The inventor Edwin Howard Armstrong gave a demonstration of FM radio to an audience of engineers and everyday listeners 80 years ago today.
Anyone who has listened to an AM broadcast for more than a few hours has encountered its drawbacks: crackles, hisses, static-y noises, pops. Armstrong, building on 15 years of research into high frequency signals, had devices that could send and receive high frequency signals. Armstrong played a jazz record through AM equipment and then through FM. A reporter who was there wrote, “If the audience of 500 engineers had shut their eyes they would have believed the jazz band was in the same room. There were no extraneous sounds.” It worked, yet the FM radio era lay decades off in the future.
Broadcast networks that had committed resources to improving AM technology and toward developing television did not partner with or even encourage Armstrong in his FM work, and they even fought to have the Federal Communications Commission assign FM frequencies to specialty uses so listeners would not be able to listen to an FM broadcast even if one existed.
Armstrong spent much of his life and his money investing in FM technology. In 1940, RCA offered him a one-time payment of one millions dollars for his FM licenses and patents, and he refused to sell. He knew that sum was far less than what his work was worth. RCA went ahead and developed its own FM technologies and Armstrong spent the last decade of his life suing that company and others. He died a broken man in 1954.
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The film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, directed by Steven Spielberg, opened in general release on this date in 1982.
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American Idol made its debut on Fox on this date in 2002.
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Vince Lombardi was born on this date in 1913. Irving Howe was born on this date in 1920. William Styron was born in 1925 on this date.
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Representative Charles Rangel is 86 today. Athol Fugard is 84. Gene Wilder is 83 today. Sir Jackie Stewart is 77. Adrienne Barbeau is 71 today. Joe Montana is 60 today. Hugh Laurie is 57. Shia LaBeouf is 30 today.
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