Little Bits of History

Selling Air (Time)

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 29, 2015
NYC's Jackson Heights

NYC’s Jackson Heights*

August 29, 1922: The first paid radio commercial is aired. In the early 1900s, radio programs began broadcasting, but they were irregular. By 1919, the airwaves were kept in continuous use as all day broadcasts began. In the US, on November 2, 1920 KDKA began the first commercial broadcast. More radio stations began the process of regular all day broadcasting. With the increase came the need to pay for the maintenance of the stations since they were becoming significantly costly. In February 1922, AT&T announced their intention to sell “toll broadcasting” to advertisers. The idea was that businesses would underwrite or finance broadcasts in exchange for their businesses to be mentioned on the radio.

Queensboro Corporation was the first to take advantage of this concept when on this day, they advertised their new apartment complex in the expanding neighborhood of Jackson Heights. There is some dispute about this being the first paid ad on radio as there was an amateur radio broadcaster who leased out his “station”. In exchange for $35 per week, he permitted others to use the facility twice a week back in May 1920. In Seattle, Washington in March 1922, Remick’s Music Store took out a large ad in the local paper advertising the radio station KFC and for their efforts were given a weekly show to sponsor. On April 4, 1922, Alvin T. Fuller, a car dealer in Medford Hillside, Massachusetts purchased time at WGI in order to secure mention of his dealership. Queensboro was the first to use the system we know today on commercial radio stations.

During radio’s Golden Age, advertisers would sponsor an entire program which usually lasted between 15 and 30 minutes. Their product would be mentioned at the beginning and end of the show with a message acknowledging their sponsorship. Radio, by its nature, is limited to just sound, but some of the larger stations began to experiment with different formats. Advertising became a commodity and there was money to be made by creating great ads. The advertising director of Shell Oil Co. urged station managers to deal with relevant advertisers and sell tie-in commercials in established radio shows. It was hoped that like with newspapers, both the medium and the advertisers would benefit.

Even though radio was an already established entity before this time, it was seen as the industry “growing up” in terms of a business venture and how advertising could best be utilized. The use of sound effects was essential to the success of programming – and advertising. There are, even today, two types of radio commercials. There are “live reads” and produced spots. Some DJs will ad-lib or improvise when doing a live read while others stick strictly to the script. Some give a personal salute to the product, then making it an endorsement. Produced spots are far more common and are the prerecorded ads made via the station itself or an advertising agency. Today, different times of the day demand different rates for airtime and ads can run from ten seconds to sixty seconds.

Advertising treats all products with the reverence and the seriousness due to sacraments. – Thomas Merton

A good advertisement is one which sells the product without drawing attention to itself. – David Ogilvy

There is no advertisement as powerful as a positive reputation traveling fast. – Brian Koslow

Law Number IV: If you can afford to advertise, you don’t need to. – Norman R. Augustine

Also on this day: Have You Hugged Your Hog Today? – In 1885, Gottlieb Wilhelm Daimler patented the motorcycle.
Last Man Standing – In 1911, Ishi was found.
The Ashes – In 1882, The Ashes rivalry began.
Day Tripper – In 1966, The Beatles gave their last paid concert.
Quebec Bridge Collapse – In 1907, the bridge collapsed before construction was finished.

* “NYC Jackson Heights 3” by The original uploader was Jleon at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons –


AM or FM

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 13, 2015
Lee de Forest

Lee de Forest

January 13, 1910: The first public radio broadcast takes place. Lee de Forest was born in Iowa in 1873 and called himself the Father of Radio. He earned his PhD in 1899 with a dissertation on radio waves. He joined the faculty at Armour Institute of Technology and conducted his first long-distance broadcasts from there. In 1901, he and Guglielmo Marconi were both at the New York International Yacht Races attempting to broadcast news of the races. They were on separate boats and each used a different method for airing the news. Unfortunately, they jammed each other’s transmissions and no news was broadcast at all. De Forest, in a fit, threw his transmitter overboard. Jamming signals was a common problem with early radio broadcasting.

In 1906, de Forest invented Audion, an electronic amplifying vacuum tube. It was the first triode – a partially evacuated glass tube with three electrodes; a heated filament, a grid, and a plate. He then developed an improved wireless telegraph receiver. He received a patent in 1906 for a diode vacuum tube detector and in 1908 he got another patent for a triode detector which was much more sensitive. It was the fastest electronic switching element of the time. This was vital in the development of transcontinental telephone communications, radio, and radar. It was even used in early digital electronics.

As early as 1907, de Forest advertised that it would soon be possible to listen to great music and speeches via a Radio Telephone. On this day, he set up equipment at the Metropolitan Opera House and broadcast a live performance of opera singers. Selections from Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci were offered. Enrico Caruso sang for a very limited audience as there were few receivers available to pick up the transmission. The next day, the New York Times reported on the historic moment.

Receivers had been set up throughout New York City in well advertised places with members of the press available. Ships in New York Harbor also had receivers. The experiment was not completely successful. Microphones of the day were unable to pick up most of the singing from the stage. Only those off-stage and singing directly into a mike could be heard clearly. There was much static and interference as well. Even with this ignominious start, more refinements were made and radio became ubiquitous with music and talk shows abounding. Today, radio is said to be dying, but even so there were 15,433 licensed full power radio stations in the US as of September 30, 2014. There are over 44,000 stations worldwide, according to the CIA Fact Book.

While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility. – Lee de Forest

Short waves will be generally used in the kitchen for roasting and baking, almost instantaneously. – Lee de Forest

It will soon be possible to distribute grand opera music from transmitters placed on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House by a Radio Telephone station on the roof to almost any dwelling in Greater New York and vicinity… The same applies to large cities. Church music, lectures, etc., can be spread abroad by the Radio Telephone. – 1907 Lee de Forest company advertisement

Opera broadcast in part from the stage of the New York City Metropolitan Opera Company was heard on January 13, 1910, when Enrico Caruso and Emmy Destinn sang arias from Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci, which were “trapped and magnified by the dictograph directly from the stage and borne by wireless Hertzian waves over the turbulent waters of the sea to transcontinental and coastwise ships and over the mountainous peaks and undulating valleys of the country.” The microphone was connected by telephone wire to the laboratory of Dr. Lee De Forest. – New York Times on January 14, 1910

Also on this day: Sitting on the Throne – In 1863, Thomas Crapper pioneered his pedestal toilet.
Only One – In 1842, the lone survivor arrived at the Jalalabad garrison.
Greece – In1822, the First National Assembly of Epidaurus adopts a new Greek flag.
Prison Blues – In 1968, Johnny Cash performed at Folsom Prison.
Black Friday in Australia – In 1939, a bushfire started in Victoria, Australia.

Tagged with: , ,

Life in a Vacuum

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 15, 2012


September 15, 1947: The 12AX7 is released. Also called ECC83, it was a miniature dual triode vacuum tube with a high voltage gain. In the foregoing definition, the “triode” part means there were three active electrodes and the “vacuum tube” part is a tube or device that controls or regulates the flow of an electric current through a vacuum. RCA developed the tube in Harrison, New Jersey in 1947 under the development number A-4522. The device was to be a replacement for the a family of dual-triode amplifier tubes then used in audio applications. The small tube measured 2.2 inches in height and only 0.8 inches in diameter. It is still in use today in low level audio amplification applications.

RCA Corporation was founded as Radio Corporation of America in 1919. In 1914, Europe erupted into war and soon the entire world seemed to be involved. During World War I, instant communication was essential and radio was useful in this regard. The Germans lost their submarine communications cable which was the only telegraph at the time. In order to communicate between allies in the Americas, long distance radio was needed. In the US, the government took charge of patents owned by major companies in order to work on radio communication development. On April 8, 1919, navy personnel met with General Electric Corporation to ask them to stop selling radio components overseas. The navy and GE created an American-owned company and created a radio monopoly. That company was Radio Corporation of America.

After the war, radio towers confiscated during the fighting were returned to the original owners. GE continued to use RCA as its retail arm for selling radios and later Westinghouse also used RCA for marketing their radios. In 1929, RCA purchased Victor Talking Machine Co. and entered the phonograph market. They sold their first electronic turntable in 1930, which was also the year they broke away from GE. RCA demonstrated an all-electronic television system at the 1939 New York World’s Fair and developed the US’s first television test pattern.

By 1941, RCA Laboratories worked on many different audio and visual projects. In their Princeton, New Jersey lab they created color TV, the electron microscope, optoelectronic emitting devices, LCD displays, videocassette recorders and many more interesting items. They went out of business in 1986 and the RCA trademark is currently owned by the French conglomerate Technicolor SA. The trademark is used by Sony Music Entertainment and Technicolor, which licenses the name to other companies such as Audiovox and TCL Corporation.

Radio is a bag of mediocrity where little men with carbon minds wallow in sluice of their own making. – Fred Allen

It’s not true I had nothing on, I had the radio on. – Marilyn Monroe

Technology gives us the facilities that lessen the barriers of time and distance – the telegraph and cable, the telephone, radio, and the rest. – Emily Greene Balch

Radio allowed people to act with their hearts and minds. – Dick York

Also on this day:

I Feel the Need for Speed – In 1881, Ettore Bugatti is born.
What is That? – In 1916, tanks were first used in battle.
Railroads – In 1830, inter-city passenger rail travel began.

Tagged with: , , ,

“I’m Thinking”

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 2, 2010

Jack Benny and colleagues

May 2, 1932: Jack Benny’s radio show premieres. Jack Benny, whose real name was Benjamin Kubelsky, was an American vaudeville performer, comedian, radio and television star, and actor. Benjamin was born to Polish immigrant parents residing in Chicago. His father was a saloonkeeper who later became a haberdasher. Ben studied violin from the age of six and due to his local fame, he was invited to play his instrument on tour with the Marx Brothers. But, at age 17, his mother refused to allow it. A famous violinist of the age was Jan Kubelik who was frightened the horrible vaudeville entertainer would tarnish his reputation. He insisted the young man change his name. He became Ben K. Benny.

After serving in the Navy during World War I, at times entertaining the troops, he returned to the stage and his violin act. He now added standup comedy sketches to his act as well, having learned in the service that when his violin playing (which was truly accomplished) was not well received, his jokes were. Ben K. Benny took to the stage, only to find someone else thought the name too similar and threatened to sue. He took the common sailor’s name, Jack, and became Jack Benny.

His stage persona was based on a lousy violinist who was stingy yet completely self-satisfied. He was vain and petty on stage, and gave his audience a rich set of characters which his foils were always given the opportunity to best. As long as the show got laughs, Benny was happy. He carried on a ten-year radio feud with his real life friend, Fred Allen. His comedic timing was legendary and led to a career of well known sight and sound gags.

Rochester, his chauffer, was one of the first African-Americans who was treated as an equal on stage and allowed – even encouraged – to outwit his boss. Benny’s wife also worked on stage with him, performing as a “friend” rather than as a wife or even girlfriend. Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, also provided Benny violin lessons and tons of sound effects. Jack Benny’s radio show ran from 1932 to 1955.

“When they asked Jack Benny to do something for the Actor’s Orphanage – he shot both his parents and moved in.” – Bob Hope

“My wife Mary and I have been married for forty-seven years and not once have we had an argument serious enough to consider divorce; murder, yes, but divorce, never.” – Jack Benny

“It’s not so much knowing when to speak, but when to pause.”  – Jack Benny

“Hors D’oeuvre: A ham sandwich cut into forty pieces.” – Jack Benny

Also on this day, in 1230 William de Braose was hanged after being caught in bed with his host’s wife.

Long Distance Communication

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 27, 2010

Guglielmo Marconi with his invention in 1876

March 27, 1899: The first international radio transmission takes place when Guglielmo Marconi transmits a message between England and France. Marconi was the son of an Italian landowner and Annie Jameson, the Irish granddaughter of the founder of Jameson & Son Distillery.

Many other electrical engineers and scientists were instrumental in developing the radio, but Marconi’s contributions to a useful form make him known as “the father of radio.” He first transmitted his Morse code messages across water in 1897, and across the Atlantic in 1901.

Marconi continued to work with longwaves and lower frequencies, broadcasting for longer distances. Messages were more easily sent at night, going more than twice as far without day time interferences. In 1903, on March 29, the first transatlantic new service between New York and London was begun. Voice over radio waves was finally introduced in the 1920s. In 1922, the first regular radio broadcasts for entertainment were introduced.

Today, radio is still used for audio transmissions, both word and music. It can also be used to transmit video if there is a proper receiver and digital television uses 8VSB modulation. Radio can be used for telephones with mobile phones transmitting to local cell sites. Radio is used for navigation and radar by bouncing radio waves off solid objects. Data can be sent across digital radio bands. There are licensed and unlicensed radio services available for short wave frequencies. Radio can be used to control remotely as in toy cars and planes. As a side effect, radio produces heat, and so can be used as a heating source.

“Every improvement in communication makes the bore more terrible.” – Frank Moore Colby

“You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat.” – Albert Einstein, when asked to describe radio

“Cinema, radio, television, magazines are a school of inattention: people look without seeing, listen in without hearing.” – Robert Bresson

“The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?” – David Sarnoff’s associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s.

Also on this day, in 1977 at Tenerife Airport, the world’s most deadly aviation disaster.

Tagged with: ,