The Network: The Battle for the Airwaves and the Birth of the Communications Age
The Network: The Battle for the Airwaves and the Birth of the Communications Age
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Annotation: Describes the friendship and partnership between David Sarnoff, the head of RCA, and Edwin Armstrong, the developer of the first amplifier, and how they combined efforts to bring the FM transmitter and modern radio to society and forever change the world
Genre: Engineering
Catalog Number: #110476
Format: Publisher's Hardcover
No other formats available
Publisher: HarperCollins
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition Date: 2016
Pages: viii, 280 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates
Availability: Available
ISBN: 0-06-224275-X
ISBN 13: 978-0-06-224275-4
Dewey: 621.3840973
Dimensions: 24 cm.
Language: English
Kirkus Reviews
The past envisions the future in a short book that spans a century of revolutions in communications. This would have been a deeper book if it were a conventional biography of David Sarnoff (1891-1971), "the man who had sailed into New York Harbor as a nine year old boy and gone on to foresee every major communications advance from the wireless telegraph to satellites—and fought to bring them all to the general public." It often seems like an account of a relationship and a rift between the empire-building RCA tycoon and Edwin Armstrong (1890-1954), "the most prolific inventor since Thomas Edison," whose advances were crucial to Sarnoff's vision yet whose path diverged when he saw Sarnoff focusing on TV and perhaps impeding the progress of the FM radio advances that Armstrong championed. Woolley begins with the suicide of Armstrong, who felt betrayed by Sarnoff, and circles back to his death about two-thirds of the way through, leaving the stage to Sarnoff alone. Drawing from court transcripts, the account of the rift between the former friends has the dramatic tension and narrative propulsion of a historical novel, yet an oddly structured one once Armstrong is gone. What the author dubs "Act III" is the most revelatory, as it shows Sarnoff extending his vision from radio to TV to the computer age. In his discussion of sources, Woolley concludes, "David Sarnoff's remarkable speech predicting the rise of fiber optics and the Internet was made in 1965, but has been ignored until now." As the telegraph gave way to radio, then to TV and the Internet, the book shows how Sarnoff continued to embody the lessons he learned from Marconi in the telegraph age: "When wagering on the future of a new wireless technology, always bet on the optimists—eventually they're going to be right." Armstrong was one of those optimists, until he became a casualty. Beginning in the era of an "ever-expanding worldwide web of cables," the book is readable but could have been fleshed out more fully.
Publishers Weekly
Woolley, a technology and business writer, traces the development of communications technology from the telegraph to the television to the first visions of the Internet. He frames these advances with the story of the complicated friendship between David Sarnoff, a media mongul who rose to the helm of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), and Edwin Armstrong, prolific inventor who developed, among other game-changing technologies, the first amplifier to enable telegraph signal reception from greater distances. In this short but magnetic narrative, Woolley shows how, despite their differences, the men connected through their mutual understanding of "the power and possibility of the invisible waves." Both figures were truly visionary, especially Sarnoff, who led the charge on radio broadcasting and color television and articulated a vision that prophesied the Internet. Yet for both Sarnoff and Woolley, innovation was obstructed by corporate interest, and government agencies were unwilling to intercede. This classic struggle-visionaries with revolutionary ideas and capabilities against established interests-drives the book's narrative. By focusing on a handful of characters, Woolley avoids getting bogged down in excessive technological and scientific detail, legal nuances, and biographical minutiae, and instead crafts a highly readable, plot-driven narrative that illuminates the genesis of innovations that many readers take for granted. (Apr.)
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Bibliography Index/Note: Includes bibliographical references (pages 271-280).
Reading Level: 7.0
Interest Level: 9+

The astonishing story of America’s airwaves, the two friends—one a media mogul, the other a famous inventor—who made them available to us, and the government which figured out how to put a price on air.

This is the origin story of the airwaves—the foundational technology of the communications age—as told through the forty-year friendship of an entrepreneurial industrialist and a brilliant inventor.

David Sarnoff, the head of RCA and equal parts Steve Jobs, Jack Welch, and William Randolph Hearst, was the greatest supporter of his friend Edwin Armstrong, developer of the first amplifier, the modern radio transmitter, and FM radio. Sarnoff was convinced that Armstrong’s inventions had the power to change the way societies communicated with each other forever. He would become a visionary captain of the media industry, even predicting the advent of the Internet.

In the mid-1930s, however, when Armstrong suspected Sarnoff of orchestrating a cadre of government officials to seize control of the FM airwaves, he committed suicide. Sarnoff had a very different view of who his friend’s enemies were.

Many corrupt politicians and corporations saw in Armstrong’s inventions the opportunity to commodify our most ubiquitous natural resource—the air. This early alliance between high tech and business set the precedent for countless legal and industrial battles over broadband and licensing bandwidth, many of which continue to influence policy and debate today.

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