Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio is a quite interesting
documentary about the struggle that
Major Edwin 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 the story.
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 Major 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. There was a YouTube version of
Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio
embedded below but PBS had 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withdrawn inventor; and David Sarnoff, a hard-driving Russian immigrant who created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."
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