Almost 100 years ago, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) formed the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), a subsidiary of General Electric (GE).
RCA owned a “patchwork” of radio stations that it operated with leased telegraph lines from Western Union. The quality of those lines was inferior to lines owned by American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T), which they did not lease to others.
RCA was the world’s largest distributor of radio receivers.
AT&T was the largest company in the world.
AT&T made radio components (Western Electric) and operated a phone company (Bell System). In 1922, it opened radio station WEAF in New York City that it used as an R&D center.
By 1925, AT&T decided to opt-out of radio and focus on telephony.
In a deal that also allowed RCA access to AT&T phone lines, RCA bought WEAF and a sister station in Washington, DC, from AT&T for $1 million.
RCA placed an ad announcing the creation of NBC in newspapers around the country. RCA wrote that it was not attempting to create a monopoly. Rather, it wanted to distribute high quality programs across the nation as the first full-service radio network in the U.S.
The following year, NBC created two radio networks: the Red Network, centered on WEAF, and the Blue Network, centered on WJZ. Both stations were in New York City. By 1939, 171 radio stations broadcast NBC programming.
There was only one other radio network, CBS. In 1941, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that it “would not issue licenses to network organizations that operated more than one network.” NBC would eventually sell its Blue Network (after legal footwork). In 1945, it became the American Broadcasting Company (ABC).
In 1939, NBC began operating its first television station, also located in New York City. The FCC granted WNBT the first commercial television license in 1941, but commercial television would wait two more years.
Today, AT&T operates a telephone network and a variety of television services, including DirecTV Stream. It is also an internet service provider. Although it is the world’s largest telecommunications company, it has fallen out of the top 10 on the Fortune 100 list.
The NBC television network is part of NBCUniversal Media, which is a subsidiary of Comcast, a conglomerate that began as a cable company. Comcast is the second-largest broadcasting and cable television company in the world by revenue (following AT&T).