RCA, formerly an initialism for the Radio Corporation of America, is now a trademark used by two companies for products descended from that common ancestor:
The two companies bought those assets from General Electric, which took over the RCA conglomerate in 1986 and kept RCA's NBC broadcasting interests. Initially, GE continued to control the RCA trademarks (including the rights to the His Master's Voice trademark and known worldwide as HMV, or Nipper, in parts of the Americas), which were then licensed to Thomson and Bertelsmann. Thomson eventually bought the RCA trademarks, subject to the perpetual license GE had issued to Sony BMG's predecessor.
Although Bertelsmann AG was new to the RCA family (though the creation of Sony BMG is similar to that of EMI more than 70 years earlier), Thomson started as the French subsidiary of a company which later evolved into General Electric.
Due to their popularity during the golden age of radio, their manufacturing quality, their engineering innovations, their styling and their name, RCA antique radios are one of the more sought-after brands of collectible radios.
Prior to RCA
During World War I the patents of the major companies involved with radio in the United States of America were merged to facilitate the war effort. All production of radio equipment was for the military. The seizure of the assets of British-owned American Marconi by the United States Navy and the cooperation between General Electric, United Fruit and Westinghouse Electric Corporation laid the groundwork for the Radio Corporation of America, RCA.
After the war, many saw radio as a natural monopoly. The United States Navy tried, but failed, to gain the monopoly for the Navy. Owen Young convinced the U.S. Congress to entrust in his company, General Electric (GE), together with American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T), a monopoly of international radio.
History of RCA
RCA was formed in 1919 as a publicly-held company owned in part by AT&T and GE. David Sarnoff was named General Manager. RCA's charter required it be mostly American-owned. RCA took over the assets of American Marconi, and was responsible for marketing GE and Westinghouse's radio equipment. It also acquired the patents of United Fruit and Westinghouse, in exchange for ownership stakes.
By 1926, RCA had grasped the market for commercial radio, and purchased the WEAF and WCAP radio stations and network from AT&T, merged them with RCA's own attempt at networking, the WJZ New York/WRC Washington chain, and formed the National Broadcasting Company (NBC).
Original RCA logo, revived by BMG for sound recordings
after buying GE's interest
In 1929, RCA purchased the Victor Talking Machine Company, then the world's largest manufacturer of phonographs (including the famous "Victrola") and phonograph records (in British English, "gramophone records"). The company then became RCA-Victor. With Victor, RCA acquired New World rights to the famous Nipper trademark. RCA Victor produced many radio-phonographs. The company also created RCA Photophone, a sound-on-film system for sound films that competed with William Fox's sound-on-film Movietone and Warner Brothers sound-on-disc Vitaphone.
In 1931, RCA Victor developed and released the first 33⅓ rpm records to the public. These had the standard groove size identical to the contemporary 78rpm records, rather than the "microgroove" used in post-WWII 33⅓ "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. 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 1939, RCA demonstrated an all-electronic television system at the New York World's Fair. 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.
RCA was one of the leading makers of Vacuum Tubes in the USA, creating a series of innovative products ranging from octal base. Metal tubes co-developed with General Electric before WWII to the transistor-sized Nuvistor used in the tuners of the New Vista series of television sets. In spite of this, the company completely switched over to making 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 1949, RCA-Victor developed and released the first 45 rpm record to the public, answering CBS/Columbia's 33⅓ rpm "LP".
In 1953, RCA's color-TV standard was adopted as the standard for American color TV, the NTSC ("National Television Systems Committee" or "Never Twice the Same Color", depending on RCA/NBC or Westinghouse/CBS affiliation). 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 ( link) ("RCA Merrill" to dealers) television sets introduced color television to the public.
Due to their rarity and technological significance, RCA Merrill/CT-100 (and other early color television receivers) are highly sought-after collectibles; attic "relics", especially with an RCA emblem, should be assessed by several knowledgeable and trustworthy antique radio or television collectors prior to disposition.
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 the eight major computer companies (along with IBM, Burroughs, Control Data Corporation, General Electric, Honeywell, Scientific Data Systems and UNIVAC) through most of the 1960s, but abandoned computers in 1971.
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 in 1974-75 as consumers increasingly favored the compact cassette format developed by competitor Philips.
In many ways the story of RCA is the story of David Sarnoff. His drive and business acumen led to RCA becoming one of the largest companies in the world, successfully turning it into a conglomerate during the era of their success. However in 1970, now 79 years old, Sarnoff retired and was succeeded by his son Robert. David Sarnoff died the next year; much of RCA's success died with him.
During the 1970s, RCA Corporation, as it was now formally known, became increasingly ossified as a company. Under Robert Sarnoff's leadership, RCA diversified far beyond its original focus on electronics and communications. The company acquired Hertz (rental cars), Banquet (frozen foods), Coronet (carpeting), Random House (publishing) and Gibson (greeting cards). Despite this diversification, or perhaps because of it, the corporation was plagued by financial problems. Robert Sarnoff was ousted in a 1975 boardroom coup by Anthony Conrad, who resigned a year later after admitting failing to file income tax returns for six years. Despite maintaining a high standard of engineering excellence in such fields as broadcast engineering and satellite communications equipment, ventures such as the NBC radio and television networks declined. Forays into new consumer electronics products, such as the innovative but technologically obsolescent SelectaVision videodisc system, proved money losers.
This eventually led to RCA's sale to GE in 1986 and its subsequent break-up. GE sold its 50% interest in what was then RCA/Ariola International Records to its partner Bertelsmann and the company was renamed BMG Music for Bertelsmann Music Group. GE sold the rights to make RCA and GE brand consumer electronics products, notably Television sets, to the French Thomson Group, in exchange for some of Thomson's medical busineses.
In old movies that portrayed the Wall Street Crash of 1929, sometimes we hear brokers buying or selling shares of radio which means RCA.
RCA's legacy includes a treasure trove of
masters from the greatest names in jazz. Beginning in 1917 with the
first-ever authentic jazz sides from the Original Dixieland Jazz Band,
RCA would go on to record such jazz giants as Jelly Roll Morton, Fats
Waller, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw,
Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra and Tommy Dorsey and,
in later years, Sonny Rollins and Paul Desmond. Bluebird
continues to serve as the proud home of RCA's jazz reissue program,
drawing from an unrivalled legacy of the greatest names in the history
of the genre. Recent reissues include the best selling Platinum Glen
Miller, Sonny Rollins’ The Bridge, and the acclaimed
blues series When The Sun Goes Down including reissues from Leadbelly,
Sonny Boy Williamson, and Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup.
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