Rediscovery of FM Broadcasting
January 1958 Radio Electronics Article
of FM Broadcasting" could be a contemporary headline. The decline
of broadcast radio has been a major concern of station owners for
well over a decade since Internet and satellite radio has dominated
the venue through which listeners access radio stations. Local broadcasters
have long aired syndicated programs that include national advertising,
but the money to pay for those segments came from revenue supplied
largely by local companies. FM broadcasting began commercially around
1945 in the familiar 88-108 MHz band yielded by the military
following World War II, and grew in number of stations very
rapidly in the first few years. Then, it began a decline for a few
more years until finally leveling off after about a decade. Even
though FM had a clear advantage (literally) over AM because of electrical
noise immunity (car alternators, household appliances, lightning,
arcing power lines on wet days), and its license to broadcast at
night, is seems the public was not overly willing to shell out money
for new radios when their old radios sufficed. The broadcast radio
industry sprang into action in educating the public as to the advantages
of FM, including none of the aforementioned AM weaknesses as well
as superior music quality and stereo channel separation. It worked
smashingly well (...a little British lingo). Today, broadcast radio
(and television for that matter) is again fighting to survive in
the presence of cable, satellite, Wi-Fi, Internet, and other alternative
means. Ultimately, it comes down to who can attract enough advertisers
to pay the bills. This is an example of is Capitalism at its finest.
January 1958 Radio-Electronics
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
published 1929 - 1948. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
of FM Broadcasting
By David Lachenbruch
Once almost down and out, FM is on the
This year, for the first time since the very
early 1950's, you'll see FM radios displayed by nearly all major
manufacturers - and a greater assortment of imported and minor-brand
FM sets than ever before.
This spring or summer, you're
likely to see the first AM-FM automobile radios bearing the imprint
of top U. S. car radio manufacturers.
Is it for real this
time? Is FM going to catch on after 10 disappointing years?
It's still too early to tell. But this much is apparent - FM
is experiencing a very definite boost in popularity which seems
sure to accelerate in 1958.
It's a small increase, but it
shows up at both the broadcasting and the receiving ends of the
business. The downward trend in number of stations on the air and
in production of receiving sets has halted for the first time since
early 1950. If the signs of FM's health were plotted on a graph,
1956-57 would show up as the beginning of a small upward bump (see
Fig. 1). The new signs of FM life bear close watching by everyone
whose livelihood - or interest - is geared to radio.
A sick industry
Blaupunkt Kolon 3-way auto radio has FM, AM and longwave
Ask almost any broadcaster and he'll tell
you that FM is still a very sick industry, a far cry from the virile
newcomer who seemed destined to knock AM radio out of the spectrum
after World War II - until television came along.
of FM stations on the air began tapering from its peak of 730 late
in 1949, dwindling to 536 by early 1956. Then the casualties virtually
stopped, and the number of operating stations even increased slightly
to 544 by September, 1957.
Then, last summer, the FCC's
normally quiet FM section was stunned by a comparative avalanche
of applications for new stations. During a single 8-week period,
the commission received a total of 24 applications - an average
of 3 a week, compared with fewer than one a week in the same period
the preceding year. Applications on file for new stations now total
For the first time in years, the FCC has more
applications than available channels in some big cities - making
it necessary to hold hearings among applicants for contested frequencies.
In the New York City area, where 16 FM stations are operating
or authorized, there are 6 applications for the 2 vacant channels.
In Los Angeles, where 17 are on the air with 1 more ready to start,
5 applicants are vying for 2 remaining channels. In Philadelphia,
7 are operating and there are 4 applicants for the 4 available assignments.
These cases are exceptions, of course. In most locations
- even big cities like Chicago - FM channels are going begging.
But these illustrations are indications of the broadcaster's current
reappraisal of FM's possibilities.
Fig. 1 - FM stations on the air. Slight upturn began early
in 1957 along with sharp increase in applications.
Fig. 2 - FM receiver production by years, including TV sets
with continuous tuners which tune FM band. Without such
sets, FM set production would have dipped to about 878,000
in 1949, staying at about this level in 1950-51.
There were other signs of a renewed
interest in FM in 1957. Westinghouse Broadcasting Co. ended the
repeater status of its FM outlets in Pittsburgh. Pa., and Portland,
Ore., programming them separately from their AM companions - with
classical music exclusively. Westinghouse also applied for a new
FM station in Boston to replace the one it took off the air 2 years
ago, and ordered brand-new transmitting equipment for its Cleveland
FM outlet. Both of these will also be independently programmed with
A few other large-network-affiliated outlets
began programming their FM stations independently from AM - Washington's
WMAL is an example. And NBC applied for a new FM station in Philadelphia
as a companion for its AM and TV stations there, but currently has
no plans for separate FM programs.
Many FM-only stations,
and independently programmed FM's, report a definite increase in
the amount of mail received from listeners - generally considered
a reliable indication of a pickup in audience size.
the long years of FM's post-1949 famine, one question frequently
asked in the broadcasting industry has been: If FM is dead, why
won't it lie down? Why did considerably more than half of the peak
730 stations stay on the air, when official FCC figures show only
a handful of them making a profit from FM operations?
National Association of Radio & Television Broadcasters, in
a recent questionnaire to FM broadcasters. asked each one to give
its own reason. The most recurrent answers were:
1. By duplicating
AM programs on the FM transmitter, it costs virtually nothing to
stay on the air.
2. FM listeners are a loyal bunch and it
would be poor public relations to turn the station off.
3. FM gives daytime-only AM staions an opportunity to provide some
4. Duplicating programs on FM extends
the coverage of low-powered AM stations.
5. Local sports
events, carried on FM only, have a big following.
possibility of future developments in the FM band makes it worth
while to keep a foot in the door.
It's impossible to estimate
just how many FM dials are actually being twisted. About 8,000,000
sets have been produced since FM started up after the war, but how
many have been scrapped or are standing idle, nobody knows.
aren't even any current statistics on FM receiver production or
sales. The industry's record keeper, Electronic Industries Association
(formerly RETMA), stopped keeping track several years ago when manufacturers'
interest in FM approached the vanishing point.
(or RETMA as it was then) stopped counting, it estimated 1,175,000
sets were produced in 1947, peaking to a high point of 1,600,000
in 1948 (see Fig. 2). Then came the drop, with annual output dipping
to a little over half a million by 1952. In subsequent years, production
probably fell to about 200,000 annually, reaching this lowest ebb
A turning point came in 1955. That year, it's estimated
that production of sets and tuners increased to 275,000. The uptrend
continued in 1956, with sales climbing well over 400,000, and an
educated guess would put 1957 sales somewhere above half a million.
Not a boom by any means - but a step up.
Hi fi and FM
What did it? All of the probable answers revolve around
high fidelity and the education of the American ear.
audio aficionados had been hooking up components for best possible
musical reproduction for years, their purchases of FM tuners (made
by nearly 20 small manufacturers) never comprised a numerically
important factor for nationwide FM. But their enthusiasm was so
contagious that by 1955 it had spread to some important manufacturers,
who decided that hi fi might become a magic word for the mass market.
The time was ripe. Phonograph records had attained a quality far
beyond the ability of the average phonograph to reproduce. The natural
companion to hi-fi recordings was hi-fi radio-FM.
Telefunken Opus covers FM, AM and shortwave bands.
Pilot's FM-530, FM tuner.
RCA International receiver, European made, has FM, AM, 2
1956, the first big year for packaged hi fi, most of the 500,000
units sold under the hi-fi label did not contain FM. The number
doubled in 1956 and a greater proportion of them had FM tuners.
In 1957, it's estimated that some 1,700,000 packaged hi-fi units
were sold. It's improbable that anywhere near half of them had FM,
but the proportion increased again.
Distributors in some
cities now report that it's practically imposible to sell packaged
hi-fi unit without FM.
At least some of the credit for America's
recently renewed interest in FM is due the Germans. In Germany,
where FM has virtually replaced AM because of the crowded broadcast
band, manufacturers with such jawbreaking names as Grundig, Telefunken
and Blaupunkt began exporting their generally excellent FM-AM-SW
sets to the U. S. The Germans are believed to have sold as many
as 50,000 here in 1956 and perhaps 75,000 in 1957. American manufacturers
sat up and took notice.
More American sets
the long FM famine, only one major U. S. manufacturer - Zenith -
continually produced FM receivers in quantity. Late in 1954, just
before the FM upturn began, a small American manufacturer - Granco
Products, Inc. - experimentally turned out a $30 FM-only set with
a circuit based on the design of its uhf TV converter. This clicked,
and Granco claims its sales of FM sets and tuners hit 100,000 in
1956, and even more in 1957.
Other American manufacturers
have decided to try again. For their 1958 lines they have announced
not only hi-fi sets which include FM tuners, but such items as FM-AM
clock radios and table models. Among those now offering or preparing
to offer FM sets are: Motorola (its first since 1952), Admiral (first
since 1954), RCA (which will import a specially made set from Germany),
GE, Philco, Arvin, Columbia, Magnavox, Stromberg-Carlson and Olympic.
British radio manufacturers are also hoping to crack the 1958 U.
S. markets with their FM sets. At least one Japanese manufacturer
plans to export FM tuners to this country.
Also from Germany,
along with German-made automobiles, came FM auto radios. Again,
U. S. manufacturers plan to follow suit. It's understood that both
Motorola and Philco have FM car radios on the drawing boards for
introduction this spring or summer.
Last summer, the FCC
asked for the TV industry's comments on a proposal to facilitate
highway FM reception with standard buggy-whip auto antennas by permitting
FM stations to use vertical polarization in place of the traditional
horizontal polarization. Commenting on this proposal, some FM stations
pointed out that the FCC rules already permit circular or elliptical
polarization which could produce the same effect without any changes
in the rules. (However, no station is currently using circular or
elliptical polarization). Other stations expressed the view that
present transmissions can be picked up satisfactorily by conventional
auto radio antennas, that if there is any reception problem at all,
it will be in areas far distant from FM stations.
these signs point to a definite increase in public awareness of
FM. But FM station operators have their eyes on another development
which they hope will permit them to keep serving a small and loyal
public audience, and make money too.
This is multiplexing
(see "Multiplexing and You," Radio-Electronics, October, 1957) -
now permitted by the FCC on a regular basis. The commission has
more than 50 applications by existing FM stations who want to begin
this service, and a number of them have already started.
Stations plan many ingenious uses for the multiplexing technique.
Among them are background music for stores, factories and offices;
specialized programs beamed to schools; special home-study courses,
etc.- all to be offered simultaneously with, and in addition to,
regular FM broadcasts.
Equipment has already been developed
for binaural radio using a single FM channel. Some day soon, multiplex
FM receivers may well be a companion to binaural tape players in
Which way FM? The signs of renewed activity in
the 8-108-mc band are not of boom proportions. But there is more
hope today than at any time since 1949 that this superior form of
radio finally will take its well deserved place under the audio
January 8, 2014