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Radio AM to FM: February 6, 2004

Armstrong: Inventor of FM Radio

Edwin Armstrong, whose inventions helped make long distance radio possible, hated the medium he helped invent; He couldn't stand the static. So he invented a new way to broadcast, relying on a system of frequency modulation (FM) that was immune to most atmospheric disturbances. He demosntrated FM in 1933.

The first commercial receivers began to arrive in 1937, and FM began to take off. Unfortunately, due to the influence of former friend and RCA Chairman David Sarnoff, the FCC in 1945 moved FM from its established frequency band of 44 - 50 MHz to its current home of 88 - 108 MHz, effectively rendering half a million receivers and roughly 50 broadcasting stations obsolete just when FM was beginning to take off.

Some feel that the resulting loss in confidence of FM broadcasting -- along with the marketing power of RCA for its AM sets -- is one of the reasons it took until the late 1970s for FM to surpass AM in popularity.

That setback, patent and royalty lawsuits that consumed much of his life, and personal and financial problems that took a serious toll led him to leap to his death from a 13th-floor apartment on February 1, 1954. The year 2004 marks the 50th anniversary of his death; no one knows what the world has missed by the loss of Armstrong's genius.


KBLA (1580), as were all stations owned by Radio Unica, has been sold to Multicultural Broadcasting.

Radio Unica, which owned and operated 15 radio stations across the country had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last November. Multicultural, which owns 34 station including KAZN (1300 AM), apparently plans to keep only the Los Angeles and Houston and San Francisco Radio Unica stations. The Radio Unica name may survive as well, as Multicultural purchased the name as part of the deal.

The latest rumor has the Liberal Radio Network buying time on KBLA, but that is far from being confirmed. 1580 was once the home of Wolfman Jack when it was daytime-only KDAY, and later became the home of urban, soul and rap music, with great personalities such as J. J. Johnson proudly calling out "1580 K-DAY!"

In an unrelated side note, while KDAY was licensed to Santa Monica, the directional transmission pattern supposedly sent so much power down parts of Los Angeles that water pipes would actually vibrate to the music being played on the station. Talk about free radio ...

Where Are They Now?

Russ O'Hara (Russell Neileigh) was born in Glendale in 1946 and worked his way through stations in California and Arizona before settling in at KGFJ in 1968. The next year he switched to KRLA for a few years, and moved to FM and KKDJ in 1972 -- working at L.A.'s first top-40 FM station years before FM would become dominant.

While he was always a pro with a great voice ... and had a great following at KRLA, many believe he made his real mark in 1975 when he went to Anaheim's top-40 powerhouse, KEZY (AM), working with legends such as Mark Denis in an era when locally-owned regional stations tried their best to beat the big boys in Los Angeles ... and for the most part, succeeded.

After that it was on to KROQ (AM) in 1979 and a return engagement to KRLA, twice: 1981 - 82 and 1992 - 93.

Former KRLA colleague Dave Hull (to be featured in a future WATN segment) told me that O'Hara can now be found working afternoons at KDES in Palm Springs, as well as doing voiceover work for radio and television commercials in the Coachella Valley.


Copyright © 2004 Richard Wagoner and The Copley Press.

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