Rediscovery of FM Broadcasting
January 1958 Radio Electronics Article
of FM Broadcasting" could be a contemporary headline. The decline of
broadcast radio has been a major concern of station owners for well
over a decade since Internet and satellite radio has dominated the venue
through which listeners access radio stations. Local broadcasters have
long aired syndicated programs that include national advertising, but
the money to pay for those segments came from revenue supplied largely
by local companies. FM broadcasting began commercially around 1945 in
the familiar 88-108 MHz band yielded by the military following
World War II, and grew in number of stations very rapidly in the
first few years. Then, it began a decline for a few more years until
finally leveling off after about a decade. Even though FM had a clear
advantage (literally) over AM because of electrical noise immunity (car
alternators, household appliances, lightning, arcing power lines on
wet days), and its license to broadcast at night, is seems the public
was not overly willing to shell out money for new radios when their
old radios sufficed. The broadcast radio industry sprang into action
in educating the public as to the advantages of FM, including none of
the aforementioned AM weaknesses as well as superior music quality and
stereo channel separation. It worked smashingly well (...a little British
lingo). Today, broadcast radio (and television for that matter) is again
fighting to survive in the presence of cable, satellite, Wi-Fi, Internet,
and other alternative means. Ultimately, it comes down to who can attract
enough advertisers to pay the bills. This is an example of is Capitalism
at its finest.
January 1958 Radio-Electronics
of Contents]These articles are scanned and OCRed from old editions of the Radio & Television News magazine.
Here is a list of the Radio-Electronics articles I have already
posted. All copyrights (if any) are hereby acknowledged.
See all available
vintage Radio-Electronics articles.
of FM Broadcasting
By David Lachenbruch
Once almost down and out, FM is on the upswing
This year, for the first time since the very early 1950's,
you'll see FM radios displayed by nearly all major manufacturers - and
a greater assortment of imported and minor-brand FM sets than ever before.
This spring or summer, you're likely to see the first AM-FM
automobile radios bearing the imprint of top U. S. car radio manufacturers.
Is it for real this time? Is FM going to catch on after 10 disappointing
It's still too early to tell. But this much is apparent
- FM is experiencing a very definite boost in popularity which seems
sure to accelerate in 1958.
It's a small increase, but it shows
up at both the broadcasting and the receiving ends of the business.
The downward trend in number of stations on the air and in production
of receiving sets has halted for the first time since early 1950. If
the signs of FM's health were plotted on a graph, 1956-57 would show
up as the beginning of a small upward bump (see Fig. 1). The new signs
of FM life bear close watching by everyone whose livelihood - or interest
- is geared to radio.
A sick industry
Blaupunkt Kolon 3-way auto radio has FM, AM and longwave bands.
Ask almost any broadcaster and he'll tell you
that FM is still a very sick industry, a far cry from the virile newcomer
who seemed destined to knock AM radio out of the spectrum after World
War II - until television came along.
The number of FM stations
on the air began tapering from its peak of 730 late in 1949, dwindling
to 536 by early 1956. Then the casualties virtually stopped, and the
number of operating stations even increased slightly to 544 by September,
Then, last summer, the FCC's normally quiet FM section
was stunned by a comparative avalanche of applications for new stations.
During a single 8-week period, the commission received a total of 24
applications - an average of 3 a week, compared with fewer than one
a week in the same period the preceding year. Applications on file for
new stations now total about 50.
For the first time in years,
the FCC has more applications than available channels in some big cities
- making it necessary to hold hearings among applicants for contested
In the New York City area, where 16 FM stations
are operating or authorized, there are 6 applications for the 2 vacant
channels. In Los Angeles, where 17 are on the air with 1 more ready
to start, 5 applicants are vying for 2 remaining channels. In Philadelphia,
7 are operating and there are 4 applicants for the 4 available assignments.
These cases are exceptions, of course. In most locations - even
big cities like Chicago - FM channels are going begging. But these illustrations
are indications of the broadcaster's current reappraisal of FM's possibilities.
Fig. 1 - FM stations on the air. Slight upturn began early in
1957 along with sharp increase in applications.
Fig. 2 - FM receiver production by years, including TV sets
with continuous tuners which tune FM band. Without such sets,
FM set production would have dipped to about 878,000 in 1949,
staying at about this level in 1950-51.
There were other signs of a renewed
interest in FM in 1957. Westinghouse Broadcasting Co. ended the repeater
status of its FM outlets in Pittsburgh. Pa., and Portland, Ore., programming
them separately from their AM companions - with classical music exclusively.
Westinghouse also applied for a new FM station in Boston to replace
the one it took off the air 2 years ago, and ordered brand-new transmitting
equipment for its Cleveland FM outlet. Both of these will also be independently
programmed with serious music.
A few other large-network-affiliated
outlets began programming their FM stations independently from AM -
Washington's WMAL is an example. And NBC applied for a new FM station
in Philadelphia as a companion for its AM and TV stations there, but
currently has no plans for separate FM programs.
stations, and independently programmed FM's, report a definite increase
in the amount of mail received from listeners - generally considered
a reliable indication of a pickup in audience size.
long years of FM's post-1949 famine, one question frequently asked in
the broadcasting industry has been: If FM is dead, why won't it lie
down? Why did considerably more than half of the peak 730 stations stay
on the air, when official FCC figures show only a handful of them making
a profit from FM operations?
The National Association of Radio &
Television Broadcasters, in a recent questionnaire to FM broadcasters.
asked each one to give its own reason. The most recurrent answers were:
1. By duplicating AM programs on the FM transmitter, it costs
virtually nothing to stay on the air.
2. FM listeners are a
loyal bunch and it would be poor public relations to turn the station
3. FM gives daytime-only AM staions an opportunity to provide
some nighttime coverage.
4. Duplicating programs on FM extends
the coverage of low-powered AM stations.
5. Local sports events,
carried on FM only, have a big following.
6. The possibility
of future developments in the FM band makes it worth while to keep a
foot in the door.
It's impossible to estimate just how many
FM dials are actually being twisted. About 8,000,000 sets have been
produced since FM started up after the war, but how many have been scrapped
or are standing idle, nobody knows.
There aren't even any current
statistics on FM receiver production or sales. The industry's record
keeper, Electronic Industries Association (formerly RETMA), stopped
keeping track several years ago when manufacturers' interest in FM approached
the vanishing point.
Before EIA (or RETMA as it was then) stopped
counting, it estimated 1,175,000 sets were produced in 1947, peaking
to a high point of 1,600,000 in 1948 (see Fig. 2). Then came the drop,
with annual output dipping to a little over half a million by 1952.
In subsequent years, production probably fell to about 200,000 annually,
reaching this lowest ebb in 1954.
A turning point came in 1955.
That year, it's estimated that production of sets and tuners increased
to 275,000. The uptrend continued in 1956, with sales climbing well
over 400,000, and an educated guess would put 1957 sales somewhere above
half a million. Not a boom by any means - but a step up.
fi and FM
What did it? All of the probable answers revolve around
high fidelity and the education of the American ear.
audio aficionados had been hooking up components for best possible musical
reproduction for years, their purchases of FM tuners (made by nearly
20 small manufacturers) never comprised a numerically important factor
for nationwide FM. But their enthusiasm was so contagious that by 1955
it had spread to some important manufacturers, who decided that hi fi
might become a magic word for the mass market.
The time was ripe. Phonograph records had attained a quality far beyond
the ability of the average phonograph to reproduce. The natural companion
to hi-fi recordings was hi-fi radio-FM.
Telefunken Opus covers FM, AM and shortwave bands.
Pilot's FM-530, FM tuner.
RCA International receiver, European made, has FM, AM, 2 shortwave
But in 1956, the first
big year for packaged hi fi, most of the 500,000 units sold under the
hi-fi label did not contain FM. The number doubled in 1956 and a greater
proportion of them had FM tuners. In 1957, it's estimated that some
1,700,000 packaged hi-fi units were sold. It's improbable that anywhere
near half of them had FM, but the proportion increased again.
Distributors in some cities now report that it's practically imposible
to sell packaged hi-fi unit without FM.
At least some of the
credit for America's recently renewed interest in FM is due the Germans.
In Germany, where FM has virtually replaced AM because of the crowded
broadcast band, manufacturers with such jawbreaking names as Grundig,
Telefunken and Blaupunkt began exporting their generally excellent FM-AM-SW
sets to the U. S. The Germans are believed to have sold as many as 50,000
here in 1956 and perhaps 75,000 in 1957. American manufacturers sat
up and took notice.
More American sets
During the long
FM famine, only one major U. S. manufacturer - Zenith - continually
produced FM receivers in quantity. Late in 1954, just before the FM
upturn began, a small American manufacturer - Granco Products, Inc.
- experimentally turned out a $30 FM-only set with a circuit based on
the design of its uhf TV converter. This clicked, and Granco claims
its sales of FM sets and tuners hit 100,000 in 1956, and even more in
Other American manufacturers have decided to try again.
For their 1958 lines they have announced not only hi-fi sets which include
FM tuners, but such items as FM-AM clock radios and table models. Among
those now offering or preparing to offer FM sets are: Motorola (its
first since 1952), Admiral (first since 1954), RCA (which will import
a specially made set from Germany), GE, Philco, Arvin, Columbia, Magnavox,
Stromberg-Carlson and Olympic. British radio manufacturers are also
hoping to crack the 1958 U. S. markets with their FM sets. At least
one Japanese manufacturer plans to export FM tuners to this country.
Also from Germany, along with German-made automobiles, came
FM auto radios. Again, U. S. manufacturers plan to follow suit. It's
understood that both Motorola and Philco have FM car radios on the drawing
boards for introduction this spring or summer.
the FCC asked for the TV industry's comments on a proposal to facilitate
highway FM reception with standard buggy-whip auto antennas by permitting
FM stations to use vertical polarization in place of the traditional
horizontal polarization. Commenting on this proposal, some FM stations
pointed out that the FCC rules already permit circular or elliptical
polarization which could produce the same effect without any changes
in the rules. (However, no station is currently using circular or elliptical
polarization). Other stations expressed the view that present transmissions
can be picked up satisfactorily by conventional auto radio antennas,
that if there is any reception problem at all, it will be in areas far
distant from FM stations.
All of these signs point to a definite
increase in public awareness of FM. But FM station operators have their
eyes on another development which they hope will permit them to keep
serving a small and loyal public audience, and make money too.
This is multiplexing (see "Multiplexing and You," Radio-Electronics,
October, 1957) - now permitted by the FCC on a regular basis. The commission
has more than 50 applications by existing FM stations who want to begin
this service, and a number of them have already started.
plan many ingenious uses for the multiplexing technique. Among them
are background music for stores, factories and offices; specialized
programs beamed to schools; special home-study courses, etc.- all to
be offered simultaneously with, and in addition to, regular FM broadcasts.
Equipment has already been developed for binaural radio using
a single FM channel. Some day soon, multiplex FM receivers may well
be a companion to binaural tape players in the home.
FM? The signs of renewed activity in the 8-108-mc band are not of boom
proportions. But there is more hope today than at any time since 1949
that this superior form of radio finally will take its well deserved
place under the audio sun.
Posted January 8, 2014