Saturday, January 30, 2010

Pioneers Who Shaped the Sounds of Radio: Lee De Forest, Edwin Armstrong, David Sarnoff, William Paley, and Edward Murrow.


I’m Barbara Klein.


And I’m Steve Ember with PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English. Today, we will tell about several men who influenced the development of radio.


Some people say radio was invented by Guglielmo Marconi of Italy. Marconi sent the first radio communication signals through the air in eighteen ninety-five. In fact, no one person can be called the inventor of radio. Many people, including several Americans, helped to develop radio. You may not know their names. However, their work affected many people.

Over the years, radio has become one of the most important forms of communication. It can be used for two- way communication, such as between a ship and land. Scientists even use radio to communicate into space. And radio broadcasts let people send words, music and information to any part of the world.


William Shockley and Lee De Forest
The first experimental radio broadcasts in the United States were made in the early nineteen hundreds. One of the first broadcasts came from the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City in nineteen ten. It included music by the great singer Enrico Caruso. An American inventor, Lee De Forest, produced that broadcast.

Only a few people could hear the broadcast. Some were people in the New York area who had built radio receivers. Some ships at sea and military radio stations received the broadcast. Many newspapers of the day reported on the event. The name of Lee De Forest became part of broadcasting history.


De Forest developed some of the technology used in early radio. During his lifetime, he invented hundreds of devices that were used in telephones, shortwave radio broadcasts, and similar technology.

His most famous invention was the vacuum tube, or electron tube. In nineteen-oh-six, the electron tube was considered the single most important development in electronics. The device made it possible to strengthen radio signals and to send them over long distances. It was a major reason for the fast growth of the electronics and communications industries in the early part of the twentieth century.


Edward Howard Armstrong and his wife, Marion
listen to the world's first portable radio, 1923.
Edwin Armstrong was another American inventor who was important in the development of electronics and radio communication. Armstrong developed technology that helped to improve radio reception. He discovered ways to limit unwanted radio signals. Edwin Armstrong also was a leader in using radio to reproduce sounds clearly. This process became known as frequency modulation, or FM radio. FM radio provided better sound reproduction and less noise or interference than traditional AM radio. Armstrong also developed radio receivers that became widely used.



Many experts say station KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was the first American radio station. It broadcast results of the American presidential election in November, nineteen twenty. That is generally considered the start of professional radio broadcasting in the United States.

Soon, radio stations began to appear in other areas. In nineteen twenty-two, two stations in New York State joined together to broadcast the championship game of American baseball. The stations were connected by telephone lines. This permitted them to share the same program. It was one of the first examples of a radio network.

[insert caption here]STEVE EMBER:

By the middle of the nineteen-twenties, there were two main radio networks in the United States. The National Broadcasting Corporation, NBC, was formed by the Radio Corporation of America. NBC became the first permanent national network. The other network was the Columbia Broadcasting System, called CBS. The networks provided programs to radio stations across the country. Local stations created very few programs. What listeners heard in New York was often heard in Los Angeles, California and other cities.


David Sarnoff, 1912, sending messages by
telegraph to rescue ships in the Atlantic
David Sarnoff was the man responsible for NBC. As a young man, Sarnoff had taught himself Morse code. He got a job with the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company where he worked as a telegraph operator. He was on duty when the passenger ship Titanic sank in the Atlantic Ocean in nineteen twelve. Sarnoff helped the rescue effort by informing other ships about the accident. He understood that someone using radio could affect many lives. By nineteen twenty-one, Sarnoff was an official of the Radio Corporation of America. He pushed RCA to enter broadcasting. The company soon earned huge profits. Five years later, David Sarnoff helped create NBC. David Sarnoff developed the theory of broadcasting.

This was very different from the communication between two people speaking to each other on a telephone. Radio meant that someone could speak to millions of people.



William S. Paley developed another radio network. In nineteen twenty-eight, Paley left his family's business. He spent several hundred thousand dollars on several radio stations. These stations became known as the Columbia Broadcasting System. Paley's friends and advisers told him that he had made a huge mistake. They said his dream of building a large and important radio network would never come true. Paley did not listen to them. Instead, he went to see the heads of some of the largest American companies to get their financial support for his network.

Frank Sinatra on CBS
Then, Paley searched for the best people he could find to produce the radio shows and news programming he wanted. He paid them well. William Paley was always looking for people with special skills. One night, he attended a show by the popular Tommy Dorsey Band. A young man with the group sang during the performance. His name was Frank Sinatra. Sinatra soon had his own program with CBS, Paley's radio network.



Radio was extremely popular in the United States between the late nineteen twenties and the early nineteen fifties. This period is known as the Golden Age of Broadcasting.

During this period, families gathered in their living rooms every night to listen to radio shows. Children hurried from school to hear shows created for them. In the daytime, millions of women listened to radio plays called soap operas. They were called soap operas because companies that make soap paid for the shows.


Radio influenced the way many people felt about their community and the world. It permitted them to sit at home and hear what was happening in other areas. During World War Two, people could hear the voices of world leaders, such as American President Franklin Roosevelt.

FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT: “When the dictators -- if the dictators -- are ready to make war upon us, they will not wait for an act of war on our part. They did not wait for Norway or Belgium or the Netherlands to commit an act of war.”

Edward R. Murrow

Listeners also could hear the voices of reporters covering World War Two. Edward R. Murrow became famous for reporting about the war. People sometimes could hear guns and bombs exploding during his report.

EDWARD R. MURROW: “The plane is still very high and it’s quite clear that he’s not coming in for his bombing run…Earlier this evening we could hear occasional—again, those were explosions overhead. Earlier this evening, we heard a number of bombs go sliding and slithering across, to fall several blocks away.”


In nineteen thirty-seven, Edward R. Murrow was the only representative of CBS in Europe. Murrow built a team of news reporters whose names would become well known to listeners. Murrow and reporter William Shirer made broadcasting history in nineteen thirty-eight. They organized a special broadcast with European reaction to the seizure of Austria by Nazi Germany. The show had reports from London, Berlin, Paris and Rome. It was a huge success.


In the United States, the rise of television in the nineteen fifties ended the Golden Age of Radio Broadcasting. More and more people started to watch television. Most of the popular shows disappeared from radio.

The car radio is very important. People often
listen to their car radio during long commutes
from their jobs to their homes.
Many people believed television would cause radio broadcasting to become unimportant. However, the number of radio listeners continues to grow. Most experts say radio will continue to be important during this century.


This program was written by George Grow. It was produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Steve Ember.


And I'm Barbara Klein. Join us again next week for PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English.


1. Lee De Forest invented the ____________________ .

a: radio
b: vacuum tube
c: news broadcast
d: telegraph

2. FM (frequency modulation) provided ____________ than AM radio.
a: more programs
b: fewer ads
c: less noise or interference
d: higher volume

3. __________________ sent the first communication signals through the air.
a: Guglielmo Marconi
b: Lee De Forest
c: Edward Murrow
d: David Sarnoff

4. A network allows radio stations to broadcast _______________________ .
a: worldwide
b: the same program
c: sporting events
d: to different sized radios

5. The Golden Age of Radio occurred between _____________________ .
a: 1920 and 1950
b: 1900 and 1940
c: 1940 and 1970
d: 1920 until the present

6. David Sarnoff created NBC by ___________________________ .
a: developing FM radio
b: teaching himself the Morse code
c: helping in the rescue effort for the sinking Titanic
d: encouraging RCA to enter broadcasting

7. In the 1950s, you wouldn't be able to enjoy a _________________ on the radio.
a: news program
b: soap opera
c: movie
d: music program

8. Columbia Broadcasting System was developed by ______________________ .
a: David Sarnoff
b: Lee De Forest
c: Guglielmo Marconi
d: William S. Paley

9. An advertisement for a detergent would likely be heard during a ________________ .
a: news program
b: music program
c: soap opera
d: children's program

10. The rise of television in the 1950s caused radio to become _________________ .
a: extinct
b: less popular
c: more popular
d: a better source of news and music

11. During a traffic jam on the freeway, a commuter is most likely to _________________ in order to relieve boredom.
a: listen to their car radio
b: watch a movie on their ipad
c: drink a couple of bottles of Corona
d: talk to family members using Skype

Moon river, wider than a mile
I'm crossin' you in style some day
Old dream maker, you heartbreaker
Wherever you're goin', I'm goin' your way

Two drifters, off to see the world
There's such a lot of world to see
We're after the same rainbow's end, waitin' 'round the bend
My huckleberry friend, Moon River, and me

[instrumental-first verse]

Two drifters, off to see the world
There's such a lot of world to see
We're after the same rainbow's end, waitin' 'round the bend
My huckleberry friend, Moon River, and me

Language notes:

Often in vernacular English,
the "g" in words ending in "ing" is dropped.
"crossin'", "goin'" "waitin'" etc.

"Huckleberry friend" is a reference to
the novel Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain,
where a boy, Huckleberry Finn, travels up
the Mississippi River with his friend,
an escaping slave named Jim.

"drifter" refers to a person with no
home and no particular destination.

"rainbow's end" refers to an old myth
that where a rainbow ends, there is
treasure to be found.

"round the bend" means around the curve
of a road, part of the road you can't see.
In other words, you can't tell what the
future will bring.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"A History of Transportation in America" from Voice of America.


Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Shirley Griffith.


And I'm Faith Lapidus. This week, travel back in time to explore the history of transportation in the United States.



In eighteen-hundred, Americans elected Thomas Jefferson as their third president. Jefferson had a wish. He wanted to discover a waterway that crossed from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. He wanted to build a system of trade that connected people throughout the country. At that time the United States did not stretch all the way across the continent.

Lewis and Clark

Jefferson proposed that a group of explorers travel across North America in search of such a waterway. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led the exploration west from eighteen-oh-three to eighteen-oh-six. They discovered that the Rocky Mountains divided the land. They also found no coast-to-coast waterway.

So Jefferson decided that a different transportation system would best connect American communities. This system involved roads, rivers and railroads. It also included the digging of waterways.


By the middle of the eighteen-hundreds, dirt roads had been built in parts of the nation. The use of river steamboats increased. Boats also traveled along man-made canals which strengthened local economies.

The American railroad system began. Many people did not believe train technology would work. In time, railroads became the most popular form of land transportation in the United States.

In nineteenth-century American culture, railroads were more than just a way to travel. Trains also found their way into the works of writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Walt Whitman.


In eighteen-seventy-six, the United States celebrated its one-hundredth birthday. By now, there were new ways to move people and goods between farms, towns and cities. The flow of business changed. Lives improved.

Within those first one-hundred years, transportation links had helped form a new national economy.

(MUSIC: "I've Been Working on the Railroad")


Workers finished the first coast-to-coast railroad in eighteen-sixty-nine. Towns and cities could develop farther away from major waterways and the coasts. But, to develop economically, many small communities had to build links to the railroads.

Railroads helped many industries, including agriculture. Farmers had a new way to send wheat and grain to ports. From there, ships could carry the goods around the world.

Trains had special container cars with ice to keep meat, milk and other goods cold for long distances on their way to market.

People could now get fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the year. Locally grown crops could be sold nationally. Farmers often hired immigrant workers from Asia and Mexico to plant, harvest and pack these foods.


By the early nineteen hundreds, American cities had grown. So, too, had public transportation. The electric streetcar became a common form of transportation. These trolleys ran on metal tracks built into streets.

Soon, however, people began to drive their own cars. Nelson Jackson and his friend, Sewall Crocker, were honored as the first to cross the United States in an automobile. Their trip in nineteen-oh-three lasted sixty-three days. And it was difficult. Mainly that was because few good roads for driving existed.

But the two men, and their dog Bud, also had trouble with their car and with the weather. Yet, they proved that long-distance travel across the United States was possible. The trip also helped fuel interest in the American automobile industry.


By nineteen thirty, more than half the families in America owned an automobile. For many, a car became a need, not simply an expensive toy. To deal with the changes, lawmakers had to pass new traffic laws and rebuild roads.

Cars also needed businesses to service them. Gas stations, tire stores and repair centers began to appear.

Many people took to the road for personal travel or to find work. The open highway came to represent independence and freedom. During the nineteen twenties and thirties, the most traveled road in the United States was Route Sixty-Six. It stretched from Chicago, Illinois, to the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica, California. It was considered the "people's highway."


The writer John Steinbeck called Route Sixty-Six the "Mother Road" in his book "The Grapes of Wrath." Hundreds of thousands of people traveled this Mother Road during the Great Depression of the nineteen thirties. They came from the middle of the country. They moved West in search of work and a better life.

In nineteen forty-six, Nat King Cole came out with this song, called "Route Sixty-Six."

(MUSIC: "Route 66")


World War Two ended in nineteen forty-five. Soldiers came home and started families. Businesses started to move out to the edges of cities where suburbs were developing. Most families in these growing communities had cars, bicycles or motorcycles to get around. Buses also became popular.

The movement of businesses and people away from city centers led to the economic weakening of many downtown areas. City leaders reacted with transportation projects designed to support downtown development.

Underground train systems also became popular in the nineteen fifties. Some people had enough money to ride on the newest form of transportation: the airplane.


But for most automobile drivers, long-distance travel remained somewhat difficult. There was no state-to-state highway system. In nineteen fifty-six Congress passed a law called the Federal-Aid Highway Act. Engineers designed a sixty-five-thousand kilometer system of roads. They designed highways to reach every city with a population over one-hundred-thousand.

The major work on the Interstate Highway System was completed around nineteen ninety. It cost more than one-hundred-thousand-million dollars. It has done more than simply make a trip to see family in another state easier. It has also led to the rise of the container trucking industry.

(MUSIC: "Truckin")


The American transportation system started with horses and boats. It now includes everything from container trucks to airplanes to motorcycles. Yet, in some ways, the system has been a victim of its own success.

Many places struggle with traffic problems as more and more cars fill the roads. And a lot of people do not just drive cars anymore. They drive big sport utility vehicles and minivans and personal trucks.

For others, hybrid cars are the answer. Hybrids use both gas and electricity. They save fuel and reduce pollution. But pollution is not the only environmental concern with transportation. Ease of travel means development can spread farther and farther. And that means the loss of natural areas.

Yet, every day, Americans depend on their transportation system to keep them, and the largest economy in the world, on the move.



The National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. has a transportation exhibition that explores the connection to the economic, social and cultural development of the United States. And you can experience it all on the Internet at americanhistory-dot-s-i-dot-e-d-u. Again, the address is americanhistory-dot-s-i-dot-e-d-u. (


Our program was written by Jill Moss and produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Faith Lapidus.


And I'm Shirley Griffith. Join us again next week for the VOA Special English program THIS IS AMERICA.