Thursday, June 03, 2010

The History of Assaulting Progress

I own many books in the genre of "non-fiction miscellany" (I find 'trivia' to be too, uh, trivial a term for these things). In any case, I just read in Panati's "Browser's Book of Beginnings" about the formation of FM radio (p.221-2). Basically, Edwin Howard Armstrong patented FM to provide a clearer, less static, signal than the currently dominant AM radio. His patent was in 1933 but FM didn't become available until the late 40s. Why? Well, before I answer that, I will ask you that if you *do* listen to radio, do you do so on AM or FM. I believe the majority will answer FM. OK, so let's continue.

According to Panati and the Wiki, RCA successfully sued the FCC to prevent FM from being allowed on the radio. The suit lasted years. Sarnoff, head of RCA, also sued to prevent Armstrong from getting patent royalties from inventing FM and Armstrong committed suicide in 1954 as a result of that battle.

Why did RCA try to block FM? Because they owned AM. Did RCA succeed in getting the FCC to hamstring and restrict FM? Oh yes indeed. Was this good for the world. No, I don't think it was - considering that everyone prefers FM.

Does this remind you of anything? I'm sure somebody put a list up somewhere, in some book, about these types of things - The History of Assaulting Progress - where a company, or the government - uses all of its resources to hurt others, and hurt progress, in order to keep its own money flow.

I'm not naive, so I am not arguing against commerce or against companies looking out for themselves. But if there's any mature theory of government (libertarians, Marxists, and fellow travelers need not apply), all of these theories try to strike a balance between individual rights and community rights. The corporation ("Big Business") is basically a private collection of individual rights - but the rest of society has a right to progress.

I'll look for the list of those who've assaulted progress but off-hand we can include all those Oil Companies, and their marionettes in the Republican Party including their bought and paid for President G.W.B, who furiously try to keep us from alternative fuel.

Pic of RCA from here, of Armstrong from the Wiki.

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