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An Aug. 3 Remembrance of Emile Berliner
Paul McLane is U.S. editor in chief of Radio World.
“Aug. 3 marks the 81st anniversary of an incredible commemoration.”
I received the e-mail from Oliver Berliner, grandson of audio innovator Emile Berliner, and a regular reader of Radio World.
“NBC observed five seconds of silence over the entire network to observe the passing that day, not of a great statesman (though he might have been, in his own right), but of the man whose two great inventions made voice and recorded music broadcasting possible.”
Emile Berliner died that day in 1929 at age 78 in Washington — as his descendant put it, “bequeathing as legacy — the microphone (1877) and the gramophone (his word, intro’d a decade later).”
“The loose-contact principle microphone, which then exceeded the limits of scientific credibility, was sold to Alexander Graham Bell, saving the Bell System from destruction at the hands of the leading (and only) communication company, Western Union Telegraph, which had relied upon an Edison patent that was soon proved to be invalid, as the Berliner caveat had been filed 13 days earlier than Edison’s patent application.
“Using Francis Blake’s carbon ‘button,’ with its inherent problem that Berliner, not Blake, was able to solve, the loose-contact principle was used in all the world’s ‘telephone transmitters’ (the industry’s word for them) for a hundred years ... ending with Western Electric’s famed 500 Series. WE itself, Western Union’s manufacturing arm acquired by Bell after its defeat of W-U, began as a maker of refrigerators and other electric appliances, but under Bell it limited itself to the manufacture of telephone apparatus, broadcast studio ‘speech input equipment’ and transmitters.
“WE also made motion picture sound recording equipment,” Oliver Berliner continued, “competing with RCA’s method, which involved a ‘variable-area’ track, like Emile Berliner’s laterally modulated record groove, while WE used Edison-style ‘density’ film recording which effectively was halfwave modulation vs. RCA’s superior fullwave recording, as Bell himself admitted. When the movies converted to mag-film recording, RCA’s and WE’s machines were made in the same room at Technical Products Co. in Hollywood.
“The public clamored for Edison to enter the disc records business, but he stubbornly refused to acknowledge that lateral recording was superior to vertical. And to no avail. With insufficient response to his expensive, unwieldly, hard-to-store Diamond Discs, coupled with the fact they wouldn’t play on Victor’s Berliner gramophones ... kicking and screaming, Edison bowed out of the record business ... twice defeated by inventions of the German immigrant.”