NBC's 1948 Promotional Short, 'Behind Your Radio Dial'
While there were several concurrent, independent attempts thoughout the United States during the 1900's, the most successful efforts to expand early Radio into the realm of Broadcasting -- and of networks of broadcasters -- revolved around the East and West Coasts. Dr. Lee DeForest, Professor Edwin H. Armstrong, and Dr. Frank Conrad were the driving forces on the East Coast. On the West Coast, were it not for the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, history may well have seen The West Coast become the first major center of early Broadcast Radio.
Reginald Fessenden, a Canadian, and professor at the University of Pittsburgh succeeded in transmitting voice over radio-telephone in 1900 while performing experiments for the U.S. Weather Bureau. Using a spark transmitter to reproduce his voice, the noise produced by the transmitter itself rendered his Fessenden's voice almost unintelligible. But by December 11, 1906, he'd succeeded in transmitting a clear and audible signal from his lab in Brant Rock, MA. Ernst Alexanderson of Westinghouse Electric Co, had provided Fessenden with a new, high-speed alternator specifcally designed for Fessenden's experiment. Westinghouse's alternator, though able to produce a clear continuous wave signal, was prohibitively expensive and impractical for use either shipboard, where most of the need for radio existed at the time, or for personal or early business use.
Francis J. McCarty, while almost unheard of in the history of early radio, was a teenaged, self-educated engineering prodigy in San Francisco, CA, who'd, by 1903, developed a spark-telephone which had already transmitted an audible voice transmission over two miles. By 1904, following significant improvements in his invention, he'd successfully transmitted a clear voice transmission seven miles over water.
Following another successful demonstration of his technology in 1905 -- this time for The Press -- McCarty's technology was deemed worthy of commercial interest, and The McCarty Wireless Telephone Company was formed, issuing 200,000 shares of stock at a dollar a share, McCarty retaining 105,000 and a controlling interest. Shortly after his successful public demonstration, Hale's Department Store in San Francisco installed an experimental transmitting station at the store. Within 17 years, Prentiss Cobb and Hale's Department Store would become the home to KPO Radio.
By the Spring of 1906, future of The McCarty Wireless Telephone Company couldn't have seemed brighter. This optimism was shattered the morning of April 18, 1906 as San Francisco endured the most catastrophic earthquake in America's history.
The Public's focus on the aftermath of the Great Earthquake and it's accompanying conflagration eclipsed McCarty's historic accomplishments. Interest in his revolutionary technology all but vanished. In yet another cruel irony, a month after The Great Earthquake, McCarty, heading home from his office, swerved his cart to avoid a jaywalking pedestrian, was thrown from his cart, and struck his head against a telephone pole, expiring from the trauma moments later. Francis J. McCarty died two weeks shy of his 18th Birthday.
His family and investors made a vain attempt to further McCarty's successes. Indeed they succeeded in transmitting what may have been the first recorded music program in 1908. But DeForest had introduced the world to the Audion Tube in 1907, and there seemed no further commercial rationale to develop McCarty's technology beyond that point. The McCarty Wireless Telephone Company collapsed shortly after.
As recounted in more detail in the accompanying spotlights of major Radio Networks, the rapid advances in radio transmission technoloy -- over both wire (telephone and telegraph) and airwaves -- began to rival and in some instances, surpass, the parallel efforts of Guglielmo Marconi. Marconi had conducted a series of trials in 1923 between experimental transmission stations at Poldhu, Cornwall, in England and in Marconi's yacht "Elettra" cruising in both the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. This led to the establishment of the 'beam system' for long distance communication. His proposals to The British Empire to use the system for Imperial communication were accepted by the British Government and the first beam station -- linking England and Newfoundland, Canada --- was established in 1926.
Dr. Lee Deforest, an inveterate liar, charlatan, plagiarist, Self-Styled inventor, and unabashedly self-promoting entrepreneur, would not be denied. David Sarnoff's RCA Network, utilizing Deforest's technology, began transmitting commercially in December 1923 between WJZ in New York City, NY and WGY in Schenectedy, NY.
RCA was forced to employ Western Union telegraph wires, since AT&T would not lease their phone lines to a competitor. Due in part to this limitation, by 1925, RCA had managed to link only four stations (WJZ, WJY, WGY and WRC) owing to the inferior audio quality and unreliable connections of the Western Union telegraph lines.
This inevitably led to landmark litigation which ultimately forced AT&T to withdraw from programming and broadcasting. AT&T became a 'common carrier' resource -- the common carrier resource.
RCA's network was subsequently absorbed by the National Broadcasting Company as 'NBC Blue'.