finance politics), the government suddenly started to get quite interested in doing something about the problem.

Radio Act
Congress passed the Radio Act of 1927
Created the FRC or Federal Radio Commission
Its purpose was to organize the licensing of transmitters, including assigning radio station frequencies, call letters, and power limits.
In 1934 the FRC became the FCC or Federal Communication Commission
FCC regulates radio, TV, telephones, telegraphs
Government Control
Some countries didn’t want radio to be financed with commercials; decided to let government control it
In Great Britain this led to the establishment of the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) in 1923. The BBC used public taxes on radio receivers to pay for their broadcast system.
Pros and Cons of
Governmental Control
Pros: Except for a small tax on radios, programming was free of those annoying, time wasting commercials
Cons: The government controlled what you heard on the radio; The BBC avoided this, for the most part
US citizens clearly felt commercials were a better option that government control
Call Letters
The FRC gave every station in the country call letters, basically the name for the station
All stations East of the Mississippi River were given call letters that began with “W” (WNBC in New York, WREC in Memphis)
All stations West of the Mississippi River were given call letters that began with “K” (KNBC in San Franciso, KMOX in St. Louis)
Stations licensed before the formation of the FRC got to keep their call letters (Ex. KDKA in Pittsburgh, WACO in Waco, Tx)
Noncommercial Radio
One of the things the Federal Radio Commission did was reserve some frequencies for noncommercial radio primarily stations representing educational and religious groups.
Unfortunately, due to the pro big-business bias of the government, the channels (frequencies) they were assigned were the least desirable. Not only that, but they were limited in power typically only 100 watts.
Many years later when FM (frequency modulated) radio came along,
noncommercial stations were assigned to the low end of the RF (radio frequency)
FM spectrum an area with 20 different channels.
Full transcript