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background on marconi radio awards
by Hugh Stegman
Friday Sep 22nd, 2000 11:35 AM
The Marconi Radio Awards, given yearly by the NAB, are classic corporate disinformation. The Marconi name is being appropriated unfairly for private gain.
On Saturday, the NAB gives out its Marconi Radio Awards for excellence in broadcasting, sort of a radio Emmy. There are around 20 categories. The most watched one is usually won by a hate-speech radio host, such as Rush Limbaugh or Dr. Laura.

That the NAB, a lobbying group spending millions yearly for Congressional favors, would name an award after Marconi is yet another one of those classic appropriations of the language so effectively used in most corporate propaganda. Marconi had no use for broadcasting, considered it venal and exploitative, and envisioned his wireless as a communication tool, first for transatlantic news and radiograms, then to save lives at sea. When the Titanic sank, the RMS Carpathia was able to rescue 800 people because of a distress call over a Marconi radio.

In fact, Marconi originally turned down a suggestion written by one of his young telegraph operators, an immigrant boy known as David Sarnoff, who later became the first Rupert Murdoch. Sarnoff suggested some sort of radio music box that could entertain people like a juke box. Marconi, in what is admittedly one of the worst business decisions of all time, turned his suggestion down.

Marconi Wireless & Telegraph was a British company, and after World War I, this was a problem. Someone lobbied the US government, convincing many from President Wilson on down that British ownership of wireless stations in the USA threatened our national security. History is vague who did most of the convincing, but David Sarnoff and Owen Young, his lawyer, are on the short list.

There is a corporate connection here, as Marconi had just begun a conversion of inefficient spark transmitters to alternators, putting them into direct competition with General Electric, which had started as the wireless telegraphy division of Edison. Owen Young "convinced" Marconi that the government would put him out of the American wireless telegraphy business one way or another, and in 1919 Marconi of America sold all assets to General Electric. GE spun off its communication division to form RCA, the Radio Corporation of America, which Sarnoff rapidly rose to control.

For a generation, RCA was a radio monopoly in the US. It owned most of the patents, including the superheterodyne circuit itself, so when broadcasting exploded in 1920, nobody built really good radios without a license, and the licenses were expensive. RCA also kept television off the market for another generation, until Sarnoff, not Philo Farnsworth, could control it. WW II, not Viet Nam, should have been the first living room war. Due to corporate legal obstruction, it was not.

Marconi stood for the best in communication. RCA stood for monopoly, deception, and corporate power. Marconi stood for individual initiative. NAB stands for privilege, favoritism, and political corruption. The Marconi name deserves better than to be appropriated for private business prestige by a venal industry organization known mostly for 70 years of unfettered greed.

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