RCA (Radio Corporation Of America)


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RCA Corporation
Fate Taken over by General Electric and broken up
Founded 1919
Defunct 1986
Headquarters New York, United States[1]
Key people David Sarnoff, first general manager
Industry Electronics
Products RCA Photophone
Electric phonograph
RCA Televisions

RCA Corporation, founded as the Radio Corporation of America, was an electronics company in existence from 1919 to 1986. Currently, the RCA trademark is owned by the French conglomerate Technicolor SA through RCA Trademark Management S.A., a company owned by Technicolor. The trademark is used by Sony Music Entertainment and Technicolor, which licenses the name to other companies like Audiovox and TCL Corporation for products descended from that common ancestor.[2]


RCA's organization by General Electric

On August 4, 1914, the United Kingdom and France declared war on the German Empire and Austria-Hungary, following the German and Austrian invasions of their neighbors, including Serbia and the Russian Empire, which started World War I. Radio traffic across the Atlantic Ocean increased dramatically after the western Allies cut the German transatlantic submarine communication cables (telegraph-only at that time, well-before the first transatlantic telephone cable connected the United States with France in 1956.) Germany, Austria-Hungary, and their allies in Europe (the Central Powers) maintained contact with neutral countries in the Americas, such as the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Peru via long-distance radio communications, as well as via telegraph cables owned by neutral countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark.

In 1917, the U.S. Federal Government took charge of the patents owned by the major companies involved in radio manufacture in the United States in order to devote radio technology to the war effort. All production of radio equipment was allocated to the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and the U.S. Coast Guard. The U.S. Department of War and the U.S. Department of the Navy sought to maintain a Federal monopoly of all uses of radio technology. However, the wartime takeover of all radio systems ended with the tabling of a bill to continue this by the U.S. Congress sometime in the latter part of 1918. {World War I ended on November 11th.)

The ending of the Federal Government's monopoly in radio communications did not prevent the Departments of War and of the Navy from creating a national radio system for the United States.[3] On April 8, 1919, naval Admiral W. H. G. Bullard and Captain Stanford C. Hooper met with executives of the General Electric Corporation (G.E.) to ask for their corporation in discontinuing to sell any of its Alexanderson alternators (used in the high-power amplitude modulation radio transmitters of that era) to the British-owned Marconi Company, and to its subsidiary, the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America.

The gist of the Army's and Navy's proposal was that if G.E. created an American-owned radio company, then the Army and Navy would be able to bring into effect a monopoly of long-distance radio communications via this company. This marked the beginning of a series of negotiations through which G.E. would buy the American Marconi company and then incorporate what would be called the Radio Corporation of America.[4]


The incorporation of the assets of Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America (including David Sarnoff[5]), the Pan-American Telegraph Company, and those already controlled by the United States Navy led to a new publicly held company formed by General Electric (which owned a controlling interest) on 17 October 1919.[6] The following cooperation among RCA, General Electric, the United Fruit Company, the Westinghouse Electric Corporation, and American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T) brought about innovations in high-power radio technology, and also the founding of the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) in the United Sates. The Army and the Navy turned over the former American Marconi radio terminals (to RCA) that had been confiscated during World War I. (Note: there were no commercial radio stations anywhere in the world before 1922 when the station KDKA started broadcasting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.) Admiral Bullard received a seat on the Board of Directors of RCA for his efforts in establishing RCA. The result was Federally-created monopolies in radio for GE and the Westinghouse Corporation and in telephone systems for the American Telephone & Telegraph Company.

The argument by the Department of War and the Department of the Navy that the usable radio frequencies were limited, and hence needed to be appropriated for use before other countries, such as the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Canada monopolized them, collapsed in the mid-1920s following the discovery of the practicality of the use of the shortwave radio band (3.0 MHz though 30.0 MHz) for very long-range radio communications.[7]

The first chief executive officer of RCA was Owen D. Young;[8] David Sarnoff became its general manager. The documents of incorporation of RCA explicitly required it be mostly owned by Americans. RCA took over the marketing of the radio equipment of G.E. and Westinghouse Westinghouse, and in follow-on agreements, RCA also acquired the radio patents that had been held by Westinghouse and the United Fruit Company. As the years went on, RCA either took over, or produced for itself, a large number of patents, including that of the superheterodyne receiver.

Over the years, RCA continued to operate international telecommunications services, under its subsidiary RCA Communications, Inc., and later the RCA Global Communications Company.

Broadcast expansion

By 1926, the market for commercial radio had expanded, and RCA purchased the WEAF and WCAP radio stations and networks from AT&T, merged them with its WJZ (the predecessor of WABC) New York to WRC (presently WTEM) Washington chain, and formed the National Broadcasting Company (NBC).


GE used RCA as its retail arm for radio sales from 1919, when GE began production, until separation in 1930.[9] Westinghouse also marketed home radios through RCA until 1930.[10]


In 1929, RCA purchased the Victor Talking Machine Company, then the world's largest manufacturer of phonographs (including the famous "Victrola") and phonograph records. This included a majority ownership of the Victor Company of Japan, or JVC. The new subsidiary then became RCA-Victor. With Victor, RCA acquired New World rights to the Nipper trademark. This Trademark is also the trademark for the British music & entertainment company HMV who now display nipper in sillohette. RCA Victor produced many radio-phonographs and also created RCA Photophone, a sound-on-film system for sound films that competed with William Fox's sound-on-film Movietone and Warner Bros. sound-on-disc Vitaphone.

RCA began selling the first electronic turntable in 1930. In 1931, RCA Victor developed and released the first 33 rpm records to the public. These had the standard groove size identical to the contemporary 78 rpm records, rather than the "microgroove" used in post-World War II 33 "Long Play" records. The format was a commercial failure at the height of the Great Depression, partially because the records and playback equipment were expensive, and partially because the audio performance was poor (tracking ability depends upon, among other things, the stylus's radius of curvature, and it would require the smaller-radius stylus of the microgroove system to make slower-speed records track acceptably). The system was withdrawn from the market after about a year. (This was not the first attempt at a commercial long play record format, as Edison Records had marketed a microgroove vertically recorded disc with 20 minutes playing time per side the previous decade; the Edison long playing records were also a commercial failure.)

In 1930, RCA became a crucial and key tenant in the yet to be constructed landmark building of the Rockefeller Center complex, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, which from 1933 became known as the RCA building, now the GE Building. This critical lease in the massive project enabled it to proceed as a commercially viable venture.[11]

Separation from General Electric

In 1930, the U.S. Department of Justice brought antitrust charges against RCA, General Electric and Westinghouse. As a result, GE and Westinghouse gave up their ownership interests in RCA. RCA was allowed to keep its radio factories, and GE and Westinghouse were allowed to compete in that business after 30 months.

Electronic television

In 1939, RCA demonstrated an all-electronic television system at the New York World's Fair and developed the USA's first-ever television test pattern. With the introduction of the NTSC standard, the Federal Communications Commission authorized the start of commercial television transmission on July 1, 1941. World War II slowed the deployment of television in the US, but RCA began selling television sets almost immediately after the war was over. (See also: History of television) RCA labs was closely involved in RADAR and radio development efforts in support of the war effort. These development efforts greatly assisted RCA in their television research efforts.

RCA was one of the leading makers of vacuum tubes (branded Radiotron) in the USA, creating a series of innovative products ranging from octal base metal tubes co-developed with General Electric before World War II to the transistor-sized Nuvistor used in the tuners of the New Vista series of television sets. The Nuvistor tubes were a last hurrah for vacuum tubes and were meant to be a competitive technology for the relatively newly introduced transistors. RCA also partnered with Tung-Sol to produce the legendary KT88/6550 hi-fi vacuum tube. Their power in the marketplace was so strong that they effectively set the selling prices for vacuum tubes in the USA. Except for the main cathode ray tube (CRT), the company had completely switched from tubes to solid-state television sets by 1975.

Antitrust concerns led to the breakup of the NBC radio networks by the FCC, a breakup affirmed by the United States Supreme Court. On October 12, 1943, the "NBC Blue" radio network was sold to Life Savers candy magnate Edward J. Noble for $8,000,000, and renamed "The Blue Network, Inc". It would become the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) in 1946. The "NBC Red" network retained the NBC name, and RCA retained ownership.


In 1941, before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the cornerstone was laid for a research and development facility, RCA Laboratories, located along Route 1 and just north of New Jersey Rte 571 in Princeton, New Jersey. It was in this facility that myriad innovations and key technology such as color television, the electron microscope, CMOS based technology, heterojunction physics, optoelectronic emitting devices, Liquid Crystal Displays (LCDs), video cassette recorders, direct broadcast television, direct broadcast satellite systems and high-definition television would be invented and developed during ensuing years. (After 1988, the facility would be known as Sarnoff Corporation, a subsidiary of SRI International.) During World War II, and in the years that followed, RCA set up several new divisions, for defense, space exploration and other activities. The RCA Service Coporation provided large numbers of staff for the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line. RCA units won five ArmyNavy E Awards for Excellence in production.[12] Also during the war, ties between RCA and JVC were severed.

In 1947, RCA-Victor developed and released the first 45 rpm record to the public, answering CBS/Columbia's 33 rpm "LP".[13]

In 1953, RCA's all electronic color-TV technology was adopted as the standard for American color TV; it is now known as NTSC (after the "National Television System Committee" that approved it). RCA cameras and studio gear, particularly of the TK-40/41 series, became standard equipment at many American television network affiliates, as RCA CT-100[14] ("RCA Merrill" to dealers) television sets introduced color television to the public.

In 1955, RCA sold its Estate large appliance operations to Whirlpool Corporation. As part of the deal, Whirlpool was given the rights to market "RCA Whirlpool" appliances through the mid-1960s.

Despite the company's indisputable leadership in television technology, David Sarnoff in 1955 commented, "Television will never be a medium of entertainment".

RCA was one of several major computer companies that also included IBM, Digital Equipment Corporation, Burroughs, Control Data Corporation, General Electric, Honeywell, NCR and Sperry Rand through most of the 1960s. RCA marketed the Spectra 70 Series (models 15, 25, 35, 45, 46, 55, 60 and 61) that were hardware, but not software, compatible with IBMs 360 series, and the RCA Series (RCA 2, 3, 6, 7) competing against the IBM 370.[15] These systems all ran RCAs real memory operating systems, DOS and TDOS. RCAs Virtual Memory Systems, the Spectra 70/46 and 70/61 and the RCA 3 and 7 could also run their Virtual Memory Operating System, VMOS. VMOS was originally named TSOS (Time Sharing Operating System), but was renamed in order to expand the system beyond the time sharing market. In fact RCA was credited with coining the term Virtual Memory. TSOS was the first mainframe, demand paging, virtual memory operating system on the market. The English Electric System 4 range, the 4-10, 4-30, 4-50,4-70 and the time-sharing 4-75 computers were essentially RCA Spectra 70 clones of the IBM System /360 and 370 range. RCA abandoned computers in 1971. In January 1972, Sperry Rand officially took over the RCA base.

RCA Graphic Systems Division (GSD) was an early supplier of electronics designed for the printing and publishing industries. It contracted with German company of Rudolf Hell to market adaptations of the Digiset photocomposition system as the Videocomp, and a Laser Color Scanner. The Videocomp was supported by a Spectra computer that ran the Page-1 and, later the Page-II and FileComp composition system. Later, RCA sold the rights to the Videocomp to Information International Inc. (III).

RCA was a major proponent of the eight-track tape cartridge, which it launched in 1965. The eight-track cartridge initially had a huge and profitable impact on the consumer marketplace. However, sales of the 8-track tape format peaked early on as consumers increasingly favored the compact cassette tape format developed by competitor Philips.

Later years

David Sarnoff, whose ambition and business acumen had helped RCA become one of the world's largest companies, turned the company over to his son Robert in 1970. David died the next year, aged 80.

On September 17, 1971, NBC's Huntley-Brinkley Report read a news bulletin issued by the RCA Board of Directors just minutes before the broadcast, announcing the Board's decision to cease operation of its general purpose computer systems division (RCA-CSD). This marked a milestone in RCA's move away from technology and into a diversified conglomerate. (The introduction by IBM of the 370 series required RCA to make a substantial new investment in its computer division, and the Board decided against making that investment.)

During the late 1960s and 1970s, RCA Corporation, as it was now formally known, ventured into other markets. Under Robert Sarnoff's leadership, RCA diversified far beyond electronics and communications, in a broader American corporate trend toward "conglomerates." The company acquired Hertz (rental cars), Banquet (frozen foods), Coronet (carpeting), Random House (publishing) and Gibson (greeting cards), yet slipped into financial disarray, with wags calling it "Rugs Chickens & Automobiles" to poke fun at their attempt at becoming a conglomerate.

Robert Sarnoff was ousted in a 1975 boardroom coup by Anthony Conrad, who resigned a year later after he admitted failing to file income tax returns for six years. RCA maintained its high standards of engineering excellence in broadcast engineering and satellite communications equipment, but ventures such as the NBC radio and television networks declined.

In about 1980 RCA corporate strategy reported on moving manufacture of its television sets to Mexico. RCA was still profitable in 1983, when it switched manufacturers of its VHS VCRs from Panasonic to Hitachi.

Forays into new consumer electronics products lost money. The SelectaVision videodisc system, not to be confused with the same trademark RCA applied to their VCRs, never developed the manufacturing volumes to substantially bring down its price, could not compete against cheaper, recordable videotape technology, and was abandoned in 1985 for a write-off of several hundred million dollars.

In 1984, RCA Broadcast Systems Division moved from Camden, New Jersey, to the site of the RCA antenna engineering facility in Gibbsboro, New Jersey. In the years that followed, the broadcast product lines developed in Camden were terminated or sold off, and most of the buildings demolished, save for the original RCA Victor buildings that had been declared national historical buildings.[16] For several years, RCA spinoff L-3 Communications Systems East was headquartered in the building, but has since moved to an adjacent building built by the city for them. The building now houses shops and luxury loft apartments.[17]

Takeover and break-up by GE

Business and financial conditions led to RCA's takeover by GE in 1986 and its subsequent break-up. GE sold its 50 percent interest in then-RCA/Ariola International Records to its partner Bertelsmann and the company was renamed BMG Music, for Bertelsmann Music Group.

GE then sold the rights to make RCA- and GE-branded televisions and other consumer electronics products to the French Thomson Consumer Electronics, in exchange for some of Thomson's medical businesses.

RCA Laboratories was transferred to SRI International as the David Sarnoff Research Center, subsequently renamed Sarnoff Corporation. Sarnoff Labs was put on a five-year plan whereby GE would fund the labs' activities 100 percent for the first year, then reduce its support to zero or near zero after the fifth year. This required Sarnoff Labs to change its business model to become an industrial contract research facility.

The only RCA unit GE kept was the National Broadcasting Company. GE sold the NBC Radio Network to Westwood One and all of its radio stations to various owners.

For information on the RCA brand after 1986, see RCA (trademark).


RCA antique radios and RCA Merrill/CT-100s and other early color television receivers are among the more sought-after collectible radios and televisions, thanks to their popularity during the golden age of radio, their manufacturing quality, their engineering innovations, their styling and their name, RCA.

The historic RCA Victor Building 17, the "Nipper Building", in Camden, New Jersey, was converted to luxury apartments in 2003.[18][19]

Environmental record

A former RCA facility in Taiwan's northern county of Taoyuan polluted groundwater with toxic chemicals and led to a high incidence of cancer among former employees.[20] The area was declared a toxic site by the Taiwanese Environmental Protection Agency.[21] Both GE and Thomson spent millions of dollars for cleanup, removing 10,000  (Expression error: Missing operand for * ) of soil and installing municipal water treatment facilities for neighboring communities.[22] A spokesman for RCA's current owners denied responsibility, saying a study conducted by the Taiwan government showed no correlation between the illnesses and the company's facilities, which shut down in 1991.[23]

A plant in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, owned by RCA from the late 1940s to June 1986 released more than 250,000 pounds of pollutants per year from its exhaust stacks.[24] Tested by the EPA in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the groundwater at the facility is contaminated by trichloroethylene (TCE) and 1,2-dichloroethylene (1,2-DCE).[25] In 1991 and 1992, contaminants were detected in monitoring wells on the east side of the Conestoga River in Lancaster.

The shallow and deep groundwater aquifers beneath the Intersil Facility in Mountaintop, Pennsylvania, which RCA operated in the 1960s and later sold to Harris Semiconductor, contain elevated levels of volatile organic compounds.[26]

A former RCA site in Burlington, Massachusetts, which was used from 1958 to 1994 to make and test military electronics equipment, generating hazardous waste, including VOCs, TCE, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes.[27][28]

In Barceloneta, Puerto Rico, a plant generated wastes containing chromium, selenium and iron. Four lagoons holding chemical waste drained into the limestone aquifer.[29][30] Used water from the manufacturing process (process water), containing ferric chloride, was treated on-site to remove contaminants and discharged into a sinkhole at the site. The treatment of process water created a sludge that was stored on-site in drying beds and in surface impoundments.[31]

See also

  • Ampliphase
  • Berliner Gramophone Company, whose Canadian operation became RCA Victor of Canada
  • HMV His Masters Voice
  • RCA Mark II Sound Synthesizer
  • RCA connector
  • CMOS 4000 series
  • RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video, joint venture between RCA and Columbia Pictures
  • RKO Pictures, founded in part by RCA
  • RCA Photophone, Motion Picture sound recording
  • Electrofax
  • Harold H. Beverage vice president of research and development at RCA Communications Inc
  • Ernst F. W. Alexanderson RCA's first Chief Engineer, 1920-1924
  • George H. Brown, research engineer who headed RCA's development of color television
  • Colortrak and Colortrak 2000, a notable trademark for RCA's color TVs from the past
  • Dimensia, a very high-end advanced trademark TV for RCA
  • RCA Records
  • Claude Robinson, American pioneer in advertising and opinion survey research
  • Film ChainRCA TK-26, TK-27 and TK-28
  • Professional video camerasTK 47 and more
  • Victor Company of Japan (JVC)


  1. RCA (Radio Corporation of America). IEEE Global History Network. IEEE. Retrieved on [[June 20, 2011 (2011-06-20)]].
  2. RCA.com - RCA-Brand
  3. Robert Britt Horwitz, "The Irony of Regulatory Reform
  4. (May 1922 1922)"The March Of Events: America in Control Of Its Wireless". The World's Work: A History of Our Time XLIV: 1113.
  5. http://www.davidsarnoff.org/rcaindex.html
  6. McMahon, Morgan E. A Flick of the Switch 1930-1950 (Antiques Electronics Supply, 1990), p.51.
  7. Winkler, Jonathan Reed. Nexus: Strategic Communications and American Security in World War I. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008)
  8. Biography of Owen D. Young on the GE website
  9. Mahon, Morgan E. A Flick of the Switch 1930-1950 (Antiques Electronics Supply, 1990), p.86.
  10. Mahon, p.183.
  11. Crucial tenant in 30 Rockefeller Plazasee David Rockefeller, "Memoirs", New York: Random House, 2002. (p.55)
  12. Radio Age By Radio Corporation of America, page 26
  13. http://www.ieeeghn.org/wiki/index.php/LP_and_45_RPM_Records LP and 45 RPM Records
  14. CT-100 Color Receiver Gallery
  15. RCA Spectra 70 (March 1965). Retrieved on May 17, 2009.
  16. RCA TV Equipment Archive
  17. http://www.thevictorlofts.com/
  18. Preservation New Jersey
  19. New Jersey Historic Preservation Awards Program, 2004. RCA Victor Company, "Nipper Building" Rehabilitation
  20. Ton, 1999 Ton C-D, Exposure and Health Risk Assessment of Groundwater Contamination A Case Study of Contamination Site of Tao-Yuan RCA. Master Thesis, National Taiwan University. 1999 (in Chinese).
  21. Silicon Valley to Taiwan Silicon Island
  22. Taiwan workers plead cancer case / Link RCA plant to disease
  23. Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition
  24. [1]
  25. http://www.epa.gov/reg3wcmd/ca/pa/pdf/pad003026903.pdf
  26. INTERSIL CORPORATION, S-1 SEC Filing, 11/10/1999.
  27. U.S. EPA Region I. http://yosemite.epa.gov/r1/npl_pad.nsf/8b160ae5c647980585256bba0066f907/c47da9e0cd7a440185256b4200604ad8!OpenDocument
  29. U.S. EPA, Environmental Quality Board, National Priority List (NPL), Site Inspection Report/Site Evaluation Report. EPA, San Juan Barceloneta RCA del Caribe, October 1987.
  30. John M. Hunter and Sonia I. Arbona. PARADISE LOST: AN INTRODUCTION TO THE GEOGRAPHY OF WATER POLLUTION IN PUERTO RICO. Soc. Sci. Med. Vol. 40, No. 10, pp. 1331-1355, 1995. Pergamon Press. http://www.seas.columbia.edu/earth/wtert/sofos/paradise%20lost.pdf
  31. 20058 - 20060 Federal Register / Vol. 70, No. 73 / Monday, April 18, 2005
  • Robert N. Sobel: RCA New York: Stein and Day Publishers, 1986. ISBN 0-8128-3084-9

External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to: RCA

  • RCA History from Thomson Consumer Electronics
  • Intech Contractors/Construction Managers. The Victor Project. Converting the "Nipper" building into apartments
  • RCAGlobal.com - a web site dedicated to what was RCA Global Communications
  • The Victor Lofts
  • RCA Radio Central, Rock Point, Long Island, NY
  • RCA Taiwan factory pollution
  • RCA TV equipment archive
This page was last modified 16.07.2011 01:33:05

This article uses material from the article RCA from the free encyclopedia Wikipedia and it is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.