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The Development of Radio Networks (1916-1941)
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The introduction of vacuum-tube amplification for telephone lines allowed AT&T to experiment with sending speeches to distant audiences that listened over loudspeakers. The next step would be to use the lines to interconnect radio stations, and in December, 1921 a memo written by two AT&T engineers, John F. Bratney and Harley C. Lauderback, outlined the establishment of a national radio network, financially supported by advertising. General Electric, Westinghouse and RCA responded by forming their own radio network, however, unable to match AT&T's progress, in 1926 they bought out AT&T's network operations, which were reorganized to form the National Broadcasting Company. Creating competing national networks proved difficult, and over the next decade only two others would be established: the Columbia Broadcasting System in 1927, and the Mutual Broadcasting System in 1934.
Experimental Retransmissions -- U.S. Navy Experiments -- AT&T Develops the First Radio Network -- Network Efforts by the "Radio Group" -- Consolidation Under the National Broadcasting Company -- Columbia Broadcasting System -- Federal Regulation -- Amalgamated Broadcasting System -- Mutual Broadcasting System -- Combining Communications Technologies -- Report on Chain Broadcasting


Radio networks are generally comprised of a regional, nationwide or even worldwide collection of affiliated stations. However, in its most basic sense the definition also includes just two stations simultaneously broadcasting the same program. Beginning in early 1919, General Electric conducted a series of radiotelephone tests between a high-power alternator-transmitter located at NFF, the Navy's station at New Brunswick, New Jersey, and a lower-power vacuum-tube transmitter aboard the U.S.S. George Washington, which was sailing on the Atlantic Ocean. An unusual feature of these experiments was that, due to the reception configuration, signals received at NFF were automatically retransmitted by that station, thus, as noted in the Duplex Arrangements at New Brunswick section of Harold H. Beverage's "Duplex Radiophone Receiver on U.S.S. George Washington", from the October, 1920, General Electric Review, everything received from the George Washington was in turn widely heard via NFF's longwave signal, "which puzzled many amateur operators". An example of this occurred on July 4, 1919, when an Independence Day entertainment program was broadcast from the George Washington, and amateur James B. Corum sent a letter to the January, 1920 issue of QST, This Looks Like Record Reception, reporting hearing the ship's broadcast far inland in Derring, North Dakota. Theodore Gaty, noting the remarkable distance of this reception, contacted General Electric radio engineer Ernst Alexanderson, and Re Mr. Corum's Letter in January QST from the April, 1920 QST confirmed that the signal heard in North Dakota was not from the George Washington, but instead was NFF's retransmission. A second impromptu relay broadcast was reported in the April, 1920 Electrical Experimenter, as a concert broadcast from the government station in Chicago, Illinois was picked up and retransmitted by its counterpart in Detroit, Michigan, with the joint transmission resulting in Music 400 Miles by Radio.


More organized efforts followed, generally using telephone lines to connect the radio stations. Code Messages Now Circle Globe by Carl Hawes Butman, from the June 3, 1922 Radio World, reported that "the simultaneous broadcasting of a single spoken message from two stations on different wave-lengths was successfully conducted for the first time by the Navy on Saturday, May 20" and "it is believed, several stations, not too greatly separated, will soon be able to broadcast a single phone message on a number of different wave-lengths at one time, reaching receiving stations nearby and at great distances". This test was conducted by a pair of Navy stations -- NOF in Anacostia and NAA in Arlington -- using lines provided by the local telephone company. Ten days later, on Memorial Day (also known as Decoration Day), the ceremonies dedicating the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. were broadcast by these same two stations. The events, which featured a speech by President Warren G. Harding, were reviewed in The President Speaks to the Greatest Radio Audience in the World, from the August, 1922 Popular Radio, as well as the May 31, 1922 Frederick Daily News, which reported that local Radio Fans Hear Harding's Speech over a distance of about 50 miles (80 kilometers) by Fredericktonians who "were able to hear very distinctly all that he said in Washington" and thought the President's "voice seemed well adapted for broadcasting". In addition, the front page of the same day's Pennsylvania Patriot reported that "scores of 'radio fans'" were able to Hear Harding Here. After this successful broadcast, an article in the June 11, 1922 Richmond Times-Dispatch predicted a Telephone and Radio Combination Likely, as "Experts, government and otherwise, are now turning their attention to the possible combination of the wire or 'land' telephone and the radio broadcasts."

The Navy hoped to expand the experiments with the June 14, 1922 dedication of the Francis Scott Key Memorial in Baltimore, Maryland, as noted by Entire City to Hear Address by Harding from the May 29, 1922 Baltimore Sun. It was even planned to add a third Navy station -- NSS in Annapolis, Maryland -- to the network. However, this Navy broadcast never took place, as an article about the President's Visit in the June 13 issue of the same newspaper stated that "Much disappointment has been expressed at the unwillingness of the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company to arrange for a direct wire from the fort to the radio stations at Anacostia, Arlington or Annapolis". (Interestingly, the telephone company was willing to provide a line from the dedication site to the Baltimore American broadcasting station, WEAR, in Baltimore). On December 8, 1922, President Harding addressed the U.S. Congress, and in the April, 1923 issue of Commercial America, Broadcasting the Presidential Message to Congress, by S. R. Winters, reported that the broadcast of the speech by NOF had been picked up and retransmitted by a number of standard broadcasting stations.

Beginning in 1912, NAA's powerful radiotelegraph transmitter offered daily broadcasts of time signals. NAA operated on a longwave frequency that was widely heard across much of the eastern seaboard and the midwest, especially at night. With the introduction of standard broadcasting stations, a programming feature adopted by a number of them was to pick up NAA's time signal broadcast -- most commonly the one from 9:55 to 10:00 PM Eastern time -- and retransmit it for their listeners. Thus, each night NAA effectively became the key station for a small network of stations rebroadcasting the five minutes of dots-and-dashes that comprised the time signals -- the July 30, 1922 Sandusky Register explained How the Exact Time is Broadcasted by Radio.


Large companies are often slow to innovate. A notable exception occurred when the research and experimentation by the American Telephone & Telegraph Company -- the largest company in the world -- on public address systems, long-distance telephone lines, and vacuum-tube radio transmitters prepared the way for the development of national radio networks. AT&T had closely monitored advances in radio telephony, including Reginald Fessenden's December 21, 1906 alternator-transmitter demonstration at Brant Rock, Massachusetts, although at the time it decided the technology was not yet ready for commercial development. In 1915, taking advantage of the recently developed vacuum-tube transmitters and receivers, AT&T conducted radiotelephony tests originating from the Navy's NAA in Arlington, Virginia. At the time of the 1915 Arlington tests, AT&T President Vail announced the company was planning to add radiotelephone links to the Bell telephone system, and AT&T continued to build experimental radio stations to test telephony ideas.

Shortly after re-engineering Lee DeForest's crude Audion into a reliable vacuum-tube amplifier, AT&T began experimenting with long-distance wired transmissions. On March 7, 1916, the National Geographic Society held a banquet in Washington, D.C. to commemorate the 40th anniversary of a telephone patent issued to Alexander Graham Bell, and used that event to showcase two scientific marvels made possible by recent improvements in vacuum-tube engineering: transcontinental telephone lines, plus high-quality audio radio transmissions. These advances, including a telephone network that linked together sites located at the four corners of the United States, were covered in detail in the Voice Voyages by the National Geographic Society (extract), from the March, 1916 issue of National Geographic magazine. Speeches Through Radiotelephone Inspire New York Crowds, from the May 31, 1919 Electrical Review, reported that AT&T had used its circuits to bring Victory Liberty Loan Drive speeches made in Washington to outdoor gatherings listening to loudspeakers in New York City. On November 11, 1921 this was expanded into a transcontinental hookup, as President Harding's Armistice Day speech at the Arlington Memorial at the National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia was simultaneously heard, again over loudspeakers, by audiences in New York City's Madison Square Garden and San Francisco's Civic Auditorium -- the story of "an epoch in communication", as "science, manifesting itself in the telephone art, has united the East and the West", was covered with great pride by Our Tribute in the December, 1921 issue of AT&T's Long Lines in-house publication. (An advertisement appearing in the February 15, 1922 Milwaukee Sentinel informed consumers that the "modern miracle" of The President's voice heard by the nation was in part due to AT&T's use of Exide-brand storage batteries.)

Moreover, the use of telephone lines was not limited to connections to loud-speakers in auditoriums. In "Radio Telephony", appearing in the July, 1919 issue of Telephone Engineer, the authors, E. B. Craft and E. H. Colpitts, had noted that "the connection of a wire system to a radio system is no more complicated than connecting two wire lines", and in July, 1920 the first U.S. telephone circuit to include an intermediary radio link began operation, bridging the gap between Catalina Island, California and the mainland. Also, around 1920 AT&T and the local phone companies began to lease telephone lines to broadcasting stations for use in connecting their transmitters to pick up speeches and events from remote sites. However, AT&T soon started restricting this use of remote telephone lines by other companies, when the phone company came to believe that the practice infringed on its claimed patent rights in radiotelephony.

Although the traditional approach to increasing radio coverage had been to simply use more powerful transmitters, AT&T's work showed that it was possible to achieve the same objective by using telephone wires to link less powerful radio stations together. This would soon evolve into a plan by AT&T to construct a national radio network, as an October, 1921 memo from AT&T's Department of Development and Research reviewed the possibilities of "a network of wires extending to all the important centers of the country" to connect "loud speakers and radio stations". AT&T eventually dropped the idea of including public address systems, and settled on developing a radio-only national network. In mid-December, 1921, a few weeks after the Armistice Day hook-up, a memo prepared by John F. Bratney and Harley C. Lauderback, two Commercial Engineers in the AT&T's Department of Operation and Engineering, outlined the proposed network, consisting of stations located in 38 cities. An interesting feature of the plan was the casual assumption that the broadcasts would be supported by advertising, which would be a very controversial idea for another half-decade. AT&T's intention to set up nationwide radio broadcasting was formally announced on February 11, 1922, and publicized in articles such as National Radio Broadcast By Bell System, which appeared in the April, 1922 issue of Science & Invention. (Most early references to multi-station connections referred to the setup as a "chain" of stations, although the later development of more complicated interconnections led to the modern term of station "networks".) Soon, AT&T's extensive control of long-distance telephone lines was getting the industry's attention, and the April, 1924 Radio Age worried: Is Broadcasting Monopoly Possible?

AT&T initially expected that it and affiliate telephone companies would own most of the stations in the proposed national network. The costs of constructing a high quality broadcast station were very high, and AT&T also felt it had, through patent rights, the exclusive right to sell advertising over the airwaves. But it was caught by surprise by the broadcast boom of 1922, when, ignoring the sober economics of what they were doing, hundreds of companies and individuals rushed to build broadcast stations of their own. Also, AT&T's rights to a monopoly of radio advertising turned out to be both shakier and more controversial than it expected, so it relented, and in 1924 it would begin licencing its patents to other stations, which allowed them to carry on-air advertising. Ultimately AT&T would find that it did not need to build the stations comprising its network, just link together ones that others had constructed. In particular, AT&T subsidiary Western Electric sold a limited number of high quality radio transmitters to a variety of companies and organizations -- the January, 1923 Radio Broadcast included a census of the twenty-five Western Electric Broadcasting Stations in the U. S., many of which would become part of AT&T's expanding network. AT&T would ultimately build stations in only two cities: New York City -- WBAY and WEAF (now WFAN) -- and Washington, D.C. -- WCAP, licenced to the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company (deleted in 1926).

In early 1923, AT&T began tests using telephone circuits to connect radio stations for combined transmissions. Its first experimental network program was a one-time hookup, using temporary lines, that consisted of just two stations -- WEAF in New York and WNAC (now WRKO) in Boston, Massachusetts, which transmitted a joint program for three hours on the evening of January 4, 1923. A review of this broadcast, promoted as the first step in building the national chain, appeared in See Toll Plant Chain by F. N. Hollingsworth, from the February 3, 1923 issue of Radio Digest. The telephone company saw the need for permanent circuits, and the first longterm connection had its origins in an unlikely source. Col. Edward H. R. Green was one of the wealthiest individuals in the United States, and in 1922 he began establishing a radio laboratory on his Round Hill, Massachusetts estate, reviewed by World's Richest "Fan" Booms Radio by Jack Binns, in the March, 1923 Popular Science Monthly magazine. Green's efforts eventually included a broadcasting station, WMAF, using a Western Electric transmitter. In addition, as noted in A Broadcasting Station De Luxe by W. A. Kimball from the January, 1924 Radio News, in order to provide programming for his somewhat isolated location, for a few months beginning on July 1, 1923 he paid AT&T to establish the first fixed link between broadcasting stations, with WMAF simulcasting the program offerings of WEAF.

Most of AT&T's network broadcasts originated from WEAF in New York City; thus the network was generally known as the "WEAF Chain". However, company circuit charts marked the inter-city telephone links in red, so the chain of stations was also known as "the red network". By early 1926, the "WEAF Chain" had increased to nineteen cities in the Northeast and Midwest, as it slowly spread from its base in New York City. Through these efforts, from 1922 until 1926 AT&T was the most important company in the programming side of U.S. broadcasting. Following a shaky start, its advertising-supported radio network set the standard for the entire industry.


Shortly after AT&T began organizing its radio network, the three major companies that comprised the "Radio Group" -- General Electric, Westinghouse, and their jointly-owned subsidiary, the Radio Corporation of America -- responded with an expansion of their own efforts, which initially would produce a small radio network centered on WJZ (now WABC) in New York City, but would ultimately develop into the dominant broadcasting company in the United States. In the May 19, 1922 London Times, Wireless For All had reported that talks between the British government and that country's radio manufacturers were formalizing a proposal, which would ultimately result in the formation of the British Broadcasting Company, controlled and partially financed by the radio manufacturers, and holding a national broadcasting monopoly. David Sarnoff, general manager of RCA, shortly thereafter developed a counterpart proposal for the United States. Reprinted in the National Broadcasting Envisaged section of Looking Ahead, a 1968 collection of his papers, on June 17, 1922 Sarnoff prepared a memorandum that suggested RCA take the lead in the organization of "a separate and distinct company... to be controlled by the Radio Corporation of America, but its board of directors and officers to include members of the General Electric Company and the Westinghouse Electric Company and possibly also a few from the outside, prominent in national and civic affairs" that would hold a dominant position in American broadcasting, although, in marked contrast to AT&T's recently announced plans, the proposed company would not be "set up for the purpose of earning revenue, or in other words, to be a 'money-making' proposition", in order to "remove from the public mind, the thought that those who are doing broadcasting are doing so because of profit to themselves". Sarnoff also suggested a financing plan similar in part to the one adopted by the original BBC, with the U.S. radio firms donating a percentage of their profits to support the new company. He even hoped that eventually the operation would be seen as enough of a national resource to draw donations from philanthropists.

Although the proposed umbrella broadcasting company was not organized at this time, the Radio Group members did increase cooperative efforts. The original plan was for the Group's stations, starting with RCA's WJZ in New York, to expand coverage by increasing transmitter outputs to "superpower" status, of 50,000 watts. But although the higher powers did help improve regional coverage, even 50,000 watts would not prove powerful enough to achieve the goal of covering the entire nation with signals. It was soon decided that one way to economize was to emulate AT&T by connecting the stations together to simulcast programs. However, AT&T generally refused to provide telephone longlines for interconnections, so an alternate method was needed, and initially leased telegraph wires were tried. This worked reasonably well for shorter distances -- specially prepared Western Union telegraph lines were used on October 7, 1922 to bring the World Series to WJZ's transmitter in Newark, New Jersey, and later brought Symphonies by Telegraph from New York City concert halls to the same station, according to George Chadwick's review in the February, 1923 Popular Radio. (Some later sources incorrectly claim that the 1922 World Series broadcast was also carried to WGY in Schenectady, but there is no indication from contemporary accounts that WGY was included at this time). The Radio Group soon found that telegraph companies didn't have staffs of acoustics experts, or a history of installing lines with more fidelity than that needed for the less demanding requirements of a telegraph service, so for longer distances this often resulted in poor sound quality, sometimes accompanied by annoying hums.

Another alternative to telephone lines briefly looked promising. Experimenters in the early 1920s, led by amateur radio operators looking for more spectrum space, and aided by the development of vacuum-tube transmitters that could operate at much higher frequencies, stumbled across the fact that low-powered shortwave signals could sometimes travel remarkable distances. Due to their ability to bridge wide gaps, both during the day and at night, shortwave transmissions appeared to offer an inexpensive and flexible method for interconnecting widely scattered stations. Westinghouse in particular began investigating whether shortwave transmitters could link its broadcast stations into a national network. In the June, 1923 Radio Broadcast, Westinghouse employee W. W. Rodgers reviewed the company's preliminary work in connecting KDKA in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with two other Westinghouse stations -- KDPM in Cleveland, Ohio and WBZ in Boston, Massachusetts -- asking Is Short-wave Relaying a Step Toward National Broadcasting Stations?, and concluding that "with results that warrant further research along this line... the development of a national broadcasting system can be a matter of only a few years". In the July, 1924 Popular Science, Jack Binns reported that Westinghouse's experimental transmissions were Setting the Pace in Radio, as its tests were now transcontinental, after adding two more Westinghouse stations, KFKX in Hastings, Nebraska (which replaced KDPM) and KGO in Oakland, California. Political Spellbinding by Radio from the December, 1924 Popular Mechanics, reported further progress, with the addition of an Atlantic Ocean leap to include a broadcasting station in England. In the January, 1925 Popular Science Monthly, Jack Binns' Will Super-Power Replace Super Receiving Sets? reviewed various methods of program distribution, noting that a shortwave transmission from KDKA had been retransmitted by a station in Buenos Aires, Argentina. However, shortwave links were ultimately found to be unsuited for quality long-distance interconnection. George Lee Dowd, Jr. in How Broadcasting is Improving, from the April, 1927 Popular Science Monthly, reported that ongoing tests had shown that shortwave signals, which achieved their long distances by being reflected by the ionosphere, tended to "skip" over closer targets. In addition, the signals were prone to rapid changes in strength and audio quality, which, while adequate for private point-to-point communication, was not acceptable for commercial entertainment.


By 1926, the costs associated with providing radio programming had started looking pretty grim for the Radio Group. Selling airtime was not permitted because of restrictions resulting from AT&T's interpretation of a cross-licencing agreement, and corporate donations had not been forthcoming from the rest of the radio industry, which looked upon RCA as a fierce competitor bent on monopoly. (Even the original financing plan of the British Broadcasting Company was being replaced, as the cooperating manufacturers transferred the broadcasting monopoly in the United Kingdom to an independent British Broadcasting Corporation, which was no longer funded by manufacturer's contributions). Nor had any rich philanthropists offered to underwrite operations. Compared to the 19 cities connected for AT&Ts WEAF chain, the core of the Radio Group's WJZ chain consisted of just 4 stations. At this point, the Radio Group got a break -- in the midst of hard-fought arbitration between AT&T and the Radio Group over patent rights, AT&T, after four years of increasing success in the broadcasting arena, abruptly decided that it no longer wanted to operate stations or run a radio network. In May, 1926, AT&T transferred WEAF and the network operations into a wholly-owned subsidiary, the Broadcasting Company of America. Then came the bombshell announcement -- AT&T was selling WEAF and its network to the Radio Group companies for $1,000,000. (RCA's David Sarnoff was fond of saying "when life hands you a lemon, make lemonade". In this case, the strategy became "buy the other guy's lemonade stand".) The sale included the right to lease from AT&T the telephone longlines that had been found to be essential for linking together a national network. Moreover, the negotiations had also given the Radio Group the right to sell airtime. An overview of this formative period appeared in the Early History of Network Broadcasting (1923-26) chapter of the Federal Communications Commission's May, 1941 Report on Chain Broadcasting.

So, four years after the Sarnoff proposal, the National Broadcasting Company was formed, owned 50% / 30% / 20% respectively by RCA, General Electric and Westinghouse, which took over the Broadcasting Company of America assets, and merged them with the Radio Group's fledgling network operations. AT&T's original WEAF Chain was renamed the NBC-Red network, with WEAF continuing as the flagship station, and the small network that the Radio Group had organized around WJZ became the NBC-Blue network. NBC's formation was publicized in full-page ads Announcing the National Broadcasting Company, Inc. that appeared in numerous publications in September, 1926, and the network's debut broadcast followed on November 15th. The new network also included an advisory board of nationally prominent citizens, which held an initial meeting on February 28, 1927 -- its tentative first steps were recounted in a privately published Memorandum of Minutes. NBC's first president was Merlin H. Aylesworth, the energetic former director of the National Electric Light Association. Ben Gross, in his 1954 book I Looked and I Listened, included a biographical sketch of Aylesworth, noting that "If there is one man who may be said to have 'put over' broadcasting with both the public and the sponsors, it is this first president of NBC." In the October, 1929 Popular Science Monthly, Frank Parker Stockbridge interviewed Aylesworth about NBC's daily task of Feeding 13,000,000 Radio Sets, with Aylesworth noting that at this stage "The main purpose of broadcasting is not to make money. It is to give the public such increasingly better programs that people will continue to buy and use radio sets and tubes", reflecting the joint ownership of the network by RCA, GE, and Westinghouse, each of which sold radio equipment to the general public. However, even then the policy was changing, and although NBC continued to provide many hours of unsponsored programming as a public service, the revenue from the sale of airtime to advertisers would grow in importance. Likely using information provided by NBC's expansive publicity corps, some reviews of Aylesworth became excessively laudatory, as represented by George Kent's hagiological The Saga of NBC from the January, 1934 Radio Stars, which promoted NBC in general and Aylesworth in particular as the saviors of radio, to the point of crediting Aylesworth for events that actually preceded NBC's creation by four years. But Aylesworth's ascendancy was to be short-lived. Two years later he was out as NBC's president, and, confirming Laurence Bergreen's observation in his 1980 Look Now, Pay Later: The Rise Of Network Broadcasting that networks are "a business with absolutely no memory", NBC's retrospective advertisement in the June 21, 1976 Broadcasting magazine, NBC--The First Fifty Years, made no reference whatsoever to its founding president. A further history of the two NBC networks, through the early 1940s, was included in The Radio Corporation of America and the National Broadcasting Company chapter of the Report on Chain Broadcasting.


Although careful not to publicly say so, NBC clearly felt its two national networks were sufficient to provide all of the country's networking needs. However, in 1926, artist representative Arthur Judson approached RCA's David Sarnoff about providing performers for NBC, and, after being soundly rebuffed, Judson embarked on the seemingly impossible task of starting a competing radio network. Formed in January, 1927 and originally called United Independent Broadcasters, struggling against what appeared to be hopeless odds and constantly teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, Judson and his associates, including company president J. Andrew White, managed to cobble together the long-distance telephone lines and station affiliates needed, at least on paper, to form a radio network. A short-lived influx of cash from the Columbia Phonograph Record Company provided a few more months of life and a new name, eventually becoming known as the Columbia Broadcasting System. On September 18, 1927 the new network broadcast its first program, and although ten months earlier NBC's debut had dazzled the nation, CBS's initial offering got a much more subdued reception, which likely did little to make NBC concerned about its badly underfunded erstwhile competitor. CBS's inauspicious start was reviewed in the December, 1927 Radio Broadcast -- included in his monthly "The Listeners' Point of View" column, John Wallace informed readers What We Thought of the First Columbia Broadcasting Program, and his review criticized much of the broadcast as uninspired or worse, with the author noting: "We have given a rather complete résumé of this program, but it may be warranted by the fact that probably not a dozen people in the country, beside ourself, heard it. No one not paid to do so, as we are, could have survived it." However, the enterprise struggled onward, until, in September, 1928, William S. Paley took over the presidency, and with remarkable speed put the network on a sound financial footing, reported in Columbia Celebrates Speedy Rise in the January 5, 1929 Sandusky Star-Journal. In 1930 Arthur Judson, the person who had started this grand adventure, became president of the Columbia Concerts Corporation, and for many years his company prospered as a prominent artists bureau, providing talent to various venues, included the radio network which he had so impulsively and implausibly founded. CBS's history up to the early 1940s is documented by The Columbia Broadcasting System chapter of the Report on Chain Broadcasting.


By the late 1920s there were over 500 broadcasting stations operating throughout the United States, although few were located in the vast spaces of the rural interior. By then it was well known that, at night, radio stations could be regularly heard hundreds of kilometers away, as their signals bounced off the ionosphere to distant points. As part of a station reassignment that was effective November 11, 1928, the Federal Radio Commission made a special effort to establish 40 "clear channel" frequencies, most of which were limited to a single dominant high-powered station during nighttime hours. With this arrangement, even the most isolated locations could receive multiple signals after the sun went down. However, the clear channel stations quickly became prime targets for network affiliations, which meant that soon most were offering identical programs, from one of NBC's two networks, or from CBS. The FRC became concerned by this lack of variety, and although it could not regulate network operations directly, it could do so indirectly by placing restrictions on the individual affiliated stations. The commission issued General Order No. 43, stating that effective with the November 11 reorganization clear channel stations that were separated by less than 300 miles (485 kilometers) generally would not be permitted to duplicate more than one hour of programming nightly. However, over the next year a series of Chain Broadcasting General Orders delayed the policy's implementation, until finally the original order was canceled, pending further review of the issue, which wouldn't come until a decade later.


By the early 1930s, CBS and the two NBC networks (Red and Blue) had gathered up most of the U.S. high-powered stations as affiliates, and soon dominated the nation's broadcasting industry, producing strong profits even during the depths of the Great Depression. Left out were hundreds of smaller stations -- a few formed regional networks, but there were continuing rumors about the creation of another national chain. An unlikely attempt to form a third competitor came in the person of Ed Wynn, hitherto best known as the comedic star of NBC's Texaco Theater. The Amalgamated Broadcasting System was to be a commercial network, but just barely -- the June, 1933 Radio Fan-Fare reviewed Ed Wynn's New Chain Plan, and, according to Wynn: "My idea is to give the listener more radio and less advertising ballyhoo," with plans to strictly "limit the ballyhoo to thirty words--a curtain announcement at the beginning and the end" of each program. (One reason Wynn hoped to start a network was because he was afraid that his popularity as a performer was waning, and, in fact, the same issue of Radio Fan-Fare had negatively reviewed his recent Texaco Theater offerings in its Slipping and Gripping column).

Amalgamated had an inauspicious start -- its New York flagship station, WBNX, could only broadcast part-time due to restrictions imposed by a time-sharing requirement with frequency partner WAWZ, and its 250 watt transmitter was puny compared to the 50 kilowatts used by the flagship stations of the three existing national networks. After a series of delays, ABS finally made its debut on September 25, 1933, over a 14-station hookup of mostly low-powered stations in the mid-Atlantic, as reported by Amalgamated Network Gets Started in the October 1, 1933 issue of Broadcasting. CBS had had a similarly shaky start before its subsequent success, but this would not be repeated -- ABS's bold effort did not "Wynn out", and the new network, which never expanded beyond a handful of affiliates and even was unable to attract any program sponsors, ceased operations on November 1st. John Skinner's summary of the network's misfortunes, and its effect on a disillusioned Ed Wynn, appeared in The Secret Story of Ed Wynn's Greatest Mistake, in the February, 1934 issue of Radio Stars.


Only one other national radio network was ever successfully established in the U.S., when the Mutual Broadcasting System was formed in 1934. Mutual's creation and activities through the early 1940s was reviewed by The Mutual Broadcasting System chapter of the Report on Chain Broadcasting.


In the United States, two communications technologies -- long distance telephone lines and radio stations -- were joined to create national broadcasting. R. T. Barnett, in Network Broadcasting: Historical Summary, from the April, 1934 Bell Telephone Quarterly, noted that "Broadcasting is the child of the telephone", and detailed the vital but largely unappreciated role of telephone lines in distributing programming, for: "it is the telephone wire, not radio, which carries programs the length and breadth of the country. For 3200 miles the telephone wire carries the program so faithfully that scarcely an overtone is lost; for perhaps fifteen miles it travels by radio to enter John Smith's house. And then he wonders at the marvels of radio!"

This trend was even more developed in Europe, where in many countries subscribers could receive radio programs in their homes over telephone lines, avoiding the cost and trouble of operating a radio receiver. After the introduction of radio broadcasting in Great Britain, numerous "Relay Exchange" systems were established, which retransmitted received radio programs to individual subscriber homes over phone lines. In 1925, the Budapest Telefon Hirmondó established Hungary's first radio broadcasting station -- adding "es Radio" to its corporate name in the process -- while continuing to operate its telephone-based audio distribution. Broadcast Exchanges in the March, 1931 Telegraph and Telephone Journal noted the introduction of a new system in a London suburb, comparing its 250 subscribers to the 9,000 now being served by the Telefon Hirmondó. An even more advanced example was reported in the September 24, 1935 London Times, as its daily recap of radio programs reported that a "Sound Picture of the Hungarian capital... in collaboration with Magyar Telefon Hirmondo es Radio" would be "relayed by land line from Budapest" and carried over the British Broadcasting Corporation's "National transmitter". Thus, in this case, the originating program from a radio station in Hungary was heard in that country both by radio receivers and over Telefon Hirmondó telephone lines, then carried by a long-distance telephone link to Britain, where it was in turn heard in that country's homes by both radio, and by telephone transmissions provided by the relay exchanges.


In May, 1941, the Federal Communications Commission issued a comprehensive Report on Chain Broadcasting which reviewed the economic impact of the country's four major radio networks. As a result of the new regulations, in 1943 the NBC-Blue network was separated from NBC and became the American Broadcasting Company.

"By this time AT&T, RCA's former ally, had cut loose, and was operating a broadcast station of its own -- WEAF. It was better on a technical end than we were. The late Raymond Guy sums it up in his reminiscences recorded many years later at Columbia University's Oral History Research Office: 'AT&T did things with a more thorough knowledge of what they were doing.... They just knew more about telephony than we did, as you might expect. They had the best telephone engineers in the world. The entire Bell Laboratories were at their disposal.' Aside from the normal pride which engineers take in their profession, this kept us on our toes; but the technical competition with the telephone company was an uphill fight, as Ray Guy implied, and I would be the last to deny. WEAF, cautiously at first, began to sell time and develop an income. When WJZ-WJY went on the air May 15, 1923, neither we nor WEAF were paying the artists. After a while, WEAF was in a position to do so, and we were not, until the National Broadcasting Company was organized and WJZ became the key station of the Blue Network, later taken over by the American Broadcasting Company".--Carl Dreher, Sarnoff: An American Success, 1977.