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The rise of FM and satellites

The technique of broadcasting using frequency modulation, patented by Edwin Armstrong in 1933, is slowed by WW II and AM station owners' fears of competition. It isn't until the late '60s that large numbers of consumers begin buying FM receivers. Another handicap begins to be resolved in 1971 as automakers include FM-equipped radios as standard.

To differentiate FM from AM—and take advantage of FM's higher fidelity—programmers develop new formats. One of the most innovative is the "underground" or "progressive" sound introduced by Tom Donahue at KMPX(FM) San Francisco in the late '60s.

But "underground" isn't the only FM sound or even the predominant one. That belongs to the very aboveground sound of carefully researched syndicated formats. Coupled with the increased automation, services like Drake-Chenault's "Solid Gold" and Bonneville's easy-listening formats turn many money-losing FMs into profit centers. For the first time, people begin predicting FM will overtake AM as the band for music.

The other phenomenon of the 1970s, satellite, makes a big impact in 1972 when international broadcasting live via satellite creates what BROADCASTING calls "a milestone in broadcasting history": coverage by the Big Three TV networks of President Nixon's trip to China.

RCA inaugurates the nation's first domestic satellite communications service in 1974. But the big breakthrough comes in 1975, when Home Box Office, Time Inc.'s pay-cable subsidiary, extends its service from the Northeast to nationwide via satellite.

In '76, Ted Turner, owner of two TV stations, begins using satellite to distribute the signal of his Atlanta UHF, WTCG, to cable systems, dubbing it the "superstation." In 1978, he boosts superstations by endorsing an "open-entry" policy for resale carriers wishing to feed local stations to cable-TV systems.