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Historical Contributors of American Broadcasting, Essay Example

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Essay

The field of broadcasting could not have been made possible without the brilliant, innovative work and inventions provided by such titans of the field as Guglielmo Marconi, Lee De Forest, Edward Armstrong, and David Sarnoff. This paper will summarize the nature of each of these icons in the broadcasting industry, emphasizing the unique contributions of each individual.

Marconi, born in Italy, demonstrated from an early age a strong interest in the physical sciences as well as electricity. At around age 21, based in his father’s estate, he began sending wireless currents over distances of approximately a mile and a half. Ultimately, he brought his invention to England, where it became patented as the first wireless telegraph system. His work progressed, lengthening the distance between wireless signals until eventually, he was able to transmit signals between European countries and later on, across the Atlantic Ocean. His work continued on towards the establishment of short waves, resulting in the development of the first “microwave radiotelephone system”, and he was also an early demonstrator of the principles of radar.

Lee De Forest’s contribution to the field of broadcasting involves the development of technology that was ultimately based on the principles of sound and hearing. He provided the soundtrack to radio and film. Initially, following his years at college, his work centered around finding ways to improve the wireless telegraph. Eventually, however, he became discouraged and bored by the limitations of transmitting coded messages. In the first part of the 20th century, around 1906, he invented the Audion, a vacuum tube that he utilized as a sound detector. Shortly thereafter, he created the arc-based radiotelephone transmitter as well as a receiver, visualizing a day when people could receive music in their homes via wireless transmission. Later on, he improved the model of the Audion, turning it into an amplifier and later on, a radio transmitter. He was perhaps the first early broadcaster of entertainment-based sound, mostly by the transmission of opera music. Eventually, he invented what became known as “the talking motion picture,” when he invented a means of recording the soundtrack that could be synchronized onto a piece of film.

As a young man Edwin Armstrong became preoccupied with radio broadcasting, and began toying with receivers and antennas in an effort to enhance the quality of reception. As a college student, he discovered the Audion and worked on ways to control feedback. His observation was that if a tiny part of the amplified signal was fed back to the grid, it would pass through the grid over and over, each time becoming increasingly amplified. As a result, he was able to boost weak signals, resulting in radio stations that were easier to hear. The need for earphones became obsolete, because loudspeakers could be built into radios: he called his design “the regenerative circuit”, which he patented. During World War I, Armstrong went to France to create instruments that would detect radio signals from the enemy. He invented a tremendous amplifier that was able to detach extremely weak signals; when the war ended, he sold the patents for his amplifiers to large companies such as Westinghouse and RCA for what was considered to be a tremendous sum of money.

Another significant contribution made by Edwin Armstrong was the concept of FM radio, which provided extremely clear reception as well as superior quality of the sound, as compared to AM radio. In addition, FM radio stations were able to function using a narrow range of frequencies so that they were able to avoid overlapping with each other. Nevertheless, Armstrong had a great deal of difficulty persuading companies such as RCA to change their technology. Despite their opposition to FM radio, Armstrong was able to start his own radio station, building his presence in the industry by signing licenses with radio manufacturers who would produce FM sets. Eventually the industry decided that FM radio was desirable because of its excellent sound quality which had become quite popular with the radio audiences.

David Sarnoff began his connection with the broadcasting industry running a newsstand and then working in the telegraph business. Ultimately, he moved into the radio and television industries. His talents included the ability to identify which new technologies would become popular and profitable. He was skilled in the areas of legalities that included intellectual property, was a successful and relentless lobbyist for his industry, and was quite successful in making arrangements for mergers and acquisitions. Included in his contributions to the television industry were: understanding how popular sports broadcasts were with Americans; playing a crucial role in the formation of the morning and late-night television show format; and being a strong proponent of color broadcasting. Sarnoff’s reputation is not unblemished, however; his detractors feel that he was not truly a great business entrepreneur, but rather had the talent for being in the right place at the right time. Further, he has been accused of stealing technology and calling it his own. Nevertheless, whether or not his ideas were his originally, he excelled in turning those concepts into successful businesses, and into making them profitable.

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