The National Broadcasting Company's NBC Radio (known as the NBC Red Network prior to 1942, and the NBC Radio Network thereafter) is an American commercial radio network, founded in 1926, and revived in 2001. Along with the NBC Blue Network it was one of the first two nationwide networks established in the United States. Its major competitors were the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), founded in 1927, and the Mutual Broadcasting System, founded in 1934.
In 1942, NBC was required to divest one of its national networks, so it sold NBC Blue, which was soon renamed the American Broadcasting Company (ABC). After this separation the Red Network continued as the NBC Radio Network. In 1987 NBC sold its remaining radio network operations to Westwood One, which continued using NBC identification for some of its programming until NBC purchased it in 2001 following the purchase of Fisher Communications.
The 1926 formation of the National Broadcasting Company was a consolidation and reorganization of earlier network radio operations developed by the American Telephone & Telegraph Company (AT&T) beginning in 1922, in addition to more limited efforts conducted by the "radio group" companies, which consisted of the Radio Corporation of American (RCA) and its corporate owners, General Electric (GE) and the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company.
Organized radio broadcasting started in the early 1920s. AT&T soon became an industry leader, and in 1920 and 1921 it concluded a series of patent cross-licensing agreements with the "radio group" companies. Under these agreements AT&T asserted that it held the sole right to sell commercial time on radio stations, which it called "toll broadcasting", although for the next few years the idea of radio advertising would be controversial. AT&T also recognized that its longline telephone network could be used to connect radio stations together to form networks to share programming and costs.
In early 1922 AT&T announced the establishment of a "toll" station in New York City, WEAF (now WFAN), plus its intention to develop a nationwide commercial radio network. WEAF would serve as the key station for AT&T's network development. Although the original plan was to build additional stations throughout the United States, the "broadcasting boom" of 1922 resulted in a total of over 500 assorted broadcasting stations by the end of the year, so AT&T only found it necessary to build one additional outlet, WCAP in Washington, D.C., owned by its Chesapeake & Potomac subsidiary.
AT&T's radio network, commonly called the "WEAF chain", was first developed in the northeastern United States. The first joint broadcast was a one-time effort made on January 4, 1923, when a program originating at WEAF was also broadcast by WNAC (now WRKO) in Boston, Massachusetts. The first continuous link was established during the summer of 1923, when Colonel Edward H. R. Green arranged for AT&T to provide WEAF's programming for rebroadcast by his station, WMAF at South Dartmouth, Massachusetts. The first transcontinental link was made in early 1924, and that fall a coast-to-coast network of 23 stations broadcast a speech by President Coolidge. By the end of 1925 there were 26 affiliates in the standard WEAF Chain, extending west to Kansas City, Missouri.
In 1926, AT&T centralized its radio operations in a new subsidiary known as the Broadcasting Company of America. Although not widely known at the time, this was done in anticipation of selling the radio network, the result of a management decision that the radio operations were incompatible with the company's primary role as the leading U.S. supplier of telephone and telegraph services.
The "radio group" quickly recognized the value of network programming, but was badly handicapped in its attempts to effectively compete. AT&T's assertion that only it could sell radio advertising meant that the radio group stations had to be commercial-free, and thus were financed by their owners, which soon became a major drain on company profits. The radio group efforts would be centered on WJZ (now WABC), a Newark, New Jersey station which RCA acquired in 1923 from Westinghouse and moved to New York City. The same year, RCA built WRC in Washington, D.C., and much of its early efforts involved linking these two stations. However, AT&T generally refused access to its high-quality telephone lines to competitors, so these efforts generally tried to use telegraph lines, which were found to be incapable of good quality audio transmissions. Use of high-powered stations and shortwave connections was also investigated, but none of these approaches matched the reliability and quality of AT&T's telephone links.
The first RCA network broadcast occurred in December 1923, when a WJZ program was rebroadcast by General Electric's WGY at Schenectady, New York. The "WJZ chain" saw little growth compared to AT&T's success. President Coolidge's March 1925 inaugural speech was sent over a growing AT&T transcontinental network of 23 stations, but the WJZ chain's broadcast of the speech was carried by only four stations, all located in the East.
Formation of the National Broadcasting CompanyEdit
A few weeks after AT&T consolidated its radio operations in the Broadcasting Company of America subsidiary, it made an agreement to sell the assets to RCA for approximately one million dollars. This sale transferred ownership of WEAF to RCA, and included with the purchase was an agreement by AT&T to make its telephone lines readily available for networking. 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 operations upon RCA's acquisition of WEAF on November 15. A widely placed full-page company advertisement stated that: "The purpose of the National Broadcasting Company will be to provide the best program 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." As part of a renegotiation of the cross-licensing agreements, NBC was also permitted to accept advertising.
NBC's network operations were officially launched with a gala broadcast beginning at 8:00 p.m. Eastern on November 15, 1926. In anticipation, one newspaper reported: "The most pretentious broadcasting program ever presented, featuring among other stars of the theatrical, concert and radio field, some of whom have never been heard on the air, will mark the introduction of the National Broadcasting company to the radio public Monday evening", with NBC president Merlin H. Aylesworth characterizing the event as "a four-hour program beginning at 8 p.m., which will live long in their memories as an occasion marking another milestone in the history of radio broadcasting". Carl Schlegel of the Metropolitan Opera opened the inaugural broadcast, which also featured Will Rogers and Mary Garden. This broadcast, which included a remote link from KYW in Chicago, was coordinated through WEAF, and carried by twenty-two eastern and Midwestern stations, located as far west as WDAF in Kansas City, Missouri.
NBC made its final original radio station acquisition in 1983 when it bought Boston beautiful music outlet WJIB from General Electric, which was divesting itself of its radio properties. In February 1984, the network sold WRC in Washington to Greater Media for $3.6 million. WRC was later rechristened WWRC, and this sale ultimately would be the start of NBC's exit from the original radio business altogether.
General Electric (GE) reacquired NBC's parent company, RCA, in early 1986. Shortly thereafter, GE announced its intention to sell off the entire radio division, and the NBC-owned stations were sold to various buyers over the next two years. This action was due to three main reasons. First, the radio network and station group had struggled to make a profit for the past several years (compounded by flagship station WNBC having been in a severe ratings crisis due to a dayparted patchwork format). Second, FCC ownership rules at the time did not allow a new owner outside of broadcasting – General Electric was a manufacturer – to own both radio and television stations in the same market. Third, GE had already divested their existing radio properties (including the aforementioned WJIB), deciding that the radio business, as well as RCA's, did not fit their strategic objectives. The remainder of RCA was divided and spun off to Bertelsmann and Thomson SA. Prior to 1986, operating NBC Radio was done almost out of tradition by RCA and was considered to be in the "public good," an attitude that started to change with the advent of deregulation.