Radio Pioneers Pulled Words, Music and World Events Out of Thin Air

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I'm Barbara Klein. And I'm Steve Ember with PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English.  Today, we will tell about several men who influenced the development of radio.

Some people say radio was invented by Guglielmo [gu-lee-YER-mo) Marconi of Italy.  Marconi sent the first radio communication signals through the air in eighteen ninety-five. In fact, no one person can be called the inventor of radio.  Many people, including several Americans, helped to develop radio. You may not know their names. However, their work affected many people.
Over the years, radio has become one of the most important forms of communication.  It can be used for two-way communication, such as between a ship and land.  Scientists even use radio to communicate into space.  And radio broadcasts let people send words, music and information to any part of the world.

The first experimental radio broadcasts in the United States were made in the early nineteen hundreds.  One of the first broadcasts came from the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City in nineteen ten.  It included music by the great singer Enrico Caruso. An American inventor, Lee De Forest, produced that broadcast.  
Only a few people could hear the broadcast.  Some were people in the New York area who had built radio receivers.  Some ships at sea and military radio stations received the broadcast.  Many newspapers of the day reported on the event.  The name of Lee De Forest became part of broadcasting history.

De Forest developed some of the technology used in early radio. During his lifetime, he invented hundreds of devices that were used in telephones, shortwave radio broadcasts, and similar technology.

His most famous invention was the vacuum tube, or electron tube. In nineteen-oh-six, the electron tube was considered the single most important development in electronics.  The device made it possible to strengthen radio signals and to send them over long distances.  It was a major reason for the fast growth of the electronics and communications industries in the early part of the twentieth century.

Edwin Armstrong was another American inventor who was important in the development of electronics and radio communication. Armstrong developed technology that helped to improve radio reception.  He discovered ways to limit unwanted radio signals.

Edwin Armstrong also was a leader in using radio to reproduce
sounds clearly.  This process became known as frequency modulation, or FM radio.  FM radio provided better sound reproduction and less noise or interference than traditional AM radio.  Armstrong also developed radio receivers that became widely used.

Many experts say station KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was
the first American radio station.  It broadcast results of the
American presidential election in November, nineteen twenty.
That is generally considered the start of professional radio
broadcasting in the United States.

Soon, radio stations began to appear in other areas.  In nineteen twenty-two, two stations in New York State joined together to broadcast the championship game of American baseball.  The stations were connected by telephone lines.  This permitted them to share the same program.  It was one of the first examples of a radio network.

By the middle of the nineteen-twenties, there were two main radio networks in the United States.  The National Broadcasting Corporation, NBC, was formed by the Radio Corporation of America. NBC became the first permanent national network.

The other network was the Columbia Broadcasting System, called CBS.  The networks provided programs to radio stations across the country. Local stations created very few programs.  What listeners heard in New York was often heard in Los Angeles, California and other cities.

David Sarnoff was the man responsible for NBC. As a young man, Sarnoff had taught himself Morse code.  He got a job with the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company where he worked as a telegraph operator.  He was on duty when the passenger ship Titanic sank in the Atlantic Ocean in nineteen twelve.  Sarnoff helped the rescue effort by informing other ships about the accident.  He understood that someone using radio could affect many lives.

By nineteen twenty-one, Sarnoff was an official of the Radio Corporation of America.  He pushed RCA to enter broadcasting. The company soon earned huge profits.  Five years later, David Sarnoff helped create NBC. David Sarnoff developed the theory of broadcasting.

This was very different from the communication between two people speaking to each other on a telephone.  Radio meant that someone could speak to millions of people.

William S. Paley developed another radio network.  In nineteen twenty-eight, Paley left his family's business. He spent several hundred thousand dollars on several radio stations.  These stations became known as the Columbia Broadcasting System. Paley's friends and advisers told him that he had made a huge mistake.  They said his dream of building a large and important radio network would never come true.

Paley did not listen to them.  Instead, he went to see the heads of some of the largest American companies to get their financial support for his network.

Then, Paley searched for the best people he could find to produce the radio shows and news programming he wanted.  He paid them well.  William Paley was always looking for people with special skills.

One night, he attended a show by the popular Tommy Dorsey Band.  A young man with the group sang during the performance. His name was Frank Sinatra.  Sinatra soon had his own program with CBS, Paley's radio network.

Radio was extremely popular in the United States between the late
nineteen twenties and the early nineteen fifties.  This period is
known as the Golden Age of Broadcasting.

During this period, families gathered in their living rooms every night to listen to radio shows.  Children hurried from school to hear shows created for them.  In the daytime, millions of women listened to radio plays called soap operas.  They were called soap operas because companies that make soap paid for the shows.

Radio influenced the way many people felt about their community and the world.  It permitted them to sit at home and hear what was happening in other areas. During World War Two, people could hear the voices of world leaders, such as American President Franklin Roosevelt.

Listeners also could hear the voices of reporters covering World War Two.  Edward R. Murrow became famous for reporting about the war.  People sometimes could hear guns and bombs exploding during his report.

In nineteen thirty-seven, Edward R. Murrow was the only representative of CBS in Europe.  Murrow built a team of news reporters whose names would become well known to listeners.

Murrow and reporter William Shirer made broadcasting history in nineteen thirty-eight.  They organized a special broadcast with European reaction to the seizure of Austria by Nazi Germany.  The show had reports from London, Berlin, Paris and Rome.  It was a huge success.

In the United States, the rise of television in the nineteen fifties ended the Golden Age of Radio Broadcasting. More and more people started to watch television.  Most of the popular shows disappeared from radio.

Many people believed television would cause radio broadcasting to become unimportant.  However, the number of radio listeners continues to grow.  Most experts say radio will continue to be important during this century. 

This program was written by George Grow. It was produced by Caty Weaver.  I'm  Steve Ember.

And I'm Barbara Klein.  Join us again next week for PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English.