NBC’s 90th anniversary celebration, at 9 p.m. Sunday, takes two hours to chart the network’s story starting with radio.
But the focus will be on television and such classic series as “Laugh-In,” “Saturday Night Live,” “Hill Street Blues,” “Cheers,” “The Golden Girls,” “Seinfeld,” “ER” and “Friends.” Kelsey Grammer of “Frasier” hosts the program from the Paley Center. The starry representatives include William Shatner, Ted Danson and Tina Fey. Here’s hoping they give Johnny Carson a lot of love.
In 1923, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) acquired control of WJZ in Newark, New Jersey (now WABC), from Westinghouse, and moved the station to New York City. The same year, RCA obtained a license for station WRC in Washington, D.C. (now WTEM), and attempted to transmit audio between WJZ and WRC via low-quality telegraph lines, in an effort to make a network comparable to that operated by American Telephone & Telegraph.
AT&T had created its own network in 1922, with WEAF in New York serving the research and development function for Western Electric's research and development of radio transmitters and antennas, as well as AT&T's long-distance and local Bell technologies for transmitting voice- and music-grade audio over short and long distances, via both wireless and wired methods. WEAF's regular schedule of a variety of programs, and its selling of commercial sponsorships, had been a success, and what was known at first as "chain broadcasting" became a network that linked WJAR in Providence, Rhode Island (now WHJJ) and AT&T's WCAP in Washington, D.C. (now off the air).
Since AT&T refused access of its high-quality phone lines to competitors, RCA's New York-Washington operated with uninsulated telegraph lines which were incapable of good audio transmission quality and very susceptible to both atmospheric and man-made electrical interference. In 1926, however, the management of AT&T concluded that operating a radio network was incompatible with its operation of America's telephone and telegraph service, and sold WEAF and WCAP to RCA for approximately one million dollars. As part of the purchase, RCA also gained the rights to rent AT&T's phone lines for network transmission, and the technology for operating a quality radio network.
On September 13, 1926, RCA chairman of the board Owen D. Young and president James G. Harbord announced the formation of the National Broadcasting Company, Inc., to begin broadcasting upon RCA's acquisition of WEAF on November 15. "The purpose of the National Broadcasting Company will be to provide the best programs available for broadcasting in the United States. ... It is hoped that arrangements may be made so that every event of national importance may be broadcast widely throughout the United States," announced M.H. Aylesworth, the first president of NBC, in the press release.
|David Sarnoff - 1939|
Although RCA was identified as the creator of the network, NBC was actually owned 50% by RCA, 30% by General Electric, and 20% by Westinghouse.
The network officially was launched at 8 p.m. ET on Monday, November 15, 1926.
Dubbed the National Broadcast Company, it originally had two separate networks, both focused primarily on the East Coast: the Red Network, which broadcast entertainment and music, and the Blue Network, which carried news. In 1927 the West Coast got its own version of the Red and Blue with the creation of the Orange and Gold networks, which largely showed the same programs. Two years later NBC broadcast its signature three-note chime for the first time as a way to present the station identification required by their broadcast license.
Almost from the start, however, legal troubles tangled NBC's corporate history. In 1931 antitrust issues forced RCA to split from General Electric; the orphaned company moved into new digs in New York City's Rockefeller Center (which remains its headquarters to this day). Despite a spirited rivalry with fellow broadcasting giant CBS in the golden age of radio, NBC ruled the dial — a supremacy that sparked further antitrust investigations from the newly created Federal Communications Commission. In 1939 the FCC ordered RCA to spin off NBC entirely; RCA, in a successful effort to avoid this outcome, instead sold off the Blue Network in 1943. It would eventually become the American Broadcasting Company (now known as ABC).