As of November 1920, there were no more than 16 or 18 stations;
in January 1922,
only 30 stations licensed; in January 1923, nearly 500 stations on the
air; by September 1923, approximately 520 stations. Prior to October
1, 1922, all stations used same channel-wavelength of 360 meters,
equivalent to present 833 kilocycles. In October, 1922, not more than
half a dozen stations with as much as 50-watts power; most operated on
from 10 to 15 watts power. By September 1923, probably five or six
stations used up to 500 watts power-while power increases were common,
most stations used less than 100 watts.
Stations throughout the 20's fell into three classes; some 15 to
owned by major electronics manufacturers-General Electric,
Westinghouse, Stromberg, etc.; another 12 or 15 owned by large
newspapers, department stores, insurance companies; remainder owned by
churches, schools, radio repairs concerns, and amateurs who operated
stations "just for fun." Practically all major experimentation carried
on by first type of stations-they were the "leaders" in broadcasting.
No full-time operation by any station. Studios invariably very
small-too small to accommodate audiences, or even ordinary orchestras.
Studios draped with monkscloth or burlap to prevent echo. Carbon
microphones only-poor quality response, and pick-up limited to 12 to
In 1923-1926, there was no increase in number of stations-in September 1926,
still about 530 stations on the air. But many of weaker or earlier
stations had gone off the air; and been replaced by others. Probably
half a dozen stations had power of 5,000-watts by 1926-none as yet had
gone to 50 kw power, however, and a majority of stations operated with
only 50 to 100 watts power. No station as yet operated for a "full"
18-hour day. In a large number of cases, from two to four stations in
same area divided time on the same channel. In major cities, some
studios were capable of seating a studio audience of 200 to 300
people; draped walls still used near pick-up areas. Condenser mikes
introduced before 1926; most studios still used old carbon mikes.
The most important improvement probably the introduction of faders or
volume controls and of "mixing" panels-allowing use of materials
coming from a number of different mikes to be blended into a single
In 1926-Herbert Hoover, the Secretary of Commerce, was told he had no authority
to control the power, amount of time on the air or frequency of stations.
The passage of the Radio Act of 1927 created a 5 man Federal Radio
Commission (FRC). As of September 1930 approximately 600 stations were on
the air under licenses issued by the Federal Radio Commission. The FRC
insisted stations install improved equipment-which resulted in 200 to
500 pre-1927 stations being forced off the air. FRC also required
stations to broadcast for regular periods, not on a hit or miss basis.
Still numerous part time only stations, but by summer 1930, most larger
stations broadcast a full evening schedule and 2 to 4 hours daytime.
The first 50 kw station was WGY, Schenectady in 1927. September 1930 a total
of nine 50 kw stations. Of the remainder, perhaps 100 used power
ranging from 500 watts to 5 kw, nearly 500 stations running 100 watts
or less. Large stations, as well as networks, usually had special
"audience" studios-a "stage," which served as the actual broadcasting
studio, and an audience "auditorium" seating from 200 to 300-but with
double-glass separating the audience from the entertainers. During
the period, ribbon microphones generally replaced both carbon and
condenser types in general use around 1925 or 1926. Electronic
pick-up of phonograph records, first introduced around 1926 or 1927,
was made standard equipment in practically all larger stations by the
end of the period. In connection with this new facility, at least one
concern, the World Broadcasting Company, started a transcription
library service with both library and 33 r.p.m. turntables made
available to stations on a rental basis.
There was no great increase in number of stations during the 1930's; in
September 1935, approximately 600 stations were on the air, as had
been the case in 1930. However, in 1935, nine out of ten stations
were licensed for full-time operation, and most of these full-time
stations were on the air for from 16 to 18 hours a day. General
increases in station power also marked the period; by 1935 perhaps 30
stations were using 50-kw power. One major change took place about the
middle of this period-the "glass window" between entertainers and
audiences in the studio audience was removed, beginning on networks,
and later in most stations. By 1935, practically every station had a
transcription or library service, and turn-tables for playing of
either 33 r.p.m. transcriptions or 78 r.p.m. phonograph records. By
September, 1941, the total number of stations in the United States had
increased to approximately 850-with about 45 using 50-kw power, and
more than 150 having power of 5-kw or 10 kw.
During the late 1930's the inventor of wide band Frequency Modulation, Major
Edwin Howard Armstrong, received a permit to erect an experimental transmitter
in the 42-50 MHz band at Alpine, NJ, from the FCC, only after threatening, in
the face of an officious FCC employee, to take his invention to Europe.
By 1939, Armstrong's experimental station, along with FM transmitters operated
by General Electric near Albany, NY, the Yankee Network with out of Boston, and
station WDRC of Hartford, CT, were on the air.
The original FM band was authorized by the FCC in 1941 to occupy 42-50 MHz,
which otherwise would have been reserved for television's channel one.
General Electric and Zenith took out licenses from Armstrong to manufacture FM
receivers and soon Stromberg-Carlson and other companies followed suit. By 1942
there were 50 FM stations the air in the United States and 500,000 receivers in
existence. All that changed when the FCC at the instigation of RCA/NBC and CBS
moved the FM out of the channel one position to the current 88-108 MHz band
with the purpose of reassigning the 43-45 MHz Channel One back to TV. That,
however, never happened and instead the old FM band was given over to emergency
At the stroke of the pen 50 stations were uprooted and 500,000 receivers
rendered obsolete to serve the vested interests of television.
When the FM band was shifted to its current frequency spectrum the FCC also
reduced the amount of power FM stations could operate thereby crippling their
ability to relay their signals to each other to avoid AT&T's expensive high
fidelity land lines. This also impaired FM's ability to develop their own
independent programing to the best of high fidelity standards. The vested AM
interests were so anti FM that they, with few exceptions, never publicized the
fact that the audio portion of TV was an FM carrier.
Although the FCC later corrected restrictions on FM, to this date there is not
a full time national FM network in the United States - unlike Canada's CBC
national stereo network which features a series of transmitters (one 100
kilowatt-CBW-Winnipeg) and most others of substantially high power
located in major Canadian cities from coast to coast broadcasting 24 hours a
day. CBC Radio 2 has some gaps, but the percentage of the Canadian population
served by Radio 2 transmitters is about the same as the percentage of the U.S.
population served by National Public Radio affiliates.
The number of radio stations increased by the end of 1945 to about
940-some 80 or 90 more than in 1941. The additional stations had in
practically all cases been authorized before the beginning of the war,
transmitters and equipment secured, and construction started.
Increases in operating power were few in number, due to difficulties
in securing transmitters. At the end of 1945, there were from 45 to
50 - 50,000 watt stations, and from 160 to 175 - 5,000 watt stations.
There was an increased emphasis on news during WWII which resulted in
the availability of special radio news services to stations, provided
by such news-gathering agencies as United Press and International News
Service and the Associated Press finally began to offer its services
to radio. At least half-a-dozen companies maintained transcription
library services for radio.
Following the close of World War II, the Communications Commission
took two actions which had a striking effect on the radio industry.
First, it reduced the required minimum distance between any two
stations on the same AM frequency, and at the same time, authorized
construction of daytime-only AM stations on frequencies formerly
largely reserved for use of "clear-channel" or 50,000 watt AM
Second, it opened a substantial band of frequencies for FM
or frequency-modulation broadcasting-and implied strongly that there
was a probability that within a few years, all radio broadcasting
would be shifted to FM. The result was a tremendous increase in the
number both of FM and AM stations. AM stations increased from
approximately 940 in December of 1945 to nearly 2400 in the autumn of
1952; in addition, FM stations-of which only half a dozen operated on
an experimental basis in 1945-increased to approximately 650 in the
autumn of 1952. At the same time, power increases were granted to
many AM stations-increases which had been impossible during the freeze
on equipment during the war.
During the first few years of their operation, many of the new FM
stations were programmed independently, although at least 600 of the
612 on the air by 1950 were owned by licensees of AM stations and
operated in the same markets, and even from the same studios, as their
AM "big brothers." Within a year or two, however, virtually all of
the FM stations which were connected with AM's adopted the policy of
simply duplicating-simultaneously-the programs provided by their AM
"big brothers;" their owners had not been successful in selling enough
time on the FM stations to pay operating costs, and duplication of
service cut costs. Over 212 FM's went off the air in 1949.
TV stations came into existence more slowly. Except for frequency allocations,
the basic technical standards for analog television have not changed since
commercial TV was first authorized in the summer of 1941. The 525 line/60 field
system was adopted before World War II and has existed to this day in the
United States and those countries that adopted the same system. After WCBW and
WNBT (experimental stations) went on the air in 1941 there was little further
attempt to change the Black and White (B&W) standards.
Later, in 1953, the National Television Standards Committee's requirements for
color TV would be adopted by the FCC. Color TV did not yet exist anywhere.
See the "1950's, Stations" for the further development of color TV.
At the close of World War II, not more than six or seven TV stations had been
licensed for commercial operation. Although many broadcasters believed in the
future of television, the construction of a television station cost
from $750,000 to $l,500,000-and that was a great deal of money to
risk, when commercial television had not yet had the opportunity to
prove itself. Furthermore, at the end of the war fewer than 10,000 TV
receiving sets were in existence, and until the Communications
Commission could definitely make up its mind as to the channels to be
used for television, manufacturers did not dare to attempt to produce
sets. However, up to October of 1948, 108 TV stations-virtually all
located in larger cities- were authorized by the Commission. During
that month, the Commission declared a "freeze" on the granting of
additional licenses to consider the requirements of color television,
educational television, and how to increase the number of available channels
so as to provide TV facilities to smaller cities.
One of the primary reasons for the "freeze" was the discovery that VHF coverage
was greater than expected. Besides the channel 4 stations (Boston, NYC,
Washington) that exist on the Atlantic seaboard today, there were additional
channel 4's allocated to Schenectady (now Channel 6); Lancaster, PA (now
Channel 8); and Norfolk, VA (now Channel 3). The interference between TV
stations was excessive. But, if TV stations had to be spaced further apart,
there would not be enough channels to ensure that almost everyone would be
within viewing range of a TV station (and especially, to ensure that most
would have a choice of two or more stations to view).
The first prototype UHF transmitter was tested in 1949. UHF (Ultra High
Frequency) spectrum had been allocated for TV use earlier, but the
engineering techniques to make it work were little understood.
The "freeze" extended far beyond the 6 months contemplated and was lifted in
April of 1952. In the next few months, a number of additional stations were
authorized, but none had as yet gone on the air up to the end of this 1945-52
period. So, we had exactly 108 TV stations in operation-all of them stations
occupying channels on the VHF bands, and practically all of them located in
The number of AM stations increased from about 2400 in 1952 to over
4,000 by 1965. FM stations went from 612 in 1952 to 1,400 in 1965
with about 200 authorized but not on the air. Of the total FM, all
but perhaps 40 or 50 commercial FM's duplicated the programs of their
sister AM stations during most of this period. Of the AM stations 95
to 100 operated with powers of 50,000 watts and close to 500 others
used power of 5,000 watts while the remainder were lower power or
daytime only stations. There were approximately 650 to 700 stations
authorized to operate only during daytime hours.
In spite of this increase in the number of radio stations-or perhaps
because of it-many stations reported losing money during this period.
Television stations. While radio was facing difficulties in the 1950's,
television was experiencing a period of rapid development in the
number of stations, in size of audience, and in annual network and
station revenues. In April of 1952, with the licensing freeze which was to be
of short duration in 1948 ending, more than 450 new stations came on the air.
In 1960 over 550 commercial stations were operating and by 1965 over 600 stations
were authorized or operating.
In 1953, the FCC adopted the color NTSC system. NTSC's competition had been
the CBS field-sequential system. Some members of the National Television
Standards Committee had proposed some refinements of the system (notably
the phase alternation scheme that distinguishes the European PAL color
system). However, it was believed by the majority of the committee that
the PAL channel size requirements were too difficult to implement.
The NTSC system later is referred in knowledgeable circles as
"Never The Same Color. Many of the benefits of PAL color were simply that
European standards called for a wider bandwidth, which translated directly
to improved image resolution. Adopting a similar channel width within the
spectrum the FCC assigned to TV in the U.S. would have only allowed for
10 VHF channels, or two fewer than was initially allocated.
The CBS system was said to look better in color reproduction, but was
roughly 15% "poorer" in image resolution and 20% "poorer" in "flicker"
than NTSC. More important, existing B & W television sets could not pick
up a black and white version of the CBS color system. It was not
backwards compatible. [This is similar to our desire to have the latest computers
run our old software]. Also the initial design used an unwieldy mechanical
rotating color wheel. A fully-electronic method of handling
CBS color would have been developed eventually.
In 1954 there had been two Educational TV stations and by 1965
some 88 were operating. Of the total TV stations 95 were UHF in 1960
and over one-third of all stations-including nearly all the UHF
stations and a portion of the post-freeze VHF stations were operating
at a loss. Most of the newer stations either came into cities as the
fourth or fifth station, without network affiliation or were located
in markets that were not as lucrative. Especially acute was the UHF
problem. The UHF stations had to compete with VHF stations which had
better coverage as the UHF stations are more susceptible to interference
and few receiving sets had been manufactured before 1964 with both VHF
and UHF tuning. Of the 190 UHF stations, commercial, which went on
the air between 1952 and 1964, only half remained operating in 1965.