“On The Air, Everywhere” — The Growth of Radio and Television Broadcasting

In the 1920s, “radio” emerged as a new cultural force, sending voice where wires could not go, as well as sharing entertainment, information, and commerce. In 1919, wireless transmissions were back on the air after two years of wartime government control. There was a rush to attics and basements where spark sets and headphones had been gathering dust. Electronics shops opened around the Bay Area to serve thousands of amateurs, many of them veterans who had worked with vacuum tubes sets while in the armed forces, now looking for tubes and other parts to rebuild their home stations.

Advertisement for Kennedy Model X radio in Radio News magazine, October 1923 (Perham Collection of Early Electronics).
Advertisement for Kennedy Model X radio in Radio News magazine, October 1923 (Perham Collection of Early Electronics).

By 1922, the radio had moved into the living room. With the introduction of the loudspeaker, the whole family could listen without sharing a set of headphones. A “Radio Craze” was on as manufacturers faced a new demand for radio sets that were easy to operate as well as attractive. Inventors like Harold Elliott pioneered one-knob and push-button tuning, “so simple a woman can operate it.” More than ten million receivers were in use in America by 1928, and the market kept growing. Hundreds of commercial radio stations that offered diverse community-based programming were swept under the umbrellas of powerful broadcasting networks, dominated by NBC (National Broadcasting Company) and CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System).

Sight soon joined sound. In 1927, Philo Farnsworth successfully transmitted an image using electronic scanning and synchronization, marking the birth of modern television. World War II delayed their debut, but electronic televisions were embraced by post-war consumers, and by 1964, 93 percent of all American households owned a television. The home entertainment industry was here to stay.