A new look at an old space — birth of radio in the US

Oct 12, 2009

It wasn’t until I was working on materials for my Media 2015 class this week, which is on the past 100 years in broadcasting, that I had a dawning glimmer about early radio.

There is a lot written and referred to about the various NBC radio networks and how the FCC from 1940 required them to spin off/sell NBC Blue, which became ABC over time (and after buying the name).

What is well written about but not focused on in the business lingo as much is how early radio was very much like early Internet. Individuals and small companies broadcast podcast-like music and discussions — way before there was advertising or a business model to support it. Westinghouse’s first radio station, often touted as the birth of broadcast radio, was from a shack built on the top of their building by one of their engineers, who had been broadcasting from home.

Also interesting was the interplay between newspapers and that early radio. At first, 2,000 newspapers were eager to showcase the playlists and schedule of the first radio station, that KDKA in Pittsburgh. Years later, radio news was thrown off of the wire services, as newspapers realized it was competing for customers.

We focus so much on the Internet and the “official” business models of Big Media that we sometimes forget that much of media in the US has been the world of small players and local interests. We also forget that this is a special place here…where much of media in other countries is government owned. And media is often family owned and not just the big corporate world that we seem to revere or fear.

The Internet brings back that peer-to-peer that actually thrived for the first time with early radio. And versus radio, which had to struggle with AT&T for national carriage across the miles, we have nearly instantaneous fibers, but with some of those same carriers, to carry those messages between communities…but take that speed of space and time for granted.

More to follow.

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