RCA Corporation, founded as Radio Corporation of America, was an electronics company in existence from 1919 to 1986. Today, the RCA trademark is owned by Thomson SA through RCA Trademark Management S.A., a company owned by Thomson. The trademark is used by two companies, namely Sony BMG Music Entertainment and Thomson SA, which licences the name to other companies like Audiovox and TCL Corporation for products descended from that common ancestor.
During World War I the U.S. Navy suppressed patents of the major companies involved with radio in the United States to facilitate the war effort. All production of radio equipment was allocated for either the army or the navy. The U.S. Navy sought to maintain a government monopoly of wireless radio; however, the wartime command system over radio was to eventually end by the tabling of the maintenance of government control by the U.S Congress in 1918. The rejection of government monopoly did not prevent the Navy from creating a national radio system. On April 8, 1919, U.S. Navy Captain Stanford C. Hooper and Admiral W. H. G. Bullard met with General Electric Company executives to ask that they not sell their Alexanderson alternators to the Marconi companies. The premise of the Navy's proposal was that if GE created an American owned radio company, then the Navy would secure a commercial monopoly of long-distance radio communication. This marked the beginning of negotiations by which GE would buy American Marconi, a foreign owned company, and organize what would become the Radio Corporation of America.
The incorporation of the assets of British-owned Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America, the Pan-American Telegraph Company and those controlled by the United States Navy led to a new firm started by General Electric in 1919. The subsequent cooperation among RCA, General Electric, United Fruit, Westinghouse Electric Corporation, AT&T laid the groundwork for significant developments in point-to-point and broadcast radio, including the new National Broadcasting Company, NBC. The U.S. Navy turned over to RCA the former American Marconi radio stations seized during the war. Admiral Bullard received a seat on the RCA Board of Directors for his efforts in establishing RCA. The end result was government-created monopolies in radio for GE and Westinghouse and in telephone for AT&T.
RCA was formed in 1919 as a publicly held company owned by General Electric, which had a controlling interest in the company. The Radio Corporation of America (1919-1986) was organized as an American monopoly of radio technology by General Electric Company. After World War I, the United States Navy encouraged GE to buy the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America from its parent company in England. Its assets included the country’s only radio stations, hundreds of installations in ships, and incidentally, David Sarnoff.
The intent was to create an operating company that could purchase and then use GE's powerful Alexanderson alternator radio transmitters, to make it possible for the United States to utilize what were believed to be very limited numbers of radio frequencies before other countries, particularly Great Britain, could buy the alternators and take the frequencies first. This rationale soon collapsed with the discovery in the mid-1920s of the practicality of the short wave band for long distance transmissions. The first head was Owen D. Young. David Sarnoff became General Manager.
RCA's charter required it be mostly American-owned. RCA took over the assets of American Marconi, and was responsible for marketing GE and Westinghouse's radio equipment. In a subsequent deal, it also acquired the patents of United Fruit and Westinghouse, in exchange for ownership stakes. Later on the company went on a patenting and licensing binge, patenting the superheterodyne concept. Some of their early radios had their guts hidden in "catacombs" to prevent reverse-engineering.
By 1926, RCA had grasped the market for commercial radio, and purchased the WEAF and WCAP radio stations and network from AT&T, merged them with RCA's own attempt at networking, the WJZ (the predecessor of WABC) New York to WRC (presently WTEM) Washington chain, and formed the National Broadcasting Company (NBC).
In 1929, RCA purchased the Victor Talking Machine Company, then the world's largest manufacturer of phonographs (including the famous "Victrola") and phonograph records (in British English, "gramophone records"). This new subsidiary then became RCA-Victor. With Victor, RCA acquired New World rights to the famous Nipper trademark. RCA Victor produced many radio-phonographs. The company also created RCA Photophone, a sound-on-film system for sound films that competed with William Fox's sound-on-film Movietone and Warner Bros. sound-on-disc Vitaphone.
RCA began selling the first electronic turntable in 1930. In 1931, RCA Victor developed and released the first 33⅓ rpm records to the public. These had the standard groove size identical to 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, partially because the records and playback equipment were expensive, and partially because the technical performance was terrible. (Tracking ability depends upon, among other things, the stylus's radius of curvature, and it would require the smaller-radius stylus of the microgroove system to make slower-speed records track 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.)
In 1930, RCA became a crucial and key tenant in the yet to be constructed landmark building of the Rockefeller Center complex, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, which from 1933 became known as the RCA building, now the GE Building. This critical lease in the massive project enabled it to proceed as a commercially viable venture.
In 1939, RCA demonstrated an all-electronic television system at the New York World's Fair and developed the USA's first-ever television test pattern. 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 US, but RCA began selling television sets almost immediately after the war was over. (See also: History of television) RCA labs was closely involved in RADAR and radio development efforts in support of the war effort. These development efforts greatly assisted RCA in their Television research efforts.
RCA was one of the leading makers of vacuum tubes (branded Radiotron) in the USA, 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 television sets. The Nuvistor tubes were a last hurrah for vacuum tubes and were meant to be a competitive technology for the relatively newly introduced transistors. RCA also partnered with Tung-Sol to produce the legendary KT88/6550 hi-fi vacuum tube. Their power in the marketplace was so strong that they effectively set the selling prices for vacuum tubes in the USA. Except for the main cathode ray tube (CRT), the company had completely switched from tubes to solid-state television sets by 1975.
Antitrust concerns led to the breakup of the NBC radio networks by the FCC, a breakup affirmed by the United States Supreme Court. On October 12, 1943, the "NBC Blue" radio network was sold to Life Savers 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.
In 1941, prior to Pearl Harbor, the cornerstone was laid for a research and development facility, RCA Laboratories, located along Route 1 and just north of New Jersey Rte 571 in Princeton, New Jersey. It was in this facility that myriad innovations and key technology such as color television, the electron microscope, CMOS based technology, heterojunction physics, optoelectronic emitting devices, Liquid Crystal Displays (LCDs), video cassette recorders, direct broadcast television, direct broadcast satellite systems and high-definition television would be invented and developed during ensuing years. (After 1988, the facility would be known as Sarnoff Corporation, a subsidiary of SRI International.)
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 rights to market "RCA Whirlpool" appliances through the mid-1960s.
Due to their rarity and technological significance, RCA Merrill/CT-100 (and other early color television receivers) are highly sought-after collectibles. Attic "relics", especially with an RCA emblem, should be assessed by several knowledgeable and trustworthy antique radio or television collectors prior to acquisition.
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 the eight major computer companies (along with IBM, Burroughs, Control Data Corporation, General Electric, Honeywell, NCR and UNIVAC) through most of the 1960s. RCA marketed the Spectra 70 Series (70/15, 70/25, 70/35, 70/45, 70/46, 70/55, 70/60, 70/61) that were compatible with IBM’s 360 series and the RCA Series (RCA 2, 3, 6, 7) competing against the IBM 370. These systems all ran RCA’s real memory operating systems, DOS and TDOS. RCA’s Virtual Memory Systems, the Spectra 70/46 and 70/61 and the RCA 3 and 7 could also run their Virtual Memory Operating System, VMOS. VMOS was originally named TSOS (Time Sharing Operating System), but was renamed in order to expand the system beyond the time sharing market. In fact RCA was credited with coining the term Virtual Memory. TSOS was the first mainframe, demand paging, virtual memory operating system on the market. The English Electric System 4 range, the 4-10, 4-30, 4-50,4-70 and the time-sharing 4-75 computers were essentially RCA Spectra 70 clones of the IBM System /360 and 370 range. RCA abandoned computers in 1971. In January 1972, Sperry officially took over the RCA base.
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. However, sales of the 8-track tape format peaked early on as consumers increasingly favored the compact cassette tape format developed by competitor Philips.
The former RCA facility located at 1350 Pleasure Road in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, also has a marred environmental legacy. RCA operated the facility for the U.S. Navy through World War II, after which RCA acquired the facility for the manufacture of radio, microwave tubes and later, television. The RCA Corporation owned the RCA Facility from the late 1940s to June 1986 when GE purchased the RCA Corporation. Burle Industries, Inc. subsequently purchased the former RCA manufacturing plant from GE in July 1987. As part of the sale agreement, GE retained the property containing the Lower Lagoon, the Upper Quarry, and the groundwater recovery and treatment system (GWRTS).
According to EPA's "Toxic Releases for Reporting Year 1987", the R C A CORPORATION GENERAL ELECTRIC Facility released 23,000 pounds of 1,1,1-trichloroethane (1,1,1-TCA) per year as "FUGITIVE OR NON-POINT EMISSIONS" and 209,000 pounds 1,1,1-TCA per year as "STACK OR POINT EMISSIONS" along with 12,000 pounds per year of Freon 113 (1,1,2-trichloro-1,2,2-trifluoroethane) as "STACK OR POINT EMISSIONS".
The former RCA/GE facility has been a RCRA Corrective Action Facility (Subtitle C), with environmental investigations (RCRA Facility Investigation, RFI) completed in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The main contaminants of concern in the groundwater at the GE facility are trichloroethylene (TCE) and 1,2-dichloroethylene (1,2-DCE). The GE Lancaster facility currently consists of a parcel of land containing a closed, capped RCRA-regulated surface impoundment (Lower Lagoon), a closed, capped landfill (Upper Quarry), and the GWRTS. Results from early investigations indicated that volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were present in the groundwater beneath the facility. TCE was detected in a monitoring well at concentrations ranging from 11,000 ug/L to 14,000 ug/L, which at 1% of the aqueous solubility of TCE, is an indication that TCE was released as a Dense Non-Aqueous Phase Liquid (DNAPL).
The transport of TCE and cis-1,2-dichloroethylene (cis-1,2-DCE) becomes complicated in the carbonate aquifer underlying Lancaster. GE installed moniting wells on the east side of the Conestoga River in 1991 and 1992 on the City of Lancaster's Conestoga Pines Park. TCE and cis-1,2-DCE were detected in these wells. Subsequent sampling of a spring in the park had TCE detected at concentrations ranging from 440 ug/L to 1,200 ug/L, and cis-1,2-DCE ranging from 310 ug/L to 900 ug/L.
The Lower Lagoon and Upper Quarry were closed and capped in 1987 in an effort to address the sources of groundwater contamination. The GWRTS also began operation in 1987. Its functions are to keep contaminated groundwater from leaving the site property and to reduce the size of the contaminated plume.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) anticipates issuing an Order in 2008 to continue the implementation of the groundwater pump and treat system currently in place, in lieu of re-issuing the Post Closure Permit. EPA intends to close out the Corrective Action Order in the future.
Another site having environmental contamination issues is the Intersil Facility in Mountaintop, Pennsylvania, which RCA operated in the 1960s and later sold to Harris Semiconductor. The shallow and deep groundwater aquifers beneath the facility contain elevated levels of volatile organic compounds ("VOCs"). These impacts are a result of activities conducted by the predecessor operator, RCA. Some of these conditions were identified in connection with facility's 1991 closure of an underground storage tank. The facility operates a groundwater production well which was installed in 1986 for non-contact cooling water. This well extends to 400 feet below the ground surface and the groundwater from this well is impacted VOCs (specifically, trichlorothene, or TCE). The facility is required to treat the water before using it as non contact cooling water through an air stripper which was installed on the production well. While facility personnel have no information regarding the possible sources of the TCE, TCE was used in plant operations in the 1960s and 1970s. Off-specification semiconductor devices were formerly disposed of onsite in the 1960s when RCA operated the facility. The disposal area is presently under a building and, accordingly, no leaching of materials is expected. However, no groundwater sampling has been conducted in this area of the site.
Another former RCA site is located in Burlington, Massachusetts. Between 1958 and 1994, the site was used as an industrial facility, primarily for manufacturing and testing military electronics equipment. The hazardous waste generated at RCA resulted from a variety of manufacturing activities. The four main waste-producing activities included printed circuit (PC) board production, photographic development, painting booth operations, and metal finishing processes. All on-site manufacturing operations were discontinued in 1994. Contaminants of concern include VOCs (1,1,1-trichloroethane (1,1,1-TCA), TCE, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes. This site was included in the GAO report of sites awaiting National Priorities List (NPL) decisions.
Another RCA facility that was a NPL Site was the RCA Del Caribe Site in Barceloneta, Puerto Rico. RCA manufactured masks for television screens on an approximately 20-acre site. The process generated wastes containing CHROMIUM, SELENIUM, and iron, which were were discharged into four holding lagoons. Limestone formations below the site are highly susceptible to development of sinkholes, especially when acidic solutions are discharged and migrate into the subsurface. The four lagoons holding chemical waste spontaneously drained down into the limestone aquifer. Ruptured lining, with leaks or acid discharges, caused the sudden formation of a sinkhole. Sinkholes resulted in discharge of the contents of two lagoons into ground water. Sampling of lagoon sediments detected significant concentrations of CHROMIUM and SELENIUM. Public supply wells are located 2.4 km downgradient from the condemned site.
With regard to remediation of the RCA Site by the responsible party (General Electric, Plainville, CT), the EPA reports that "many issues remain unresolved."
During the 1970s, RCA Corporation, as it was now formally known, ventured into other markets. Under Robert Sarnoff's leadership, RCA diversified far beyond its original focus on electronics and communications. The company acquired Hertz (rental cars), Banquet (frozen foods), Coronet (carpeting), Random House (publishing) and Gibson (greeting cards). Despite this diversification, or perhaps because of it, the corporation was plagued by financial problems.
Robert Sarnoff was ousted in a 1975 boardroom coup by Anthony Conrad, who resigned a year later after admitting failing to file income tax returns for six years. Despite maintaining a high standard of engineering excellence in such fields as broadcast engineering and satellite communications equipment, ventures such as the NBC radio and television networks declined. Forays into new consumer electronics products, such as the innovative SelectaVision videodisc system, proved money losers.
While maintaining profitability, in 1983, RCA switched manufacturers of its SelectaVision VHS VCRs from Matsushita (Panasonic) to Hitachi. SelectaVision (the videodisc system, not to be confused with the same trademark name applied to VCRs) was then abandoned in 1985, in a tremendous and very public write-off of several hundred million dollars. Its chief competitor, videotape, held two key advantages: recordability, and lower cost. (Some also claim that easy viewing of pornographic and erotic programs in private was an important factor in favor of the VCR. RCA was unwilling to produce CED discs with adult content, allegedly reducing demand for the CED system.) VCRs quickly took a dominant market share, and did so at an inauspicious time, just as the market for publicly traded equities was growing rapidly. RCA could not take part in that field, and its better-managed competitors showed superior performance in these years.
In 1984, RCA Broadcast Systems Division relocated from its Camden, New Jersey location to the site of the RCA antenna engineering facility in Gibbsboro, New Jersey. Over time, all of the broadcast product lines developed in Camden were terminated or sold off. Most of the buildings at the Camden site were eventually demolished, save for the original RCA Victor buildings, having been declared national historical buildings.
At the ripest moment, conditions led to RCA's takeover by GE in 1986 and its subsequent break-up. GE sold its 50 percent interest in what was then RCA/Ariola International Records to its partner Bertelsmann and the company was renamed BMG Music for Bertelsmann Music Group.
GE sold the rights to make RCA and GE brand consumer electronics products, notably television sets, to the French Thomson Group, in exchange for some of Thomson's medical businesses. After Thomson Group's takeover, many owners of RCA branded products began to see steep declines in quality.
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 the labs activities 100 percent for the first year. That funding declined to zero or near zero after the 5th year of Sarnoff Labs operation. This required the Sarnoff Labs to change their business model to become an industrial contract research facility.
Due to their popularity during the golden age of radio, their manufacturing quality, their engineering innovations, their styling and their name, RCA antique radios are one of the more sought-after brands of collectible radios.
The historic old RCA Victor Building 17 in Camden, New Jersey, was redeveloped in 2003 as a high-rise luxury apartment building.
Many models of RCA televsion sets produced from the 80's and 90's had a design quirk which made some or all of the channels being received therough the RF antenna/cable input totally cut out to snow. This was probably due to a bad solder as it seemed to be a bad connection, for wiggling the cable or the unbalanced dipole would often help. A class-action lawsuit was eventually filed in the 90's against RCA for this very common problem. Victims were able to have their TV fixed for free, and some were even paid. Some time after being repaired, some of the TV's got the problem back. This problem occured mostly in the Colortrak models, but was also present in some of the high-end Dimensia models.