Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio Videos for Engineers
Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio is a quite interesting documentary about
the struggle that Edwin
H. Armstrong - inventor of the superregenerative and superheterodyne circuits, and of wideband
frequency modulation (FM) - had with Lee DeForest - inventor of the Audio amplifying tube - and
David Sarnoff - CEO of
Radio Corporation of America (RCA). Extensive legal battles ensued between Armstrong and DeForest
over vacuum tube patents, and Sarnoff's transition from biggest cheerleader to biggest thwarter of Armstrong's
efforts are epic. A huge amount of historical information and vintage film clips are used in telling
Much has been written about all three men and their interactions. The film integrates work of many
researchers (interviewed in the video) and tends to be sympathetic more toward Armstrong than to DeForest
or Sarnoff. Indeed, you could easily go away with the conclusion that Armstrong's eventual suicide can
be blamed on bullying actions of the others, but can anyone else really be held responsible for a person's
decision to end his own life? Of course there is the possibility that Col. Armstrong, a man noted
for his high altitude daredevil antics, did not really step out of that window by choice...
This multi-faceted scenario between Armstrong, DeForest, and Sarnoff is akin to the one between Nikola
Tesla, Thomas Edison, and George Westinghouse.
Thanks to RF Cafe visitor Bob Davis for recommending it. I found a DVD version to borrow from my
local library. A YouTube version of Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made
Radio is embedded below (at least until PBS has it removed).
A couple clips from the TV show "This Is Your Life"
featuring Lee DeForest appeared in the video. The full version is embedded at the bottom.
Per the Amazon.com website: "From Ken Burns, producer of THE CIVIL WAR, comes the story of radio's creation
of radio and three men of genius, vision, and determination: Lee De Forest, a clergyman's flamboyant
son; Edwin Howard Armstrong, a brilliant, withdrawn inventor; and David Sarnoff, a hard-driving Russian
immigrant who created the world's most powerful communications company. This film evokes the lives of
three men whose work profoundly transformed modern America."
Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made
This Is Your Life: Lee DeForest
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