Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio
Videos for Engineers

Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio - RF CafeEmpire 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 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 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of genius, vision, and determination: Lee De Forest, a clergyman's flamboyant son; Edwin Howard Armstrong, a brilliant, withdrawn inventor; and David Sarnoff, a hard-driving Russian immigrant who created the world's most powerful communications company.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 Radio

This Is Your Life: Lee DeForest

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Posted April 21, 2017