A Lesson from History
What emerges from Hamilton's summary is that, whatever is happening now in the dissemination of news, it is bound to keep changing. Someday, the Internet will have a place alongside its predecessors as a means of transmission, but as one of several such communicators and perhaps not even the dominant one.
According to Hamilton's account, the first broadcast--on Christmas Eve, 1906--was a violin solo beamed to ships by Reginald Fessenden, an inventor who, working for the U.S. Weather Bureau, devised early warnings systems for storms. Another pioneer was Lee De Forest, who came up with the vacuum tube. De Forest said he "looked forward to the day when . . . news and even advertising will be sent out over the wireless telephone." A press release from an unidentified source saw a future for radio in the emerging automobile. As so often happens in technology, radio was enhanced substantially by military research in the World War I years. At the end of 1922, Hamilton writes, "the Ford Motor Company, the Omaha Grain Exchange, St. Matthew's Cathedral in Laramie, Wyoming; Gimbels; and the Alabama Power Company, as well as seventy-four colleges and universities and sixty-nine newspapers, all owned radio stations."
The role of radio in news remained unclear for the rest of the decade. "If radio is to be the means of distributing news," a newspaper publisher in North Dakota wrote to a colleague in 1924, "the newspaper of the United States will soon have little to offer." In a 1931 speech, Merlin Aylesworth, the president of NBC (which RCA had established as a subsidiary to its electronics company) declared: "The broadcast news flashes are simply glorified headlines that whet the appetite of the listener and make him buy the newspaper for amplification." In the midst of the Great Depression, Hamilton reports, newspapers moved to limit radio news to "two five-minute daily summaries based on bulletins provided by the newly created Press-Radio Bureau. . . . NBC and CBS could not sell ads around the news broadcasts and they were to stay out of the news gathering business. In return, newspapers agreed to run their daily schedules."
Events around the world and the increasing popularity of radio made those restrictions absurd. By the outbreak of World War II, broadcast news over the airwaves was established. "Radio's performance in the current turmoil," said Newsweek, "has proved it the fastest agency yet devised to flash world-shaking events into every home that can afford a receiver. Newspapers were now running schedules as an indispensable service to readers wanting to know when programs would be aired."
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