The Radio Corporation of America was founded in 1926
The Radio Corporation of America was formed in the wake of World War I. An ostensibly unlikely alliance of four powerful companies--The United Fruit Company, General Electric, Westinghouse and telephone giant American Telephone and Telegraph, the four companies banded together in attempt to influence the adoption of General Electric and Westinghouse's extensive technology patents during an era of ruthless competition in marketing radio receivers.
Why the United Fruit Company? Prior to World War I, United Fruit had created the Tropical Radio and Telegraph Company (1913) and by the end of World War I had acquired over $200,000,000 in capital assets. But within a few years of founding RCA, the inherently unwieldy alliance began to fall apart. The alliance also caught the attention of the United States government over anti-trust implications. RCA, having benefited greatly during the brief alliance, went its own way, forming the National Broadcasting Company in 1926.
RCA was all about technology. Its driving impetus in even forming its chain-broadcasting network was a further attempt to shape the evolving standards so as to corner as much of the radio receiver and radio transmission technology markets as possible. Formed as a wholly-owned subsidiary of RCA, NBC was soon split up into two major chains--NBC-Red and NBC-Blue--the better to capture and dominate as much of the emerging demand for Radio programming as possible. RCA purchased radio station WEAF from AT&T for $1,000,000 to serve as its NBC-Red flagship station. NBC's WJZ became the flagship station for it's NBC-Blue network.
The distinguishing characteristics of WEAF and WJZ were that WEAF, formerly owned by AT&T was based on phone line technology for propagating its transmissions. Indeed, the deal by which NBC acquired WEAF and all its technology from AT&T also contained a proscription against AT&T competing in the 'network broad-casting' field for a period of seven years. WJZ (with WGY and WRC, WCAD, WBZ, KDKA, and KYW), by contrast was based on Western Union technology, employing telegraph lines to propagate its transmissions. In this manner, NBC could enjoy the best of what both technologies of the era could offer, until the battles over patents and emerging standards resolved themselves.
You may ask how NBC came up with the ideas for the 'colors.' That's because somewhere in the bowels of NBC's 711 Fifth Avenue headquarters in New York, a huge map of the U.S. showed the connections between NBC's various 'chain-stations' and affiliates with the use of red and blue grease pencils. Red grease pencils traced the connections over the AT&T infrastructures and blue grease pencils traced the connections over the Western Union infrastructures. Indeed as the network giant continued to expand its acquistion plan, NBC eventually comprised an orange network, a white network and a gold network. Don't ask how they marked the 'white network' connections. That nugget of trivia appears to be lost to the ages.
The orange network (KGO, KFI, KGW, KOMO, and KHQ) represented the rapidly expanding southern west coast stations that NBC was assembling for cross-country transmissions. NBC's white network was comprised of a collection of early religious broadcasting stations. NBC's gold network (KPO, KECA, KEX, KJR, and KGA) was comprised of northern west coast stations. The gold network was ultimately folded into NBC's orange network.
The upshot of all of this acquistion was to eventually knit together a cross-country network of 'chain-stations', affiliates and regional 'key stations' with which to eventually transmit NBC programming everywhere in the nation.
Map of NBC's combined red, blue, orange and gold networks
NBC's much anticipated coast-to-coast broadcast of January 4, 1928 united the red and blue networks with the orange and gold networks to bring the Dodge Victory Hour to some 26,000,000 listeners from coast to cast. Paul Whiteman, Al Jolson, Will Rogers and Fred Stone and Dorothy Stone gave listeners an hour of variety at the very same time. . . for the first time in Radio history. Sponsored by Dodge Brothers automobiles and its new 'Victory Six', NBC's Dodge Victory Hour headlined Paul Whiteman from WEAF New York, Fred Stone and Dorothy Stone from Chicago, Al Jolson from New Orleans, and Will Rogers from San Francisco. The practical demonstration of the viability of commercial Radio broadcasts spanning an entire continent set the new standard for network broadcasting. Spanning 12,000 miles of telephone wire, the broadcast was both a commercial and technological triumph.
NBC wasn't the only rapidly expanding broadcasting network of the era. William Paley had, by 1927, formed the Columbia Broadcasting System from the Columbia Phonograph Broadcasting System and United Independent Broadcasters. By September of 1928 Paley had consolidated the two companies to the point that he could control them. In January 1929, the combine was simply renamed the Columbia Broadcasting System. Though NBC had a well-established headstart on CBS, William Paley was relentless in expanding CBS, station by station, across the U.S.
The early 'chain' networks were aptly named. Quite literally chained together by the transmission technologies available to them at the time, almost all networks of the era had to create a great number of linking and retransmission connections within the 'chain'. But for the exponentially growing body of listeners across America all of that infrastructure was incidental. The listeners of America were growing an insatiable appetite for content. Typical fare of the 1920s through the early 1930s were serial melodramas such as the early Cecil and Sally installments. Other typical fare of the era were early juvenile adventure serials, farm news, live or prerecorded music, short variety programs of every description, dance bands, religious programs, and vaudevile-like comedy programs. NBC also made an early attempt to create a great deal of education programming via their first NBC University productions and Chicago's long running University of Chicago Round Table program.
By 1929, the long-running Amos 'n' Andy broadcasts had begun, along with Rudy Vallee's Fleischmann's Yeast variety programs. In 1931, NBC was the first network to bring Lum and Abner to the air. 1933 ushered in the first of the long-running Metropolitan Opera programs hosted by Milton Cross. The Kraft Music Hall began airing in 1934 and a year later the long-running Fibber McGee and Molly program. Here's some typical NBC weekday fare by 1935:
07:45-WEAF--Pollock and Lawnhurst, Piano
08:00-WEAF--Phil Cook's Notebook
08:15-WEAF--Don Hall Trio
09:00-WEAF--Dick Leibert, Organ
09:30-WEAF--Norman Neilson, Baritone
09:45-WEAF--Lang Sisters, Songs
10:05-WEAF--Johnny Marvin, Songs
10:15-WEAF--Clara, Lu 'n' Em--Sketch
10:30-WEAF--Breen and de Rose, Songs
10:45-WEAF--Joe White, Tenor
11:00-WEAF--U. S. Navy Band
12:00-WEAF--Story of Mary Marlin--Sketch
12 :15-WEAF--Honeyboy and Sassafras
1:30-WEAF--Debate: Child Labor Amendment--Rabbi Stephen S. Wise; William D. Guthrie, of Committee Opposed to Ratification
2:45-WEAF--Mario Cozzi, Baritone
3:00-WEAF--Vic and Sade--Sketch
3:30-WEAF--Dreams Come True--Sketch
3:45-WEAF--Sizzlers Male Trio
4:00-WEAF--Woman's Review: Books and Authors; Harry Hansen, Critic.
4:30-WEAF--John Martin Story Program
5:00-WEAF--Kay Foster, Songs
5:15-WEAF--Tom Mix Adventures--Sketch
5:30-WEAF--Alice in Orchestralia--Sketch
5:45-WEAF--Stamp Club--Capt Tim Healy
Note that the daytime fare over WEAF was targeted almost exclusively to homemakers, with a relatively equal mix of dramatic sketches and musical variety in one form or another. As the kiddies rolled in after school, the offerings showed a decidedly juvenile bent until supper time. You may have noticed that New York City was still debating Child Labor laws in 1935, an interesting artifact of the era in itself. Weeknight fare was punctuated by sketch comedy and drama of the era, news and commentary and musical variety in widely varying formats.
We highlighted the 1935 offerings simply to underscore how far Radio progressed in the following years fifteen years and how the sophistication of Radio changed exponentially over the same period.
|RadioGOLDINdex, Hickerson Guide.
Notes on Provenances:
The most helpful provenances were the log of the radioGOLDINdex and newspaper listings.
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