You are currently viewing Tech Throwback: Edwin Armstrong Demonstrates FM Broadcasting In The US In June 1936

Tech Throwback: Edwin Armstrong Demonstrates FM Broadcasting In The US In June 1936

Edwin Armstrong, an American electrical engineer and inventor tests his invention, FM (frequency modulation), this month in 1936. Also, see how his invention contributed to telecommunication as we know it today.


Before Armstrong was born in 1890, Alexander Bell had already patented the conventional telephone in 1876. Thus, there was already a form of long-distance communication. In fact, AM (amplitude modulation) broadcasting was also already in use since the 1910s. However, Edwin Armstrong’s invention was unique because it solved a major problem in those early radio communication systems; the problem of ‘static’ interference.


The engineer had first started out trying to modify AM transmission systems but later began researching FM capabilities. By 1933, the US had granted Edwin Armstrong five patents covering the fundamentals of his new invention; the ‘wide-band’ FM system. He had begun initially partnering with the Radio Corporation of America (RCA).

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However, not long after he began testing his new design, the RCA decided not to finance his projects anymore. Undeterred, the inventor went on to partner with Zenith, General Electric and other smaller radio industry stakeholders. After some more years of working with other manufacturers in the industry, he was ready for a formal and official presentation.


Edwin Armstrong gave his official FM broadcasting presentation at the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) headquarters in June 1936. To show impressive his FM technology was, he first played a jazz record using the popular AM radio. Then he switched to playing the same record using an FM transmission.


The result was so glaring and new that a correspondent of the United Press covering the event had reported:


“if the audience of 500 engineers had shut their eyes they would have believed the jazz band was in the same room. There were no extraneous sounds.”


Now, FM radio stations are used all around the world. NASA also used Edwin Armstrong’s FM system to communicate with astronauts during the Apollo program that landed the first men on the moon between 1969 and 1972. He never lived to see these far-reaching implications of his invention as he had died by suicide in 1954.


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Onwuasoanya Obinna

A reader of books and stringer of words. Passionate about Science and Tech. When not writing or reading he is surfing the web and Tweeting.

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