RCA

RCA 74B microphone in the Phantom Productions' studio and is part of the Reel2ReelTexas.com - Museum of Magnetic Sound Recording  vintage recording collection

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All pictures and content on this web site are the property of the Museum of Magnetic Sound Recording / reel2reeltexas.com • photos are available for sale

Manufacturer Profiles - RCA 

This is a list of information we have gathered from a variety of sources on some of the major analog reel to reel tape recorder and related equipment manufacturers.  While we have strived to provide the best information available to us, there will be corrections and additions. We include personal stories about the companies when they are provided to us.  We always invite input on corrections and updates. Thank you!


 

Note: Most of the RCA summary is from Wikipedia. There is no mention of RCA's reel to reel tape recorders in that summary. We include more tape recorder information at the bottom of the page.

RCA logoRCA Corporation, founded as the Radio Corporation of America, was an American electronics company inexistence from 1919 to 1986. General Electric took over the company in late 1985 and split it up the following year.

After World War I began in August 1914, radio traffic across the Atlantic Ocean increased dramatically after the western Allies cut the German transatlantic telegraph cables. Germany, Austria-Hungary, and their allies in Europe (collectively known as the Central Powers) maintained contact with neutral countries in the Americas via long-distance radio communications, as well as telegraph cables owned by neutral countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark.

In 1917 the government of the United States took charge of the patents owned by the major companies involved in radio manufacture in the United States to devote radio technology to the war effort. All production of radio equipment was allocated to the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and the U.S. Coast Guard. The War Department and the Navy Department sought to maintain a federal monopoly of all uses of radio technology. The wartime takeover of all radio systems ended late in 1918, when the U.S. Congress failed to pass a bill which would have extended this monopoly. The war ended in November of that year.

The ending of the federal government's monopoly in radio communications did not prevent the War and Navy Departments from creating a national radio system for the United States. On 8 April 1919, naval Admiral W. H. G. Bullard and Captain Stanford C. Hooper met with executives of the General Electric Corporation (GE) and asked them to discontinue selling the company's Alexanderson alternators (used in the high-power AM radio transmitters of that era) to the British-owned Marconi Company, and to its subsidiary, the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America.

The proposal presented by the government was that if GE created an American-owned radio company, then the Army and Navy would effect a monopoly of long-distance radio communications via this company. This marked the beginning of a series of negotiations through which GE would buy the American Marconi company and then incorporate what would be called the Radio Corporation of America.

Over the years, RCA continued to operate international telecommunications services, under its subsidiary RCA Communications, Inc., and later the RCA Global Communications Company.

By 1926 the market for commercial radio had expanded, and RCA purchased the WEAF and WCAP radio stations and networks from AT&T, merged them with its WJZ (the predecessor of WABC) New York to WRC (presently WTEM) Washington chain, and formed the National Broadcasting Company (NBC).

GE used RCA as its retail arm for radio sales from 1919, when GE began production, until 1930. Westinghouse also marketed home radios through RCA until 1930.Limited edition painting of Nipper from Harrods London belonging to the Theophilus vintage recording collection ©2000

In 1929, RCA purchased the Victor Talking Machine Company, then the world's largest manufacturer of phonographs (including the famous "Victrola") and phonograph records. This included a majority ownership of the Victor Company of Japan (JVC). The new subsidiary then became RCA Victor. With Victor, RCA acquired New World rights to the Nipper trademark. This Trademark is also the trademark for the British music & entertainment company HMV who now display Nipper in Silhouette. RCA Victor produced many radio-phonographs and 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.

To right is the Theophilus' vintage recording collection's Limited Edition painting of Nipper from Harrod's of London.

The acquisition of Victor also gave RCA superior manufacturing and distribution capability with its newly acquired factories in Camden, New Jersey which added the manufacturing of radios as well as phonographs and records.

RCA began selling the first electronic turntable in 1930. In 1931, RCA Victor began selling 33⅓ rpm records. These had the standard groove size (the same width as the contemporary 78 rpm records),rather than the "microgroove" used in post-World War II 33⅓ "Long Play" records. The format was a commercial failure at the height of the Great Depression, partly because the records and playback equipment were expensive, and partly because the audio performance was poor; it would require the smaller-radius stylus of the microgroove system to make slower-speed records perform acceptably.

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. Also in the Thirties, RCA sold the modernistic RCA Victor M Special, a polished aluminum portable record player designed by John Vassos. It has become an icon of Thirties American industrial design.

In 1930, the U.S. Department of Justice brought antitrust charges against RCA, General Electric and Westinghouse. As a result, GE and Westinghouse gave up their ownership interests in RCA. RCA was allowed to keep its radio factories, and GE and Westinghouse were allowed to compete in that business after 30 months. In 1930, RCA agreed to occupy the yet-to-be-constructed landmark building of the Rockefeller Center complex, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, which in 1933 became known as the RCA building, now the Comcast Building. This critical lease in the massive project enabled it to proceed as a commercially viable venture.

In 1932, RCA introduced the Duo Jr. turntable designed to be plugged into radios.

RCA demonstrated an all-electronic television system at the 1939 New York World's Fair, and developed the USA's first television test pattern. RCA began regular experimental television broadcasting from the NBC studios to the New York metropolitan area on April 30, 1939 via station W2XBS, Channel 1 (which evolved into WNBC channel 4) from a transmitter atop the Empire State Building. At the same time, RCA began selling their first television set models in various New York stores. 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 United States, but RCA again began selling television receivers almost immediately after the war ceased.

RCA was involved in radar and radio development in support of the war effort. RCA ranked 43rd among United States corporations in the value of wartime military production contracts. This greatly assisted RCA in its television research. RCA was a major producer of vacuum tubes (branded Radiotron) in the United States, creating a series of innovative products ranging from octal base metal tubes co-developed with General Electric before World War II to the transistor-sized Nuvistor used in the tuners of the New Vista series of TV sets. The Nuvistor tubes were a last hurrah for vacuum tubes, and were meant to compete with the newly introduced transistor. Their combined power in the marketplace was so strong that they effectively set the selling prices for vacuum tubes in the US. By 1975, the company had completely switched from tubes to solid-state devices in their television sets, except for the main cathode ray tube (CRT).

Antitrust concerns led FCC to force the breakup of the NBC radio networks, a breakup affirmed by the Supreme Court of the United States. On October 12, 1943, the "NBC Blue" radio network was sold to 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.

RCA Television Quad head 2" color recorder/ reproducer used at broadcast studios in the late 1960s, 70s and early 80s. Based on a design originally developed by Ampex in the mid-1950s, it used a vertical scanning drum with head motion at 90° to tape direction. This method was developed prior to helical scanning, used in commercial and home tape machines.

David Sarnoff with the first RCA videotape recorder, 1954.

In 1941, before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the cornerstone was laid for a research and development facility, RCA Laboratories in Princeton, New Jersey, led for many years by Elmer Engstrom. This lab developed many innovations, such as color television, the electron microscope, CMOS-based technology, heterojunction physics, optoelectronic emitting devices, liquid crystal displays (LCDs), videocassette recorders, direct broadcast television, direct broadcast satellite systems and high-definition television.

During World War II and beyond, RCA set up several new divisions, for defense, space exploration and other activities. The RCA Service Corporation provided large numbers of staff for the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line. RCA units won five Army–Navy ‘E’ Awards for Excellence in production. Also during the war, ties between RCA and JVC were severed.

In 1949, RCA Victor released the first 45 rpm record to the public, to compete with CBS/Columbia's 33⅓ rpm "LP" format. The RCA 33⅓ rpm "LP" records themselves became a reality in 1950, and in 1951, so did the CBS/Columbia 45 rpm record.

In 1953, RCA's all-electronic color TV technology was adopted as the standard for American color TV. It is now known as NTSC (after the "National Television System Committee" that approved it). 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 ("RCA Merrill" to dealers) television sets introduced color television to the public.

In 1955, RCA sold its Estate large appliance operations to Whirlpool Corporation. As part of the deal, Whirlpool was given the right to market "RCA Whirlpool" appliances through the mid-1960s.
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 several major computer companies (see also: Computing) that also included IBM, Digital Equipment Corporation, Burroughs, Control Data Corporation, General Electric, Honeywell, NCR and Sperry Rand through most of the 1960s.

.RCA Graphic Systems Division (GSD) was an early supplier of electronics designed for the printing and publishing industries. It contracted with German company Rudolf Hell to market adaptations of the Digiset photocomposition system as the Videocomp, and a Laser Color Scanner. The Videocomp was supported by a Spectra computer that ran the Page-1 and, later the Page-II and FileComp composition systems. RCA later sold the Videocomp rights to Information International Inc.

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. Sales of the 8-track tape format peaked early as consumers increasingly favored the compact cassette tape format developed by Philips.

David Sarnoff, whose ambition and business acumen had helped RCA become one of the world's largest companies, turned the company over to his son Robert in 1970. David died the next year, aged 80.
On September 17, 1971, the NBC Nightly News read a news bulletin issued by the RCA Board of Directors just minutes before the broadcast, announcing the Board's decision to cease operation of its general-purpose computer systems division (RCA-CSD). This marked a milestone in RCA's move away from technology and into a diversified conglomerate. (The introduction by IBM of the 370 series required RCA to make a substantial new investment in its computer division, and the Board decided against making that investment.)

During the late 1960s and 1970s, RCA Corporation, as it was now formally known, ventured into other markets. Under Robert Sarnoff's leadership, RCA diversified far beyond electronics and communications, in a broader American corporate trend toward "conglomerates." The company acquired Hertz (rental cars), Banquet (frozen foods), Coronet (carpeting), Random House (publishing) and Gibson (greeting cards), yet slipped into financial disarray, with wags calling it "Rugs Chickens & Automobiles" to poke fun at their attempt at becoming a conglomerate.

Robert Sarnoff was ousted in a 1975 boardroom coup by Anthony Conrad, who resigned a year later after he admitted failing to file income tax returns for six years. RCA maintained its high standards of engineering excellence in broadcast engineering and satellite communications equipment, but ventures such as the NBC radio and television networks declined.

Around 1980, RCA corporate strategy reported on moving manufacture of its television sets to Mexico. RCA was still profitable in 1983, when it switched manufacturing of its VHS VCRs from Panasonic to Hitachi.

Forays into new consumer electronics products lost money. The SelectaVision videodisc system, not to be confused with the same trademark that RCA applied to its VCRs, never developed the manufacturing volumes to substantially bring down its price, could not compete against cheaper, recordable videotape technology, and was abandoned in 1985 for a write-off of several hundred million dollars.

In 1981, Columbia sold its share in the home video division to RCA and its division was renamed outside of North America to "RCA/Columbia Pictures International Video" and the following year, it was renamed in North America to "RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video".

In 1983, Arista Records owner Bertelsmann sold 50% of Arista to RCA. In 1985, Bertelsmann and RCA formed a joint venture called RCA/Ariola International which took over management of RCA Records.

In 1984, RCA Broadcast Systems Division moved from Camden, New Jersey, to the site of the RCA antenna engineering facility in Gibbsboro, New Jersey. On October 3, 1985, RCA announced it was closing the Broadcast Systems Division. In the years that followed, the broadcast product lines developed in Camden were terminated or sold off, and most of the buildings at the Camden site were demolished, except for a few of the original RCA Victor buildings that had been declared national historic buildings. For several years, RCA spinoff L-3 Communications Systems East was headquartered in the famous Nipper Building, but has since moved to an adjacent building built by the city for them. The building now houses shops and luxury loft apartments.

Business and financial conditions led to RCA's takeover by GE in 1986 and its subsequent break-up. GE sold its 50% interest in then-RCA/Ariola International Records to its partner Bertelsmann and the company was renamed BMG Music, for Bertelsmann Music Group.

GE then sold the rights to make RCA- and GE-branded televisions and other consumer electronics products in 1988 to the French Thomson Consumer Electronics, in exchange for some of Thomson's medical businesses.

In 1991, GE sold its share in RCA/Columbia to Sony Pictures and renamed that to "Columbia TriStar Home Video" (later Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, now Sony Pictures Home Entertainment).

RCA Laboratories was transferred to SRI International as the David Sarnoff Research Center, subsequently renamed Sarnoff Corporation. Sarnoff Labs was put on a five-year plan whereby GE would fund all the labs' activities for the first year, then reduce its support to near zero after the fifth year. This required Sarnoff Labs to change its business model to become an industrial contract research facility.

GE sold the NBC Radio Network to Westwood One and all of its radio stations to various owners. In 2011, a controlling interest in the National Broadcasting Company, by this time part of the multimedia venture NBC Universal, was sold to Comcast, and in 2013, Comcast acquired the remaining interest in the company from General Electric.

The only RCA unit which GE still owns is Government Services.

The historic RCA Building 17 is one of the few remaining buildings in Camden, New Jersey, that once housed the vast RCA Victor complex.

RCA antique radios and RCA Merrill/CT-100s and other early color television receivers are among the more sought-after collectible radios and televisions, thanks to their popularity during the golden age of radio, their manufacturing quality, their engineering innovations, their styling and their name, RCA. Most collectable are the pre-war television sets manufactured by RCA beginning in 1939, including the TRK-5, TRK-9 and TRK-12 models.

 

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