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h) Armstrong jazzes the world in FM

h) Armstrong jazzes the world in FM

25.03.2019

 

Countering the common tenet of bandwidth conservation, Edwin H. Armstrong, a student and later a professor at Columbia University, had the brilliant insight that increasing bandwidth through frequency modulation (FM) could actually reduce noise. Patented by Armstrong in 1933, FM delivers a much clearer sound than AM, dominant at the time. Invited by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Armstrong played a jazz record over AM radio, then switched to FM and shocked the audience with the leap in quality. He then financed construction of the first FM radio station at 42.8 MHz. This was too revolutionary for the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), which lobbyied for a change in the law that would prevent FM from becoming dominant. David Sarnoff and RCA got the FCC to move FM radio from 42-50 MHz to 88-108 MHz, thereby rendering all FM sets useless overnight and protecting RCA's AM-radio stronghold. RCA further claimed the invention of FM and won its own patent, leaving Armstrong unable to claim royalties. Ruined and despaired, he jumped to his death in 1954. His widow, who had been Sarnoff's secretary before marrying Armstrong, renewed the legal fight against RCA and finally prevailed. Although it took decades, FM ended up dominating radio broadcasting.

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