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Broadcasting is a method of transmitting radio, internet or television signals (programs) to a number of recipients ("listeners" or "viewers") that belong to a large group. This group may be the public in general or a relatively large audience within the public in general. Thus an internet channel may distribute text or music world-wide, while a public address system in (say) a workplace may broadcast very limited ad hoc soundbites to a small population within its range.

Television and radio programs are distributed through radio broadcasting or cable, often both simultaneously. By coding signals and having decoding equipment in the homes, the latter also enables subscription based channels and pay-per-view services.

A broadcasting organisation may broadcast several programs at the same time, through several channels (frequencies), for example BBC 1 and 2. On the other hand, two or more organisations may share a channel and each use it during a fixed part of the day.

Broadcasting forms a segment of the mass media.

Table of contents

Business Models of Broadcasting

There are several dominant business models of broadcasting. Each differs in the method by which stations are funded:

  • By individually donated time and energy
  • By direct government payments
  • By indirect government payments, such as radio and television licenses
  • By grants from foundations or business entities
  • By selling advertising or sponsorship
  • By public subscription

Broadcasters may rely on a combination of these business models. For example, National Public Radio, a non-commercial network within the United States, receives grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which in turn receives funding from the U.S. government; by public subscription; and by selling "extended credits" to corporations.

History of Broadcasting

Beginning to the Second World War

United States

In the United States, the first broadcast station, KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, began in 1920. The technology became very popular, and many cities, churches, schools, and businesses started their own broadcast stations.

The National Broadcasting Company began regular broadcasting in 1922, with telephone links between New York and other Eastern cities. NBC became the dominant radio network, splitting into Red and Blue networks.

The Columbia Broadcasting System began in 1927 under the guidance of William Paley.

Several independent stations formed the Mutual Broadcasting System to exchange syndicated programming, including The Lone Ranger and Amos 'n' Andy.


The first experimental broadcasts, from Marconi's factory in Chelmsford, began in 1920.

Two years later, a consortium of radio manufacturers formed the British Broadcasting Company (BBC). This broadcast until its licence expired at the end of 1926. The company then became the British Broadcasting Corporation, a non-commercial organisation. Its governors are appointed by the government but do not answer to it.

Lord Reith took a formative role in developing the BBC, especially in radio. Working as its first manager and Director-General, he promoted the philosophy of public service broadcasting, firmly grounded in the moral benefits of education and of uplifting entertainment, eschewing commercial influence and maintaining a maximum of independence from political control.

Commercial stations such as Radio Normandie[?] and Radio Luxembourg[?] broadcast into the UK from other European countries. This provided a very popular alternative to the rather austere BBC. These stations were closed during the War, and only Radio Luxembourg returned afterward.

BBC television broadcasts in Britain began in 1936, and continued until wartime conditions closed the service in 1939.


Before the Nazi assumption of power in 1933, German radio broadcasting was supervised by the Post Office. A listening fee of 2 Reichmarks[?] per receiver paid most subsidies.

Immediately following Hitler's assumption of power, Joseph Goebbels became head of the Ministry for Propaganda and Public Englightenment. Non-Nazis were removed from broadcasting and editorial positions. Jews were fired from all positions.

The Reichrundfunk[?] programming began to decline in popularity as the theme of Kampfzeit was continually played. Germany was easily served by a number of European mediumwave stations, including the BBC and domestic stations in France, the Low Countries, Denmark and Sweden, and Poland. It became illegal for Germans to listen to foreign broadcasts. (Foreign correspondents and key officials were exempt from this rule).

During the war, German stations broadcast not only war propaganda and entertainment for German forces dispersed through Europe and the Atlantic, but provided air raid alerts.

Germany experimented with television broadcasting before the Second World War, using a 180-line raster system[?] beginning before 1935. German propaganda claimed the system was superior to the Britsh mechanical scanning system[?], but this was subject to debate by persons who saw the broadcasts.

A Federal antitrust decision in 1942 required NBC to divest itself of its Blue network[?]. This network became the American Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

The 1950s and 1960s

United States

Television began to replace radio as the chief source of revenue for broadcasting networks. Although many radio programs continued through this decade, including Gunsmoke and The Guiding Light[?], by 1960 networks had ceased producing entertainment programs.

As radio stopped producing formal fifteen-minute to hourly programs, a new format developed. "Top 40" was based on a continuous rotation of short pop songs presented by a "disc jockey." Famous disc jockeys in the era included Alan Freed, Dick Clark[?], Don Imus[?] and Wolfman Jack. Top 40 playlists were theoretically based on record sales; however, record companies began to bribe disc jockeys to play selected artists, in what was called payola.

In the 1960s, American television networks introduced broadcasts in color.


Radio Luxembourg remained popular during the 1950s but saw its audience decline as commercial television and pirate radio, combined with a switch to a less clear frequency, began to erode its influence.

BBC television resumed in 1946, and commercial television began in 1955. Both used the pre-war 405-line standard.

BBC2 came on the air in 1964, using the 625-line standard, and began colour transmissions in 1967. The two older networks transmitted in 625-line colour from 1969.

During the 1960s there was still no UK-based commercial radio. A number of 'pirate' radio ships, located in international waters just outside the jurisdiction of English law, came on the air between 1964 and 1967. The most famous of these was Radio Caroline, which was the only station to continue broadcasting after the offshore pirates were effectively outlawed in August 1967. It was finally forced off air due to a dispute over tendering payments, but returned in 1972 and continued on and off until 1989. The station still broadcasts, nowadays using satellite carriers and internet.


When the Federal Republic of Germany was organized in 1949, its Enabling Act established strong state government powers. Broadcasting was organized on a state, rather than a national, basis. Nine regional radio networks were established. A technical coordinating organization, the Arbeitsgemeinschaft der offentlich-rechlicten Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (ARD), came into being in 1950 to lessen technical conflicts.

The Allied forces in Europe developed their own radio networks, including the U.S. Armed Forces Network. Inside Berlin, Radio in the American Sector (RIAS) became a key source of news in the German Democratic Republic.

Germany began developing a network of VHF FM broadcast stations in 1955 because of the excessive crowding of the mediumwave and shortwave broadcast bands.

The 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s

United States

The introduction of FM changed the listening habits of younger Americans. Many stations such as WNEW in New York City began to play whole sides of record albums, as opposed to the "Top 40" model of two decades earlier.

In the 1980s, the Federal Communications Commission, under Reagan Administration and Congressional pressure, changed the rules limiting the number of radio and television stations a business entity could own in one metropolitan area. This deregulation led to several groups, such as Infiniti Broadcasting[?] and Clear Channel[?] to buy many stations in major cities. The cost of these stations' purchases led to a conservative approach to broadcasting, including limited playlists and avoiding controversial subjects to not offend listeners, and increased commercials to increase revenue.


A new Pirate station, Swiss-owned Radio Nordsee International, broadcast to Britain and the Netherlands from 1970 until outlawed by Dutch legislation in 1974 (which meant it could no longer be supplied from the European mainland). The English service was heavily jammed by both Labour and Conservative Governments in 1970 amid suggestions that the ship was actually being used for espionage. Radio Caroline returned in 1972 and continued until its ship sank in 1980 (the crew were rescued). A Belgian station, Radio Atlantis, operated an English service for a few months before the Dutch act came into force in in 1974.

Land-based commercial radio finally came on air in 1973 with London's LBC[?] and Capital Radio.

Channel 4 television started in 1982. Britain's UHF system was originally designed to carry only four networks.

Pirate radio enjoyed another brief resurgence with a literal re-launch of Radio Caroline in 1983, and the arrival of American-owned Laser in 1985. Both stations were harassed by the British authorities; Laser closed in 1987 and Caroline in 1989, since when it has pursued legal methods of broadcasting, such as temporary FM licences and satellite.

Two rival satellite television systems came on the air at the end of the 1980s: Sky Television and British Satellite Broadcasting. Huge losses forced a rapid merger, although in many respects it was a takeover of BSB (Britain's official, Government-sanctioned satellite company) by Sky.

Radio Luxembourg launched a 24-hour English channel on satellite, but closed its AM service in 1989 and its satellite service in 1991.

Channel 5 went on air in 1997, using "spare" frequencies between the existing channels.


In 1987, stations in the European Broadcasting Union began offering Radio Data System (RDS), which provides written text information about programs that were being broadcast, as well as traffic alerts, accurate time, and other teletext services.

The 2000s

The 2000s saw the introduction of digital radio[?] and direct broadcasting by satellite (DBS) in the USA.

Digital radio services, except in the United States, were allocated a new frequency band in the range of 1,400 MHz. In the United States, this band was deemed to be vital to national defense, so an alternate band in the range of 2,300 MHz was introduced for satellite broadcasting. Two American companies, XM and Sirius, introduced DBS systems, which are funded by direct subscription, as in cable television. The XM and Sirius systems provide approximately 100 channels each.

In addition, a consortium of companies received FCC approval for In-Band On-Channel digital broadcasts in the United States, which use the existing mediumwave and FM bands to provide CD-quality sound.

In Canada, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission plans to move all Canadian broadcasting to the digital band and close all mediumwave and FM stations.

European and Australian stations have begun digital broadcasting (DAB). Digital radios began to be sold in the United Kingdom in 1998.

Broadcasting organizations









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