Happy Birthday NBC!

Friday, September 9, 2011

On this date in 1926, the National Broadcasting Company was formed by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA--remember them?) as the first major broadcast network in the United States (radio first, television added in 1938).  Headquartered in New York City's Rockefeller Plaza, NBC currently owns/operates 10 television stations and has a network of nearly 200 affiliates throughout the United States and its territories.

Originally started as RCA's attempt to sell its radios to the public, NBC proceeded to establish radio networks on both the East and West coasts (and even dabbled in shortwave broadcasting in the late 1920s and early 1930s) which helped to connect a widely dispersed American population .  During their heyday, the likes of Amos 'n' Andy, Jack Benny, George Burns and Gracie Allen could be heard resonating throughout this nation during a period when radio's media supremacy was nearly universal.  My first remembrance of their programming  was in the mid 1970s when the NBC News and Information Network was established (our area was fortunate enough to have a local subscribing station--WBRE).  With the 'norm' of news bulletins only being delivered at the top of the hour, a 24/7 outlet devoted entirely to current events and other information was a welcomed addition for this budding news 'junkie'.  Unfortunately, that network could not attain profitability and was scrapped less than two years after it started (I would have to wait until 1980 and the introduction of CNN to regain that accessibility again).  In 1987, NBC sold its radio assets to Westwood One and their direct involvement (mostly news-related) was completely removed from that company's broadcasting in 2003.

NBC's television beginnings were also related to the business of technology.  David Sarnoff, RCA's first general manager, introduced this new medium to the public at the 1939-1940 Worlds Fair in anticipation of selling these new appliances to an audience already enamored with radio's immediacy and intimacy.  Inopportunely, the high costs of these devices and the lack of programming (combined with the national sacrifices endured during World World II) pushed the general acceptance of television into American homes until the late 1940s and early 1950s.  Over the years, the network pioneered much of the programming that we take for granted in the present.  Sporting events, morning news and evening talk shows and musical programming are just some of the innovations that can be credited to 'The Peacock Network'.  One that I frequently view is the Sunday morning news/interview shows ('Meet the Press', billed as "the longest running television series in American history", made its debut in November 1947).  That show and its many competitors have become the preferred place to go where politicians and the press square off and attempt to speak directly to the American people (to varying degrees of success).  The network's cable news outlet (MSNBC) directly competes with Fox News Channel and CNN for the 24/7 news viewership to varying--and subjective--degrees of success.

NBC, through its ownership by General Electric up through last year and the regulatory process incurred by current proprietor Comcast Corporation (with a 51/49 majority split with GE), has been the most visible recent example of corporate involvement with the media.  Although all of the other major networks have similar arrangements (ABC and Disney, CBS and Viacom, Fox and News Corporation, CNN and Time Warner), it seems that they receive an inordinate amount of scrutiny concerning their news objectivity and perceived bias from, surprisingly, an organization that can be accused of the same practices (Fox News Channel).  This recent transfer of ownership will set a standard for future media acquisitions and the lingering issue of programming and content control for today's broadcast and internet outlets.

P.S.  I deliberately avoided discussing NBC's entertainment programming for cause.  The last series of theirs that I routinely watched ('Kings') was cancelled after just 13 episodes back in 2009.  It was a well-produced and critically acclaimed show that, unfortunately, was not marketed correctly and was left to unsuccessfully fend for itself in the flotsam and jetsam of television's current 'wasteland' of reality-based programming.  Despite the best attempts of a rabid fan base petition effort, no attempts at producing a second season (or transferring it over to one of NBC Universal's cable television outlets) were entertained so I am avoiding watching any NBC prime-time programming if I can help it--NFL games being the only exception.

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