February 1939 Radio-Craft
People old and young enjoy waxing nostalgic about and learning some of the history of early electronics.
Radio-Craft was published from 1929 through 1953. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged. See all articles
Dr. Lee DeForest might have had something like
Public Radio (est. 1970) in mind
when he penned this article in 1933. In it, the famous vacuum tube
amplifier inventor lamented and criticized the commercialization
of broadcasts because of all the paid product announcements
(aka commercials) that had been steadily
increasing over the years. He also was critical of the "hit-or-miss,
mélange program basis" of programing; i.e., the same station
playing a mix of jazz, opera, swing, syndicated story-telling, etc.
The good doctor did not elaborate on where funding for such dedicated,
uncorrupted broadcasts would originate if not from paying advertisers,
and I do not recall ever reading about a DeForest Radio Network
paid for by his vast fortune. I don't like commercials any more
than the next person, but a company deserves time to pitch its products
and/or services if it helps deliver a source of entertainment to
you that you evidently desire to have.
FYI, the National Educational Radio Network (NERN)
preceded NPR, having run from 1961 through 1970. Before that, the
National Association of Educational Broadcasters (NAEB)
ran from 1925 through 1973.
Broadcasting - As I Imagined It ...
Lee de Forest
On his 65th birthday, the inventor of the vacuum tube which
made modern radio possible, looks back down the years and comments:
"I seldom tune in ... The programs, all swing and croon, are not
only poor, but the interruptions for commercial announcements are
maddening ... Isn't it sickening? It isn't at all as I imagined
it would be." (Quotation is from Time magazine.)
This article is special to Radio-Craft
Dr. Lee de Forest as he appeared in 1907 with his first
wireless (radio) telephone. Broadcasting - as America knows
it today - may be said to have had its birth early in that
year when Mr. de Forest constructed the first means of modulating
an arc transmitter with voice impulses and began sound broadcasting
from atop the 12·story Terminal Building in NYC.
In season and out, from the early days of commercial broadcasting,
I have seldom missed an opportunity to criticize the quality of
the average radio program and to inveigh against the crudities,
lack of showmanship, and plain bad manners of the majority of the
commercial advertisers or their program directors.
In 1930, when, I was President of the Institute of Radio Engineers,
my Inaugural and Farewell Addresses were devoted in large part to
this aspect of radio which, on account of its extreme public interest,
has received unfortunately all too little attention from the radio
engineering profession. Like most engineers, we assume that if we
perform our technical duties to the best of our ability we have
fully discharged our public and civic obligations, a narrow minded
and selfish attitude which is not particularly creditable to the
noble profession of Engineering.
In some of my early interviews or articles on the subject of
radio programs I outlined what appeared to me a happy solution,
while fully realizing that in the United States there is at present
no possibility of introducing such a reformation.
Briefly the idea is as follows: In every metropolitan district
a certain station should be devoted to a definite type of program.
For example, one to a higher class of music - symphonic and opera;
another station to more popular types of music, with certain definite
hours devoted to dance programs; another station to drama, serials
and the like; one station devoted wholly to crime suppression stories,
bedtime thrillers, and miscellaneous hysteria; another to educational
themes of popular interest and adapted to popular presentation.
This latter station could appropriately be the news outlet for the
district, with news bulletins every two hours or so. This station
might appropriately be devoted to political harangue, during the
open season for candidates. Another station (and this would undoubtedly
be the most popular of all) devoted wholly to crooners, jazzers,
swingers, and jitter bugs. And finally, one station devoted wholly,
100 per cent, to undisguised, unadulterated advertisements! I do
not believe that very short sponsoring announcements introduced
every half- or quarter-hour into any of these programs would be
seriously objectionable provided these under no conditions exceeded
30 or 45 seconds in length.
Dr. Lee de Forest (right), inventor of the vacuum tube,
as he is today. He is shown with Mr. McMurdo Silver in Chicago
(attending the Braddock·Louis fight) where the degree of
Doctor of Engineering was conferred upon him by the Lewis
Institute. Mr. de Forest is 3 times a "Doctor." holding
the degrees of Ph.D. and D.Sc., previously. He was born
in Council Bluffs, Iowa, August 26, 1873.
Picture what a relief to the radio listener's nerves such an
arrangement as I have above outlined would afford. If any listener
wished to hear a certain class of entertainment at practically any
time he would know exactly where to dial to obtain it, and he would
be certain of obtaining that kind of entertainment from that station
so long as he cared to listen. He would not, as at present, having
after considerable patience found a pleasing program, seat himself
to enjoy same only to have to get up at the end of 15 minutes at
most to twirl his dial to find relief from the altogether different
material to which the original station had unceremoniously switched.
After one does this several times and is more or less maddened by
the blatant commercial plugs which he is forced to listen to, he
turns off the "relief" switch in disgust, and that is the end of
his radio for the evening. Undoubtedly he thereby misses a lot of
good entertainment which he would have been delighted to hear had
he been freed from the infernal necessity of repeated explorations
of the dial to find same.
When one goes to a theater he knows in advance exactly what he
is going to see, or to a concert or public address, to hear. If
he elects to go to a Catholic church he is quite sure that he will
not hear a sermon on Baptism, nor find himself in a congregation
of vociferous Holy Rollers. Why then should radio be run on the
present hit-or-miss, higgeldy-piggeldy mélange program basis? Montage
is frequently very thrilling and effective in a motion picture,
but it does not follow that the present audible montage of American
radio broadcast is either thrilling or pleasing.
As stated above, I do not believe that such an arrangement as
I have outlined could he put into effect in these United States
without Congressional legislation, accompanied probably by Government
subsidy. Such is conceivable however, and I daresay that there are
at least a million radio listeners in the United States who would
prefer to be reasonably taxed for their radio entertainment provided
this was consistent and predictable, rather than to endure the present
I believe that such a situation would result in a great increase
in listening hours throughout the United States; to the everlasting
benefit of the average American nerves, peace of mind, contented
home life - and the radio industry.
But I may be wrong.
Posted January 2015