Mass Media & Society

Empire of Air analysis


In the Empire of Air documentary Ken Burns introduces Guglielmo Marconi, Lee DeForest, Edwin Armstrong, and David Sarnoff as the four main characters with the most impact on radio.

Guglielmo Marconi is given historical credit as the father of radio. He’s an Italian man and an inventor who had his owned the Marconi company. In 1896 he sent a wireless dot and dash signal 9 miles across England and three years later the company came to America. He made a small fortune installing ships with wireless equipment. DeForrest challenged him to see who had the best up to minute coverage of the national yacht competition but both transmitters cancelled each other out. Marconi surged again when he sent an “S” successfully across the Atlantic. Marconi thought of transmitting as point A to point B and mainly was concerned about his fortune. Even though Marconi didn’t break any laws I consider him villain like for ignore everyone’s call to get hired because he was famous and didn’t need workers.

Lee DeForest grew up lonely in Alabama as the son of a minster, often losing himself in school library’s reading patron office reports. DeForest knew he wanted to become an inventor so he wrote a diary to motivate himself and in college most of his works where failures until the radio waves caught his attention. In 1900 he challenged Marconi and ended up in a draw. He formed a partnership with the shady Abraham White who had taken an interest in wireless. They’d give people demonstrations, sell stock certificates, and run for the hills before the station was finished. He also won a prize for his wireless receiver called the spade detector. Overtime DeForest gets married four times and divorces every woman. He also goes bankrupt in his company. He is the first one to broadcast a voice though the radio that was signing. He messes with the audion and creates the first radio tube. His biggest fight was probably with Armstrong over his Paton on the audion which he lost. I’d call DeForest a villain because off all the fraud he committed. I’d also say DeForrest is the main focus of the documentary because he had the longest section of the video and he connects in with all 3 of the other people.

Edwin Armstrong grew up comfortable in New York as the son of a publisher. By the age of 13 Armstrong knew he wanted to become an inventor. He made several important discoveries but his most important one was regeneration in 1912. He made it possible to transmit and receive info. In 1914 Armstrong demonstrates his work for Marconi’s wireless club and Sarnoff recommended he’d let them license it. He also developed a device that captured radio waves of high and low frequencies. He won his case against DeForest and got the Paton refusing to give DeForest an agreement due to him being a boastful ignorant thief. Armstrong became the strongest shareholder in the country and married Maron. I believe Armstrong was a hero because he worked to make his inventions and he kept getting described as such an honest person during the documentary.

David Sarnoff came to the US as a nine-year-old immigrant that couldn’t speak English. He worked himself hard for the following 30 years and ended up president of RCA one of the most powerful companies in America. He helped sign on Armstrong after seeing the potential in his inventions. I’d say Sarnoff is the most heroic since he worked himself so hard to get to such a powerful position which had to have taken a lot of determination.

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