Apr 21
Radio Stratosphere

The Great Depression drove down the average price of a radio sold in United States from $139 in 1929 to about $47 just four years later. But the brutal market forces of the early depression did not stop Americans from buying radios; by the end of the 1920s, one third of U.S. households owned a radio and by 1933 that number climb close to 60%. 

Radio was a great entertainment value in a time when people struggled just to pay rent and put food on the table.  By 1933, the radio manufacturers had made major technological improvements that in turn allowed radio stations to reach more listeners in American and around the world. These improvements helped fuel sales; it was estimated that by 1933, 4.5 million radios in U.S. homes were becoming obsolete due to improved radio broadcast and short-wave reception.  Radio sales in the early 1930's also had help from "installment buying" or buying on credit. In 1931, 75% of all radios were sold on installment payments with the average radio buyer putting 20% down on their radio purchase.

It was the deep and dark days of the early 1930's and the Great Depression that would have a profound influence on industrial design in America. Streamline and Modern design were born after the popular Art Deco design movement of the 1920s. Complicated design was replaced with simplified straight lines and basic aerodynamic curves.

Basing its American "radio population" on the 1930 radio-set census (taken at the same time as the official decennial census of population), which disclosed 12,048,762, or 40.3%, of the homes in the United States with radios, the U. I. R. projected this figure into 1933 to a total of 17,004,781 "radioized homes," or slightly more than one out of every two homes. Thus, out of the estimated world total, the United States has nearly half of the radios in the world. The United States had 599 broadcasting stations, according to the Federal Radio Commission's annual report for June 30, 1933.

According to the Department of Commerce, other countries had the following number of stations: Russia, 73; China, 72; Canada, 64; Australia, 61; Cuba, 57; Mexico, 54; Argentina, 35; Uruguay, 33; New Zealand, 33; Sweden, 31; Japan, 30; France, 29; Germany, 26. Great Britain in 1933 reorganized its broadcasting structure to serve the British Isles with fifteen more or less powerful units. It will be seen that there is really no definite relationship between the number of listeners and the number of radio stations. Some countries need, by reason of their relatively small size and homogenous population, only a few high-power stations. Others, like the United States, license not only high-power stations to serve widespread audiences but lower-power stations to serve regional and local audiences.

Broadcasting of the 599 broadcasting stations in the United States, approximately 500 are licensed to different individuals or corporations. There are two major network organizations--the National Broadcasting Company, operating two national networks linking in whole or part a total of about eighty stations, and the Columbia Broadcasting System, also linking about eighty stations but in a single network in whole or part. Most of these stations are individually owned by private enterprises. They subscribe to network programs almost precisely as the newspapers subscribe to press association services. Each of the network organizations, however, owns so-called "key" stations and others in strategic points. NBC owns or operates seventeen stations under management leases; CBS, seven. There are a few regional networks, such as the Yankee Network of ten stations in New England, the Don Lee Network of eight California stations, and several smaller networks.

Europe has fewer networks, which are simply telephone-line links between stations so that they may take common programs on a national or regional scale. The network idea spread considerably in Europe during 1933, however, and where the stations are not powerful enough to cover the entire country, countries like England, Germany, and Japan link up their stations in a manner somewhat similar to the American scheme.

Programs whereas in countries that own and operate their own broadcasting systems the ruling authorities decide what the public shall hear, usually heeding to some extent the tastes of their audiences, but sometimes, as in Russia and to a more limited extent in England, presenting what the authorities believe the public ought to hear, in the United States there is practically unrestrained competition between the rival networks and the rival stations for the listeners' attention. The 1933 trend in the United States was again markedly toward more variety shows, especially those featuring noted comedians like Eddie Cantor, Ed Wynn, Al Jolson, Will Rogers, and Jack Pearl.

A similar trend was reported in 1933 from England, where the British Broadcasting Corporation during the year conceded that perhaps more "crazy shows" should be given to please the public. But 1933 was probably most notable in American radio, at least from the program standpoint, by the growing number of network and individual station programs offering the higher type of music. The networks also scored in 1933 when NBC relayed broadcasts direct from Commander Settle's stratosphere balloon during its ascent; when CBS rebroadcast, on regular schedule, short-wave relays direct from Admiral Byrd's flagship en route to Little America; and when both carried numerous programs of speech and music from many foreign countries.

Sponsors of programs--the advertisers who buy time from networks and stations--turned somewhat more favorably to great orchestral organizations and great artists, so that 1933 brought to the air more frequently such famous aggregations as the Philadelphia Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, and many great artists. Indeed, the only outstanding musical artists who have not yet been heard on the American radio are Fritz Kreisler, Paderewski, and Rachmaninoff; even these have admitted a lessening of their former prejudices and may soon be heard.

Drama enjoyed something of a comeback but dialogue comedy remained more popular. Drama still does not enjoy the vogue in America that it commands abroad. Crooners and dance music continue to be the mainstays of most sponsored programs as well as of most sustaining programs, which are not paid for by advertisers but by the networks and stations themselves. RevenuesThe two major networks had a combined revenue from time sales during 1933 of $31,516,298 which was 19% under their 1932 total of $39,106,776. The NBC networks accounted for $21,452,732 of the 1933 total, as compared with $26,504,891 in 1932; the CBS network accounted for $10,063,566 in 1933 as compared with $12,601,885 in 1932.

Until the latter part of 1933, no statistics on individual station time sales were compiled, but the National Association of Broadcasters began in September to gather figures from stations to determine their collective non-network revenues. Each of the three months reported up to the time of this writing showed non-network revenues running close to $2,500,000, which would indicate total revenues for non-network stations of about $30,000,000 a year.

Thus the total 1933 revenues from advertising time sales by networks and stations in the United States approximated $60,000,000 for 1933, the middle six months of which constituted a deep depression season for radio advertising. Data gathered by the broadcasters' association, in preparing its code of fair competition under the National Industrial Recovery Act, disclosed some 11,000 regular employees in the networks and radio stations, which was increased in 1933 under the NRA to nearly 12,000, with a total payroll running about $22,000,000. This is exclusive of the sums paid to non-staff artists, thousands of whom perform annually before the microphones of both networks and individual stations. Statistics are lacking as to the incomes, payrolls, and costs of foreign radio systems and stations, but it is generally accepted that the American competitive system operates with the largest money turnover of any system in the world.

The most notable feature in regard to allocations in 1933 was the newly formed Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission, which not only tightened regulations for the more efficient technical operation of Canada's privately owned stations, but actually took over the operation of five of them and undertook to show whether a dual system of governmental and private operation could work in North America. This commission subscribed to American network programs and from its own network "fed" periodic programs to the American networks. Wave lengths were reassigned with the purpose of better serving Canada's far-flung population, and projects were afoot during the year for new powerful stations to rival those of the United States in their coverage capacity.

In Europe there was considerable anxiety over the apparent unwillingness of certain nations to abide by the Plan de Lucerne, whereby wave lengths were parceled out anew to the nations in June, 1933, to go into effect January 15, 1934. Obstinate nations, with their national jealousies and political uncertainties, threatened to upset the plan by refusing to take the waves assigned them. There were no substantial changes in wavelength allocations in the United States, though plans were afoot at the end of 1933 to create more "room in the ether" for more stations by duplicating the otherwise clear channels, which are used exclusively at night by individual stations in the higher-power categories. The Federal Radio Commission licensed more clear channel stations to the maximum permissible power of 50,000 watts, bringing the total at the end of the year to twenty-five.

A conference of North American in Mexico City to reallocate wave lengths among themselves failed completely in the spring of 1933, at least so far as broadcasting is concerned. The United States and Canada, already in friendly agreement as to the division of the ninety-six available wave lengths for their exclusive or joint use, were unable to persuade Mexico to cease licensing powerful new stations along the Rio Grande, stations which were usually backed by Americans who were persona non grata in a radio way with their own government. These stations generally point their antennas northward to serve American rather than Mexican audiences, deriving their support largely from American advertisers. They "squat" on or near American and Canadian wave lengths, causing more or less interference, depending upon the powers they employ.

The most significant development in broadcasting regulation was the Federal Radio Commission's action in December, which authorized the widening of the broadcasting band of wave lengths to embrace the range from 1500 to 1600 kilocycles. Three 20-kilocycle channels in this 100-kilocycle band (namely 1530, 1550, and 1570 kilocycles) were designated for new stations for experimentation with high quality transmission and reception. Private enterprisers who licenses to use these waves--and about a dozen such licenses are anticipated in 1934--must look to the future for a commercial return, since all but the more recently manufactured radios cannot tune down so far. Stations using those wave lengths must not only induce the radio manufacturers to bring out standard sets that will take in those waves, but must also offer attractive enough programs to persuade the public to buy such radios or revamp their existing radios to tune them in.

Radio City, New YorkPerhaps the most notable event in American broadcasting in 1933 was the November opening of the gigantic Radio City amusement enterprise, more properly known as Rockefeller Center, built largely by Rockefeller capital upon the actual and prospective development of radio and its allied amusements. NBC moved its offices and studios into the RCA Building, towering office unit of the great New York City development.

The studios of NBC are reputed to be the finest as well as the largest in the world, occupying with the offices some 400,000 square feet and including an auditorium studio seventy-eight by one hundred and thirty-two feet, three stories in height. There are thirty-six studios in all, but eight were left unfurnished, presumably to await the advent of television. RadiotelegraphyThe experience of the American army in Alaska, where an inclusive network of telephone lines was established about a generation ago by the government to provide communications among the scattered inhabitants, only to see it fall into disuse with the advent of the cheaper short-wave radio, as impelled everyone interested in communications to study closely the relative value of wires and radio.

No cables were laid in 1933 for the simple reason that international radio circuits can do almost the same job (lacking only the element of secrecy), and the prediction is freely made that no cables will be laid in the future. From the standpoint of both radio and cable communications, the two leading nations of the world are the United States and England. Several years ago the latter country unified its cable and radio systems into a worldwide network under government auspices. American companies in the international radiotelegraph field remained competitive, although a committee of government experts recommended to President Roosevelt that serious consideration be given their unification and coordination.

There were four communications organizations in the U.S.: the American Telephone and Telegraph Co., Western Union Telegraph Co., International Telephone and Telegraph Co., and Radio Corporation of America. Two of them operate international radiotelegraph circuits--the I. T. and T. and the R. C. A. The I. T. and T. has a radiotelegraph subsidiary known as Mackay Radio and Telegraph Co., which operates radio circuits to a few foreign countries, in addition to its radio service to and from ships at sea. The R. C. A. operates radio circuits to about fifty foreign countries, as well as its ship-to-shore and ship-to-ship services.

Expansion of these services was somewhat retarded during 1933 due to the depression. Mackay, however, entered the domestic radiotelegraph field in a substantial way in 1933, establishing stations toward the end of the year in Chicago, New Orleans, and Seattle. It already had in operation stations at New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Portland, Ore., and early in 1934 asked the Radio Commission to erect others in Kansas City and Atlanta. These stations are used in collaboration with Postal Telegraph, which, like Mackay, is a subsidiary of I. T. and T. Except for its New York-San Francisco circuit, R. C. A. has remained out of the domestic telegraphy field, using the Western Union telegraph offices as pickup and delivery points for its international radio system. In December, 1933, R. C. A. applied to the Federal Radio Commission for a group of ultra-short wave lengths with which to establish an experimental group of radio stations in New York, New Brunswick, N. J., Trenton, N. J., and Camden, N. J., to develop its "picture message" service--a potential system of flashing written and printed matter in facsimile form between cities.

If successful, the eastern project may ultimately be extended over the whole country to furnish a new form of competition in the telegraph field. R. C. A. also planned and secured authority for new inland high-speed radiotelegraph stations at Boston, Washington, Chicago, and New Orleans, projected for completion early in 1934. Smaller radiotelegraph companies are the Globe Wireless Co., operating radiotelegraph stations from the west coast, of the United States to Hawaii, Guam, and Asia; the Tropical Radio Telegraph Co., with a commercial service between certain points in the United States and Central American countries; the Press Wireless Co., transmitting press traffic to South America, Mexico, Canada, Hawaii, and Denmark, and receiving from Europe; and the American Radio News Corp., a subsidiary of the Hearst newspaper interests, transmitting press traffic with stations in New York, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, Atlanta, and Cuba.

Radiotelephony American Telephone and Telegraph Corporation furnishes the radiophone links between the United States and Europe and South America, with a hookup to Australia via England, using both long and short waves. The South American key station is at Buenos Aires, there operated by an I. T. and T. subsidiary. Something like 90% of the telephones of the world are said to be within connecting distance of one another by means of this system. Expansion plans embrace a powerful station on the Pacific Coast for a more direct link with Hawaii, Japan, and Australia. The A. T. and T. also provides service from ordinary phones to those ships at sea that are equipped with radiophone apparatus.

Relatively few ships are so equipped, however, and the depression undoubtedly retarded expansion along this line in 1933. The Short WavesThe chief users of the short waves, other than the maritime and international radiotelegraph stations, are the amateurs. Possibly due to enforced idleness during the depression, their ranks increased by nearly 15,000 during the year ending June 30, 1933, bringing their total to 41,555 in the United States. Most of the amateurs, who tinker away at their radiotelegraph and radiotelephone sets, largely home made, as a pastime and with no object of gain, are members of the American Radio Relay League, with headquarters in, Hartford, Conn.

Self-regulated, they are not permitted to receive compensation for transmitting messages, which they do for the mere fun of it to see how many other "hams" they can contact and how great distances they can span. The amateurs have proved of incalculable value during disasters, when other means of communication have been swept away and when amateurs have quickly set up their equipment to handle messages to and from the scenes of emergency. There were in 1933 nearly 2,000 American-licensed ship radio stations and 436 stations aboard aircraft, nearly all using the short wave. In addition, the Federal Radio Commission reported tremendous expansion of police services, with more than 100 cities having police radio stations to communicate with cruising squad cars, almost all by radiotelephony.

Radio SetsFrom an industry that in the peak year of 1929 retailed some 4,000,000 radio sets, 69,000,000 tubes, and countless parts, making a total sale price of more than $842,000,000, the radio manufacturing industry (not counting transmission equipment for broadcasting or other radio services, which is produced by a small number of manufacturers) fell in 1932 to a low of 2,620,000 sets and 44,300,000 tubes, which sold for $196,000,000, and in 1933 to 2,100,000 sets and 40,000,000 tubes (estimated), at a value of between $175,000,000 and $200,000,000. The depression is given as the chief cause for the decline, but the fact also remains that the market has been narrowed by reason of the immense sales of preceding years. With at least every other home in the United States having one or more radios, the market necessarily approached a saturation point and the radio-set makers and dealers had to depend largely on replacement sales.

According to the Radio Manufacturers Association, there are a few more than fifty licensed manufacturers of radio equipment--companies holding patent licenses from various patent-controlling concerns (chief of which is the R. C. A.) to enable them to produce modern receiving apparatus. The number of persons employed in the radio manufacturing industry in 1933 was estimated at between 50,000 and 60,000. There are many more small, unlicensed radio-set producers, but no statistics are available as to their number and the extent of their activity.

Radios for the homes necessarily provide the biggest outlet for the radio-equipment manufacturers. In the pre-depression days, the radio industry rivaled the automotive industry in its alacrity in bringing out new models, offering attractive new features each year not only in exterior design but in technical improvements. During 1933 production lines continued with few changes, except for the added emphasis placed upon the smaller-sized sets which retailed at lower costs than console or cabinet models. These small sets ranged from the popular "midgets" to "cigar box" models. The latter type might more properly be likened to box cameras for their size. Although it is well known that the smaller models cannot bring in symphonies and music with same fidelity as the larger models, for several years they have dominated the market.

Not only initial set purchases but replacements were very largely of the smaller models. Decreased purchasing power offset the desire to secure programs with the utmost fidelity, now made possible by the better modern receivers. Radio manufacturers found a rapidly increasing market for automobile radios, the production of which numbered 108,000 in 1931, 143,000 in 1932, and more than 400,000 (estimated) in 1933. Most automobile manufacturers have antennas wired in their production models and provide a source of battery power, so that the installation of radios in cars is a simple matter. A few cars have radios as standard equipment. Technical ProgressSpecific suggestions as to technical progress have been made in the preceding sections. The entire radio industry in 1933 began to look more hopefully toward the ultra-short wave lengths, or ultra-high frequencies, for the future development of all forms of communications, notably television, point-to-point telegraphy, and possibly broadcasting.

Marconi's successful experiments, announced in January, 1933, in sending voice and code along directed paths in the ether, using wave lengths as short as fifty-seven centimeters (less than three-fifths of a meter), stimulated world-wide interest in the potentialities residing in such extremely short waves. The proposed R. C. A. "picture message" system of sending written and printed matter between cities by radio is predicated upon the use of wave lengths between 86,000 and 400,000 (3.5 to .75 meters). These wave lengths are sometimes called micro-waves because they normally travel in straight lines of sight, like searchlight beams.

They are also normally absorbed when they hit the peak of the curvature of the earth at the horizon, but R. C. A. claims to have perfected a repeater system that, in effect, bends the waves so that they can travel to the next horizon. Radio and EducationRadio and Education in 1933, by the National Advisory Council on Radio in Education, is one of the most important of the 1933 publications on radio. The year saw an unusually large output of books, pamphlets, and articles on all aspects of radio. The most inclusive bibliography obtainable is What to Read About Radio, compiled by Levering Tyson, director of the National Advisory Council on Radio in Education. Source: The World Book Encyclopedia 1933, Fortune Magazine January 1933