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April Highlights of Radio Tech History

What were radio people talking about 25, 50, 75 and 100 years ago this month?

This is the fourth installment in a recurring series that looks back at developments that have shaped radio broadcasting during the past 100 years, noting advancements and historical moments month by month. Read March’s story here

The forerunner of today’s ‘telemedicine’ virtual physician’s visits was predicted by futurist Hugo Gernsback in this April 1924 issue of Radio News magazine.

100 Years Ago – April 1924: “Tele-medicine” is featured on the cover of the April issue of Hugo Gernsback’s Radio News magazine. Dubbed the “Radio Doctor” and intended as an April Fool’s spoof, the device is described as being able to remotely take temperature and pulse measurements, monitor heartbeats, and allow a remotely-located physician to view patients via television.

The imaginary device even allowed the examining physician to deliver a handwritten prescription. (Gernsback had a knack for predicting future technologies and launched the world’s first science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories.)

75 Years Ago – April 1949: All industry eyes are focused on Chicago’s Stevens Hotel, the site of the 27th annual NAB convention, which begins on April 11.

Main topics to be vetted are the impact of newly-arrived television on the long-established “sound broadcasting,” FM’s future, frequency allocations for new AM stations, and maintaining radio’s “security and stability in this helter-skelter electronic era.”

The convention’s engineering conference featured presentations on the NAB’s efforts to create a standard for magnetic tape recordings, tips on handling and storage of magnetic tape from manufacturer 3M, operation of 50 kW FM transmitters with high-gain antennas to provide ERPs of 300 to 600 kW, and a new GE “portable” remote amplifier weighing only 35 pounds.

50 Years Ago – April 1974: After languishing for nearly three decades, post-war FM broadcasting is finally beginning to gain consumer acceptance, so much so that the FCC has opened a window for comments on its proposal to tighten its 10-year-old AM/FM non-duplication rule from the current 50 percent duplication of programs to zero in markets of 100,000 or more, with exceptions being made for news or public affairs programming.

Also, the Electronic Industry Association (now the Consumer Technology Association) is arguing against a proposed radio “all-channel” rule requiring FM capability on all sets. The EIA says that an increase in factory-installed automobile AM-FM sets “obviates the need for passage” of the legislation. The EIA additionally stated that it would be “grossly unfair” to add the extra expense of dual-band capability to motorists, as FM reception is not that good in certain situations. It asserted that the marketplace would respond on its own as FM audiences grow.

25 Years Ago – April 1999: Controversy continues to brew over the FCC’s proposal to authorize a new class of low-power FMs. Proponents argue that such a service is needed “to counteract bland programming on larger group-owned stations,” with the NAB says it’s not needed, and declaring that “we strongly believe that programming diversity has never been greater.

Radio World is flooded with letters and emails offering both pro and con opinions from readers. Comments range from “Communities like Santa Monica, Calif. are clamoring for signals of 10 watts or less” to “the proposal would severely hurt the small-business AM owner who would be unable to compete on the FM band.”

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