of my favorite old-time radio personalities,
Paul Harvey, had a trademarked feature titled The Rest of the Story. For those of you not familiar with
the format, Mr. Harvey would begin his story talking about particular life aspects of a person that, while remarkable,
usually had no connection with the person's eventual claim to fame. The listener's challenge was to guess who the
person was before it was revealed at the very end, followed by, "... now you know --- the rest
[emphasis] of the story." As far as I know the story of FM radio inventor
Edwin H. Armstrong was never
a subject, although it certainly met the criterion. I've already let the figurative
cat out of the bag,
so you already know my subject. However, that probably will not diminish the surprise at the end
(for most people).
likely are familiar with the epic struggle that
Nikola Tesla had with Thomas Edison in the
contest between adoption of alternating current (Tesla) versus direct current
(Edison) as the dominant electrical distribution system in America. It was a take-no-prisoners
battle that, as we know, had AC as the victor (see
War of the Currents).
In the process, even with (eventually) the powerful George Westinghouse as an advocate,
poor Mr. Tesla was roundly abused with character assassinations, lawsuits, publicity stunts, and financial trickery.
He spent the final years of his life in seclusion.
Armstrong's fate proved to be more tragic. Mr. Armstrong's notoriety was gained in 1914 the as a result of his invention
of the regenerative receiver circuit
1,113,149). In 1922 he improved the basic function with a superregenerative circuit design. Those two techniques
allowed higher quality reception for listeners already within reach of broadcast towers, and they allowed people who
had never been able to receive those signals to tune in for the first time. This sold radio sets and provided a larger
base of advertisers (who pay for everything you enjoy for 'free') willing to underwrite
expenses. Lee de Forest, whose name you probably
recognize as the inventor of the
Audion amplifier vacuum
tube, was awarded a patent for his own version of a regenerative circuit in 1916, two years after Armstrong's. de Forest
sold his patent rights to AT&T and Armstrong spent decades and a lot of money trying to regain control over his
patent. Undaunted, he attacked the annoying susceptance of amplitude modulation (AM)
to static electrical noise (lightning, motor brush arcing, etc.) by developing frequency
modulation (FM), which was patented in 1933 (patent
1,941,068). RCA Corporation, having worked with Armstrong on FM radio broadcasting and reception,
ended up in a legal use rights fight with Armstrong, who wanted to license the technology rather than sell his patents.
As with Nikola Tesla's predicament, a lifetime of legal battles and endless rounds of defamation, deception, and
other tactics finally broke the man. On January 31, 1954, Edwin Armstrong committed suicide by climbing out the window
of his Ney York City apartment and falling ten stories to his death. He was as meticulously attired for his death as he was known for
being in his life - suit, overcoat, scarf, gloves, and hat. "God keep you and the Lord have mercy on my soul," closed
out the note he left for his wife.
Now you know ...
Posted November 3, 2014