Like much of the material issued over the years by the RCA and NBC publicity departments, this extract includes many obvious misstatements and exaggerations in its attempt to claim that NBC had somehow "saved radio". The assertion that the broadcasting station count had reached "nearly 1400" in 1924 is laughable -- the total number of stations never exceeded 750 in any year prior to 1926. Moreover, the claim that there was a steep decline in the number of stations before NBC arrived is equally false, as the period preceding NBC's first broadcast in 1926 had seen a steady rise in the number and especially power of stations. In addition, David Sarnoff actually only had a minor role as a land-based radiotelegraph operator during the Titanic disaster, and claiming that "first public radio broadcast" didn't take place until July, 1921 ignores numerous predecessors. Moreover, at the time of NBC's debut, commercial network radio already existed, for NBC was merely a reorganization of AT&T's "WEAF Chain" network, which the "Radio Group" of the Radio Corporation of America, General Electric, and Westinghouse had recently purchased.
Broadcasting, June 21, 1976, pages 68-71 (advertisement-early years extract):
NBC--The First Fifty Years
The time was November, 1926. It had been only a few years since a fever had swept America. Intoxicated by the simple idea of hearing things--an egg frying on the sidewalk, a soprano rehearsing in a garage--the nation had gone wild for radio. By 1924, the number of radio stations had jumped to nearly 1400, most of them operated by hobbyists or as promotional sidelines to businesses. But now the craze was sputtering. Schedules were erratic, frequencies in chaos. Often a listener who tuned a coloratura ended up hearing a crop report. And the number of stations had plummeted to 600.
From a manufacturing standpoint, radio was already an industry. From a programming standpoint, it was still a toy. If the new medium was to survive, it needed something more. By the end of 1926, it had that something. The new medium was flourishing again, this time for good. A new idea had saved broadcasting from infant mortality.
Its name was NBC.
The idea itself had been hatching for several years. Back in 1916, a young employee of the Marconi wireless company had recommended the manufacture of a home receiver that would make radio a household utility in the same sense as the piano or the phonograph. The young telegrapher's name was already something of a household word: it was David Sarnoff who, four years earlier, had relayed news of the "Titanic" disaster to the world. At first, Sarnoff's proposal for "home radio" was greeted with skepticism by his superiors; in 1921, he made believers of everybody by engineering the first public radio broadcast--a blow-by-blow description of the Dempsey-Carpentier heavyweight championship.
That event signaled the start of the radio boom. When, five years later, Sarnoff proposed a "central broadcasting organization" to solve the medium's programming dilemma, it marked a leap forward in communications history.
If any doubts remained that a new era was at hand, NBC's inaugural transmission dispelled them. That first broadcast, from the ballroom of the old Waldorf-Astoria on 34th Street and Fifth Avenue, lasted from 8 p.m., November 15, 1926 to 12:25 the next morning. It featured the New York Symphony, the New York Oratorio Society, Will Rogers, Weber and Fields, and the dance band of Vincent Lopez. It was carried by 25 stations in 21 cities and was heard as far west as Kansas City.
Public demand for the new service skyrocketed. Within two months, NBC was operating two networks, the Red and the Blue (later to become the American Broadcasting Company). Within two years, both networks were broadcasting coast-to-coast on a regular basis. In 1927, NBC moved into made-to-order studios at 711 Fifth Avenue--its home address for the next six years.
Those six years saw an astonishing evolution in the world of entertainment. At the outset the programs were largely musical. Walter Damrosch's "Music Appreciation Hour" and the "Voice of Firestone," both premiering in 1928, greatly widened the public taste for serious music as did the weekly, Saturday-afternoon NBC broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera, launched in 1931.
For a nation suffering from a Depression, comedy-variety--foreshadowed by "Roxy and His Gang" and "Major Bowes' Capitol Family"--was an effective home remedy. Reports of vaudeville's death at the hands of talking pictures had been greatly exaggerated; vaudeville was alive and well--on radio. NBC had the major stars: Eddie Cantor (radio's first regular, big-name performer), Jack Pearl, Rudy Vallee, Al Jolsen, Fred Allen, the Marx Brothers. With the variety program came the studio audience, an institution born when Will Rogers stepped into a corridor and invited everyone in sight to attend his NBC broadcast.
Radio also created its own stars like NBC's Graham McNamee, a singer turned announcer, and later straight man for Ed Wynn. To the listening audience, early radio announcers were like members of the family, and were often mentioned in wills.
From the beginning, diversity was the hallmark of the NBC schedule. Programs like "Real Folks," "One Man's Family," and "The Rise of the Goldbergs" were early innovations in radio drama, forerunners of the serials and situation comedies to come. "Amos 'n' Andy," which premiered as a Monday-through-Friday NBC series in 1929, quickly became the most popular program of its day.
By 1933, the year NBC moved into its new headquarters in Rockefeller Center ("Radio City" to the millions who made it a tourist mecca), the NBC network was the clear leader in audience, talent, and prestige. "Fibber McGee and Molly" made its NBC debut in 1935, as did "America's Town Meeting of the Air," a prototype of many future interview and panel shows. By 1937, Jack Benny had become an NBC regular. So had Charlie McCarthy (much to the amazement of Edgar Bergen, who thought a ventriloquism act would baffle a radio audience). In 1938, NBC broke a long-standing taboo against ad-libbing and the talk-show was born--with Mary Margaret McBride at the helm.
Even Hollywood was getting into the act. Earlier, the motion-picture industry had tried to counter the radio boom, first by proclaiming that "Movies Are Your Best Entertainment" (a slogan it abandoned when the initials were found to spell "maybe"), then by boycotting the medium entirely. By the late thirties, studios were not only permitting their stars to entertain on radio but turning to radio for talent: radio performers like Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Edgar Bergen became movie stars as well. Moreover, Hollywood was joining New York and Chicago as a radio production center in its own right, contributing regular series like NBC's "Lux Radio Theatre."
The NBC Symphony made its on-air debut in 1937, and was instantly hailed as one of history's great orchestras. For 17 years, the NBC Symphony performed under Arturo Toscanini's baton. There was nothing to equal it in the world of broadcasting. Under NBC's leadership, radio was growing steadily as a medium of expression and enrichment.
By the late thirties, it had also become a trusted source of news and information, unlike newspapers or newsreels, radio was "up-to-the-minute" (a phrase which came in with radio), and all of it (including coast-to-coast entertainment programs, which had to be performed twice) was live.
Many of radio's experimental broadcasts had been of news events. Conventions and election coverage, which had fascinated listening audiences, started on NBC in 1928. By the early thirties, NBC listeners had heard Gandhi, Einstein, Pope Pius, William Beebe (from his bathysphere 2000 feet under the ocean), H. G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw and the "fireside chats" of FDR, whose first inauguration was broadcasting's mast intricate program to that date.
As yet, though, radio was not in the news-gathering business; announcers simply read wire-service copy over the air (or, in the early case of Phil Cook, sang the news while strumming on a ukelele). When the print media began witholding their services from broadcasters, late in 1933, NBC News was born.