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A History of Broadcasting in the United States
A History of Broadcasting in the United States
1. A Tower of Babel: to 1933

Tells how radio and television became an integral part of American life, of how a toy became an industry and a force in politics, business, education, religion, and international affairs.


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authored-by Erik Barnouw on 4/24/2019, 7:26:55 PM

excerpt In 1920 just one station, KDKA, Pittsburgh, was licensed to render a regular broadcasting service. In 1921 it was joined by a few others. Then, in 1922, more than five hundred broadcasting stations went on the air. 4 on 11/28/2019, 11:14:43 PM

excerpt By 1917 they held 8562 transmitting licenses. 33 on 11/28/2019, 11:18:39 PM

quote "To get broadcasting started, you have to start broadcasting" 36 on 11/28/2019, 11:19:52 PM

excerpt A clause in the 1912 law provided that "in time of war or public peril or disaster" the President might close or seize any radio apparatus.12 For a while the amateurs continued to send and listen; in many ways, these were the most exciting months. Then, on April 6, 1917, the blow came. A state of war existed with Germany. That same day, all amateur radio apparatus was ordered shut, dismantled, sealed. Next day commercial wireless stations such as ship-to-shore stations were taken over by the navy. Almost all stations still in operation were now under navy or army control. 37 on 11/28/2019, 11:21:13 PM

cites History of Radio to 1926 on 11/28/2019, 11:24:14 PM

excerpt On October 17, 1919, the Radio Corporation of America was formed. Its articles of incorporation provided that only United States citizens might be directors or officers. It was also stipulated that not more than 20 per cent of the stock might be held by foreigners. Provision was made for a government representative with "the right of discussion and presentation in the board of the Government's views and interests concerning matters coming before the board." 59 on 11/28/2019, 11:27:14 PM

note The Radio Corporation of America (RCA) was created because the U.S. government would not permit a British owned corporation to control radio telegraphy in the United States. on 11/28/2019, 11:30:36 PM

references David Sarnoff on 11/28/2019, 11:32:14 PM

excerpt In 1922, the first year in which RCA sold radio sets, its sales totaled about $11,000,000, or substantially more than the prediction. For the second year Sarnoff's prediction was exactly right. For the third, sales ran to $50,000,- ooo, or more than predicted. 79 on 11/28/2019, 11:35:06 PM

note David Sarnoff wrote a memo in 1916 that essentially proposed the consumer radio receiver. He dubbed it the "Radio Music Box". 79 on 11/28/2019, 11:37:24 PM

note Sarnoff also wanted RCA to get into broadcasting. He organized a live broadcast of an upcoming boxing match between Jack Dempsey and George Carpenter. 80 on 11/28/2019, 11:40:14 PM

note It seems like 1922 was when the public first had access to home radio. In response to this new demand, tones of regional radio stations sprung up. See "The Euphoria of 1922" on 11/28/2019, 11:46:27 PM

quote "It is inconceivable that we should allow so great a possibility for service to be drowned in advertising chatter." on 11/28/2019, 11:48:24 PM

excerpt "ether advertising" 96 on 11/28/2019, 11:48:40 PM

excerpt In city after city, newspapers followed a similar course. U. S. Depart- ment of Commerce lists of stations, published in its monthly Radio Service Bulletin, showed eleven newspaper-owned stations in May 1922.2" At the end of the year there were sixty-nine. 99 on 11/28/2019, 11:49:43 PM

excerpt When AT&T finally decided, at an executive meeting held in New York City on January 12, 1922, that it would take up "public radiotelephone broadcasting," it did so in a way all its own. The decision was framed wholly in telephone terms. Lloyd Espenschied, who was present, de- scribed the original conception: We, the telephone company, were to provide no programs. The pub- lic was to come in. Anyone who had a message for the world or wished to entertain was to come in and pay their money as they would upon coming into a telephone booth, address the world, and go out. I keeping with the telephony imagery, AT&T called this "toll broadcasting". 106 on 11/28/2019, 11:52:09 PM

excerpt The AT&T plan as envisioned in 1922 called for a network of thirty- eight AT&T "radiotelephone" stations linked by the company's long lines, all stations operating on a "toll" basis. A New York City station would be launched first—at the earliest possible date. On February 11 the plan was made public. "The American Telephone and Telegraph Company," the announcement said, "will provide no pro- gram of its own, but provide the channels through which anyone with whom it makes a contract can send out their own programs. . . . There have been many requests for such a service. . . ." 107 on 11/28/2019, 11:53:06 PM

cites 978067428054 on 11/28/2019, 11:53:55 PM

note Phone Booth in the air is where I am going to start. This is 1922. on 11/28/2019, 11:55:58 PM

excerpt On August 28, 1922, 5-5:30 P.M., WEAF broadcast its first income- producing program: a ten-minute message to the public from the Queens- boro Corporation to promote the sale of apartments in Jackson Heights. The sponsors paid $50 for the broadcast. 110 on 11/28/2019, 11:58:47 PM

excerpt In February 1923, AT&T held a policy meeting to map action against infringers. Although almost six hundred stations were on the air, only thirty-five had bought Western Electric ($85oo-$io,5oo) transmitters.9 Another six stations had been equipped by AT&T's patent allies, who under the agreements were conceded the right to make transmitters for their own use but not for sale. Of the remaining five hundred-odd stations, virtually all were regarded by AT&T as violators of its patent rights. 117 on 11/29/2019, 12:03:32 AM

excerpt in fact, twenty measures relating to broad- casting were put before the 6jth Congress in the sessions of 1921-23. 121 on 11/29/2019, 12:05:51 AM

excerpt 1922 $ 60,000,000 1923 136,000,000 1924 $358,000,000Lured by the growing audience, new stations sprang up. A growing number failed, but others took their place. on 11/29/2019, 12:08:10 AM

quote As early as November 1920, Radio Broadcast was complaining: driblets of advertising, indirect but unmistakable, are floating through the ether every day. Y ou can't miss it; every little classic num- ber has a slogan all its own, if it's only the mere mention of the name —and the street address, and the phone number—of the music house which arranged the programme. . . . The woods are full of opportun- ists who are restrained by no scruples when the scent of profit comes down the wind. 133 on 11/29/2019, 12:10:44 AM

excerpt From the summer of 1923, when three stations were first linked, the technology of chain operation was rapidly developed and its possibilities dramatized. By the end of the year a six-station hookup was used; by the end of 1924, a coast-to-coast hookup of twenty-six stations. on 11/29/2019, 12:15:26 AM

note By 1924, the first network of stations had been formed: This time it was on an AT&T network of twenty-six stations, coast to coast. 153 on 11/29/2019, 12:17:32 AM

excerpt In 1924 Americans invested a fantastic $358,000,000 in radio sets and parts—up from $136,000,000 spent in the previous year. 154 on 11/29/2019, 12:18:54 AM

excerpt For a time advertisers were baffled as to how to use this new access to public attention. Several early toll users emulated the Jackson Heights promoters and looked to history—or quasi-history. An association of greet- ing card manufacturers presented a talk on the history of Christmas cards. The Haynes company presented the story of the Haynes automobile as told by Mr. Haynes.60 Gillette offered a talk on fashions in beards since medieval times, culminating in the delights of the safety razor. The resem- blance to a carnival pitch was close enough to be uncomfortable, and the telephone executives sought to minimize this. A talk on cigarettes was "heavily censored." 157 on 11/29/2019, 12:21:56 AM

note Sponsoring the appearance of an orchestra become the predominant way that advertisers bought attention. The link would be solely in the name "Browning King Orchestra" and the financial arrange- ments behind it. From this linkage good-will would flow. Seeking good- will, Browning, King did not even mention that it sold clothing. Theven- ture led to a rash of similar creations: the "Cliquot Club Eskimos," the "Gold Dust Twins (Goldy and Dusty)," the "Lucky Strike Orchestra," the "Ipana Troubadours," the "A&P Gypsies," the "Goodrich Silvertown Orchestra" and its "Silver Masked Tenor." 158 on 11/29/2019, 12:23:51 AM

excerpt Many early WEAF sales—they included time and talent—-were negoti- ated directly with sponsors, but WEAF began to insist that the advertising agencies sign the contracts. It also insisted on paying the agencies a 15 per cent commission, matching the commissions paid by magazines and news- papers on space sales. Thus advertising agencies were given a financial stake in growing business and in rising budgets. 159 on 11/29/2019, 12:25:22 AM

excerpt While the salesmanship of early entertainment sponsors on WEAF was extraordinarily restrained, there was constant effort to win audience ex- pressions of gratitude. A sack of grateful letters was a novel experience for many advertisers and seemed at first ample proof of the good-will being purchased via the phone booth. The effort to get letters sometimes ran to aggressive coyness. 159 on 11/29/2019, 12:26:05 AM

excerpt The AT&T suit against WHN, New York, launched in 1924, had ended out of court. After a show of defiance, which won applause in the press, WHN quietly settled for a $1500 license fee. Both sides appear to have been much relieved—AT&T, because it had been pictured in monstrous terms in editorial and cartoon; WHN, because it could not possibly afford a court fight. Now it was authorized by AT&T to sell time and could hope for telephone pickup lines. This settlement was followed by a wave of others. Within a year 250 stations paid AT&T license fees of $500 to $3000." Some did so largely for the sake of pickup lines, but many "went commercial." 176 on 12/1/2019, 1:22:29 AM

quote In a closing announcement for the "Gold Dust Twins" the announcer said: Perhaps you open your hearts and homes to them each week—Goldy and Dusty, the Gold Dust Twins, who come to "brighten the corner where you are," and perhaps you have written them of your pleasure, or perhaps you have delayed. Won't you then do it tonight? Notes of encouragement from the audiences of WEAF, New York; WGR, Buffalo; WEEI, Boston; WFI, Philadelphia; and WEAR, Cleveland, serve to brighten these dusky entertainers. Address the Gold Dust Twins, care of station WEAF, 195 Broadway, New York City, or the station through which this program has reached you. 160 on 12/1/2019, 1:33:19 AM

excerpt At many stations the advent of NBC brought a sharp policy shift. WMAQ, Chicago, was asked by NBC to take part of the network schedule. This meant programs of prestige from the entertainment capital; it also meant sponsored programs. 206 on 12/1/2019, 5:43:32 PM

excerpt In March 1927, as the Federal Radio Commission was being formed, there were 732 broadcasting stations in the United States.23 Less than a hundred were network-affiliated, but they were making news and getting major attention. More than six hundred stations were still operating inde- pendently. The majority of these were not selling time. Many were still publicity vehicles, representing newspapers, stores, manufacturers, hotels. 209 on 12/1/2019, 5:46:15 PM

references Federal Radio Commission on 12/1/2019, 5:48:24 PM

references A Thirty-Year History of Programs Carried on National Radio Networks in the United States, 1926-1956 on 12/1/2019, 5:54:00 PM

excerpt In 1931, although the air was crammed with loud, insistent announce- ments, NBC still did not mention prices and prided itself on decorum; it had long lists of taboo words. 238 on 12/1/2019, 5:58:10 PM

excerpt George Washington Hill of the American Tobacco Company, one of the most determined of sponsors, was developing his theory that commercials should irritate. His agency, Lord & Thomas, did whatever was needed to please him. NBC may have demurred, but the commercials were broadcast. 237 on 12/1/2019, 6:01:16 PM

excerpt According to Mark Woods, NBC treasurer at this time, there was con- stant effort by advertisers during the Depression to persuade the network to alter its policies. "And I would say that there were substantial revisions." 238 on 12/1/2019, 6:02:08 PM

quote Not long afterward President Aylesworth of NBC was telling his Advi- sory Council of distinguished citizens about a policy change: We believe that the interests of the listener, the client and the broad- caster are best served under our American system of broadcasting by frankly recognizing the part that each plays in its development. With this thought in mind, and after long consideration, the company has decided to alter its policy with reference to the mention of price in commercial announcements. 238 on 12/1/2019, 6:02:51 PM

note CBS allowed advertisings to include prices. 238 on 12/1/2019, 6:03:25 PM

excerpt When the networks were formed, almost all programs were developed and produced by network or station. There were exceptions, such as the Eveready Hour, produced by an advertising agency. By 1931 virtually all sponsored network programs were developed and produced by advertising agencies. Leading advertis- ing agencies had built or were building radio departments. There was a drift of personnel from networks and stations to higher-paid positions as agency executives. Heads of advertising agency radio departments be- came an elite, besieged by time salesmen, producers, directors, and performing artists. 239 on 12/1/2019, 6:04:09 PM

excerpt Behind this lay an economic story. By 1931 an hour over an NBC coast- to-coast network of fifty-odd stations cost the sponsor about $10,000. The advertising agency received from the network a 15 per cent commission, or $1500, for arranging this sale, and had minimal expenses in connection with it. The agency had established an additional commission. If it ex- pended $6000 on program talent, it added 15 per cent, or $900, in billing the expenditure to the sponsor. Thus an advertising agency could earn $2400 on a single network hour, or $83,600 for a 39-week series, often involving the attention of only three or four agency employees. The devel- oping wealth and power meant a flow of funds to the networks, which readily acquiesced. By 1932 network approval of agency-built programs was considered a formality. The shift to advertising agencies of control over the peak broadcasting hours would eventually become a social and political issue, but was at first taken for granted as a sensible, natural arrangement. The agencies were the conduit through which the money flowed. 239 on 12/1/2019, 6:05:34 PM

quote Have you heard the Kellogg "Singing Lady" on the radio? If you haven't—don't fail. For right now this program is one of the greatest business-getters for the retail grocer in this country. Just think of this: 14,000 people a day, from every state in the Union, are sending tops of Kellogg packages to the Singing Lady for her song book. Nearly 100,000 tops a week come into Battle Creek. And many hundreds of thousands of children, fascinated by her songs and stories, and helped by her counsel on food, are eating more Kellogg cereals today than ever before. This entire program is pointed to increase consumption—by suggesting Kellogg cereals, not only for breakfast but for lunch, after school and the evening meal. It is another evidence of the Kellogg policy to build business—and it's building. 242 on 12/1/2019, 6:08:19 PM

excerpt The BBC was fully committed to a system based on license fees levied on radio receivers. The revenue from the fees—or most of it—went to the operation of the BBC, which in January 1927 had become a public corporation. The revenue had proved sufficient to build an organization of technical excellence and with highly educated personnel. That it had a responsibility to help shape pub- lic tastes and interests was implicit in the BBC point of view. It considered it a duty to look far beyond momentary public tastes. This meant, in Sir John's words, "an active faith that a supply of good things will create a demand for them, not waiting for the demand to express itself." e It was the job of BBC personnel to know what was good. The BBC carried no advertising. 248 on 12/1/2019, 6:12:57 PM

cites Introduction: Broadcasting and Society on 12/1/2019, 6:12:57 PM

excerpt By 1931 NBC had 1359 employees, exclusive of talent. That year, ac- cording to statistics supplied to the Federal Radio Commission, the NBC networks featured 256 special events, carried 159 incoming international programs from 34 points of origin, broadcast 28 appearances by the Presi- dent, 37 by cabinet members, and 71 by U. S. Senators and Representa- tives. It also made a net profit of $2,325,229. In 1931 CBS had 408 employees, featured 415 special events, carried 97 international programs from 19 points of origin, and broadcast 19 appear- ances by the President, 24 by cabinet members, and 65 by U. S. Senators and Representatives. And it made a net profit of $2,346,766. 250 on 12/1/2019, 6:16:43 PM

excerpt At the same time it solidified its operation through a new kind of contract with affiliates. By giving sustaining programs free, it won a concession: a firm option on the time of affiliates. CBS could now make a network sale to a national sponsor without consulting affiliates. It simply told them what period to clear of local programming. This control over station schedules—worked out by wheeler-dealer Sam Pickard, who stepped straight from the Federal Radio Commission into a CBS vice pres- idency—would later become a serious issue, but at first seemed merely a brilliant business coup. For carrying network sponsored programs, CBS reimbursed each affiliate by a negotiated formula, which depended on the station's bargaining power. In 1931 CBS could offer 79 stations coast to coast. 251 on 12/1/2019, 6:20:29 PM

quote The American apparatus of advertising is something unique in history and unique in the modern world; unique, fantastic, and fragile. . . . It is like a grotesque, smirking gargoyle set at the very top of Amer- ica's skyscraping adventure in acquisition ad infinitum. The tower is tottering, but it probably will be some time before it falls. . . . The gargoyle's mouth is a loudspeaker, powered by the vested inter- est of a two-billion dollar industry, and back of that the vested inter- ests of business as a whole, of industry, of finance. It is never silent, it drowns out all other voices, and it suffers no rebuke, for is it not the voice of America? That is its claim and to some extent it is a just claim. For at least two generations of Americans—the generations that grew up during the war and after—have listened to that voice as to an oracle. It has taught them how to live, what to be afraid of, what to be proud of, how to be beautiful, how to be loved, how to be envied, how to be successful. 265 on 12/1/2019, 6:22:02 PM

references Our Master's Voice on 12/1/2019, 6:24:08 PM

quote An evening spent twiddling the dials of a radio set is indeed a pro- foundly educational experience for any student of the culture. America is too big to see itself. But radio has enabled America to hear itself. on 12/1/2019, 6:25:10 PM

excerpt There were other activities. After long planning the Cooperative Analy- sis of Broadcasting had been launched in 1930—the first national rating service, organized for the Associationof National Advertisers by Archibald Crossley. Its task was "equivalent to determining the number of crickets chirping at any instant in a swamp on a foggy summer evening." 1 The CAB ratings or "Crossley ratings," based on telephone interviews with a small population sample, almost at once became a factor in program deci- sions. Many people believed they would improve programming. 270 on 12/1/2019, 6:26:33 PM

excerpt The National Association of Broad- casters quoted Winston Churchill as complaining that the BBC was trying to "lull . . . to chloroform . . . the British people into a state of apathy." 280 on 12/1/2019, 6:30:38 PM

cites Radio as a Cultural Agency on 12/1/2019, 6:32:03 PM

references William S. Paley on 12/2/2019, 8:41:56 PM