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by A. DINSDALE
After placidly proceeding along its commercial way for ten years or so, American radio is now in a state of flux, influenced by several powerful revolutionary factors which bid fair to bring about some far-reaching changes: present tendencies are here explained for the benefit of British readers. -
ONE of the most important factors in American radio at the present time is frequency modulation, or FM. On June lst of this year about fifteen FM stations were in more or less regular experimental operation, and the Federal Communications Commission had before it 170 applications for construction permits for new FM stations. Further applications are coming in at the rate of fifteen to thirty a week.
A recent FCC ruling took away from television its No. 1 channel and assigned it to FM. This band lies between 42 and 50 rnegacycles, and provides forty FM channels, each 200 kc /s wide. FM stations now operating, or about to operate, are licensed to do so only on an experimental basis.
[Historic note- TV got its VHF channel back later- In 1945 the FCC ruled that FM would have to move from the established 44 - 50 megacycle pre-war band to a new band at 88 - 108 megacycles, to make way for television. More than half a million FM receivers and some 50 transmitting stations rendered obsolete.]
Between now and January lst, 1941, it is expected that certain Government services now operating in the new FM band will have been reallocated out of it, and when that has been accomplished it is expected that the FCC will authorise FM stations to operate commercially, i.e., to sell time.
Major Armstrong, the inventor of F M, estimates that within five years there will be few, if any, amplitude modulation (AM) stations left in the United States. Other authorities think it will take ten years. The transition, however it comes, will undoubtedly be gradual, controlled bv a. number of important factors.
[Historic Note: Major Edwin H Armstrong. 1890-1954. His FM patents were often ignored mostly by RCA and NBC - the cases dragged on and were only decided or settled after his death - the estate received one million dollars from RCA and NBC. He died worn out and defeated. Finally in 1967 the Supreme Court ruled against Motorola. ( Source 1 || Source 2 || Source 3 )]
[Historic note 2- here we are over sixty years later, with digital radio and digital streaming, and we still have AM stations with us on Long Wave (until the broadcast valves fail), on Medium Wave (still popular) and Short Wave (declining).]
Taking first things first, it is obvious that the problem of receivers must be solved, and it is being solved very promptly. The new 1941 models now about to make their appearance include several combination receivers which, in addition to the standard all-wave feature, will include a switch-over device to enable the instrument to pick up signals from FM stations.
Some of these combination receivers will be priced as low as $125-150, which is very little more than one has to pay already for a really first-class all-wave AM receiver.
The next problem is that of transmitters. It has already been decided that the standard FM transmitter shall have a power of 50 kW. The range of such transmitters will be about 50 miles, depending upon the elevation of the aerial. This means that in metropolitan areas more transmitters can operate without mutual interference than at present, using AM.
In a large centre like New York, there may be a demand for the maximum permissible number, forty. And FM will undoubtedly prove far more satisfactory for covering densely populated areas, partly because of the increased number of stations permissible, and because of the range limitation factor.
No Mutual Interference
In cases where cities are located close together, no interference is expected, even if two adjacent cities employ the same frequency assignments. This is because Major Arrnstrong has developed a special limiter valve and associated circuit which causes the receiver to reject automatically a weaker signal on the same frequency. Listeners in the dead centre between two stations on the same frequency are the only ones who will be inconvenienced, and it is claimed that this interference area does not extend over a mile.
Thus, in densely populated areas it is to be expected that all present AM stations will disappear within a relatively short space of time. Out in the sparsely populated rural areas, however, it is to be expected that present AM stations, operating on cleared channels (i.e., not sharing their assigned frequency with any other station in another part of the country), will continue to operate indefinitely, because they provide the only practical means (at present) of covering such vast areas. In fact, as channels are released by metropolitan AM stations, it would not be surprising if more AM stations were built to cover the vast rural areas more thoroughly than can be done at present.
There remains the problem of the networks. FM cannot at present be relayed over telephone lines because of the wide frequency swing: 75 kc/s on either side of the median line. If the networks are to preserve their structure, therefore, two alternatives face them.
(1) They must either face the enormous expense of building FM relay stations at fifty-mile intervals clear across the continent, with side branches to important centres,
or (2) relay their voice currents by telephone line as at present to feed FM stations in various parts of the country.
In the first case, noise-free, high-fidelity reception would be assured. In the second case, quality would remain as at present, and only the noise-free characteristic would accrue to listeners.
It is probable that some compromise combination of the two methods will be worked out gradually over a long period of time.
One thing is certain. So long as American broadcasting remains on its present commercial, competitive basis, the contemplated changes will result in better service to the listener from the standpoint of better radio coverage of the nation, better quality, and less interference.
After a period of acrimonious discussion, television in America is in a state of suspended animation. A rather amazing volte-face on the part of the Federal Communications Commission is responsible for this, and it must appear so bewildering to British readers that a transatlantic interpreter is perhaps necessary to permit an understanding of the issues involved.
The recent history is as follows:-
For years several American companies have been transmitting television experimentally, led by the Radio Corporation of America, operating in conjunction with its affiliate, the National Broadcasting Company. Millions of dollars have been spent, with no return.
At last television became good enough to allow of a demand being made for permission to operate commercially, i.e,, sell time to advertisers. The FCC spent some time examining the latest achievements of all the interested companies all over the United States. The question of standards was a grave issue. Finally, the FCC "countenanced" the RMA standards of 441 lines, 30 pictures per second, and authorised the commencement of limited commercial operation on September 1st next. RCA immediately embarked on an extensive advertising campaign to market more sets, incidentally reducing prices by one-third.
Instantly the FCC cancelled its order permitting limited commercialisation, and rapped RCA severely over the knuckles "for commercial exploitation." Further hearings were held by the FCC, marked by much acrimonious discussion and name-calling, but the FCC refused to budge.
What's behind it? To begin with, RCA has spent more, done more.and gone farther in television research than any other manufacturer. This applies to transmitting equipment, receivers and programmes. When the go-ahead signal was given by the FCC, they were naturally in a position to proceed immediately to cash in on their investment; others were not. So the deadly cry of monopoly was heard. From there on the causes of subsequent developments were partly political and partly commercial.
Bogy of Monopoly
In American politics the Democratic party is traditionally a trust-busting party, the deadly enemy of monopoly. The present administration is no exception. Charges were made that the RMA standards were adopted because they were RCA standards, and RCA saw to it that some of its engineers were elected to the RMA standards committee for the purpose of getting their standards adopted.
Engineers of rival companies, busy along their own lines of research, disagree with the RMA standards. They testified at FCC hearings that if commercial operation by RMA standards were permitted, and if RCA were permitted to sell receivers exclusively geared to RMA standards, then further research would be useless, and the art would be "frozen" at its present level of development.
To no avail; RCA offered to make receivers adjustable to any standards.
In particular, Allen B. DuMont testified that he wanted an experimental licence to transmit 661 lines and 15 pictures per second. He said his receivers could receive any number of lines from 400 to 900, and either 15, 20 or 30 pictures per second. He wanted to transmit only 15 pictures per second because he said he had developed a screen material of greater retentive power.
David Sarnoff, president of RCA, tore DuMont's testimony to ribbons, and stated that his plans would result in a picture inferior to that obtainable by RMA standards.
He also testified that a 51 per cent. control of the DuMont interests is held by Paramount Pictures, to whose interest it was to make sure that television never became so good that it could compete with motion pictures.
The FCC digested all the latest testimony, and recently handed down its final decision that commercial operation is not to be permitted.
Meanwhile, television linguishes, and the Press of the nation almost universally criticises the Government decision in no uncertain terms.
Result: Public Apathy
John Q. Public is rather apathetic about it all, and no wonder. He has heard so many conflicting arguments pro and con ; there are so few programmes available, and those of dubious quality; and, finally, in these days of unemployment and depression, who can afford to invest several hundred dollars in a television receiver which, by all accounts, may be out of date and useless in a year or two?
In the New York metropolitan area, where NBC broadcasts television five days a week, a total of 16 hours, there are no more than 3,000 television receivers. In Los Angeles the Don Lee Network broadcasts television a total of nine hours a week to about 500 receivers. In Chicago the Zenith Radio Corporation broadcasts experimentally about three hours a week to a few receivers lent by the company to selected observers.
In Schenectady, N.Y., the General Electric Company relays New York transmissions experimentally over week-ends to an unknown number of receivers. In Philadelphia Philco Radio and Television Corporation transmits experimentally on an irregular schedule.
The FCC recently took television's No. 1 channel away from it and awarded it to FM. This means that all present television transmitters will have to shut down until they have been readjusted to operate on one of the following channels: No. 1, 50-56 Mc/s; No. 2, 60-66 Mc/s; No 3, 66-72 Mc/s; No. 4, 78-84 Mc/s. Additional channels have been assigned between 162 and 294 Mc/s.
Copyright and Music and Royalties
Since music is the backbone of radio entertainment, American broadcasters now find themselves being held up for exorbitant charges by both union musicians and copyright owners.
Over a period of years the demands of the musicians' union have resulted in the replacement of many musical programmes by dramatic sketches, and further to cut down expense, an electric organ requiring but one musician is frequently used for interlude and mood music instead of an orchestra.
In addition to these limitations on musical programmes, American listeners may soon be deprived of many of their favourite tunes. The performing rights to all popular and some classical music are controlled by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, known as ASCAP. American broadcasters play ASCAP music under a licence which expires on December 31st next, and when ASCAP announced this spring the terms for renewal, the broadcasters got fighting mad.
Under the existing licence, broadcasters estimate they will pay ASCAP $5,000,000 during 1940.
This sum represents two-thirds of ASCAP's total revenue from all sources, and is a 900 per cent. increase over what they paid in 1931. Under the terms of the proposed new licence, it is estimated that broadcasters will have to pay ASCAP $8,500,000 during 1941.
Music Publishers' Reward
ASCAP defends its demands as follows: In pre-radio days a song like Three o'Clock in the Morning sold 2,500,000 copies of sheet music.
From such sales composers, authors and publishers were able to reap a fair return. In those days a large publisher of popular music published four or five songs a week. Nowadays the same publisher has to publish 20 to 25 songs a week to keep up with radio's voracious demands- at a cost of $1,000 to $2,500 per song.
Today a hit tune is plugged unmercifully over the air: (at the publisher's instigation, by the way), and is dead within a few weeks. Successes like The Last Round-up and The Old Spinning Wheel do not sell more than 200,000 copies of sheet music.
Therefore, since fair returns are no longer to be had from sheet music sales, ASCAP must look for its revenue to performing rights; and since radio created this situation and is the biggest user of music, radio should pay the lion's share. Radio business in the U.S. amounts to $900,000,000 annually, of which $171,000,000 represents sales of time on the air- ASCAP's target. The rest is in radio receivers and other equipment.
ASCAP contends that without music this enormous volume of business would not be possible.
On their side, the broadcasters contend that they can no longer tolerate a situation whereby they are at the mercy of a monopoly for the supply of one of their most important raw materials. They point to other major industries which have purchased or created their own sources of supply.
So, through the National Association of Broadcasters, they have contributed a pool now totalling $1,500,000 and formed Broadcast Music, Inc., to publish and supply them with music under their own control. BMI is already in operation and expects by December 31st to have accumulated a library of popular music sufficient to enable the broadcasters to start off 1941 without resort to ASCAP music. The two major networks have announced that after December 31st they will use no more ASCAP music.
From the American listener's standpoint this means that he or she will no longer be able to hear the works of many favourite composers, such as Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Victor Herbert (who founded ASCAP), Rudolf Friml, Sig- mund Romberg, Ferde Grofe, George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Walter Damrosch, Ethelbert Nevin, Olie Speaks and Vincent Youmans, whose compositions are controlled by ASCAP.
It remains to be seen what the listener will have to say when this situation is suddenly sprung on him.
America's 55,000 amateurs are still merrily chewing the rag, but only amongst themselves. When the war started the FCC ruled that they must not communicate with amateur or other stations in belligerent countries. Just recently another ruling has gone forth prohibiting American amateurs from communicating with any stations outside tho boundaries of the United States or its territorial possessions, The object is to prevent "fifth column" activity.
If the United States should become involved in war, all amateur stations will be closed down and sealed with the exception of a comparative few on different frequency bands who are organised to co-operate with the U.S. Army in maintaining a communication network for the conduct of certain essential services.
War and Broadcast Stations
So far as broadcasting stations are concerned, the advent of war involving the United States is not expected to disturb the existing set-up too drastically. In other words, commercial broadcasting as now known will continue; otherwise, all entertainment programmes would disappear, and the Government is not geared to provide a substitute service.
It is expected that the Government will have first call on all non-commercial time and retain the right to interrupt any commercial or other programme to air important Government bulletins or news items.
It is expected also that uniformed censors will move in on every station and be on hand at all times to scrutinise every word before it is broadcast and pounce on anybody who extemporaneously departs from his approved script.