Alternative History of Radio Development in US
Today's question: Douglas has written an explanation of the social construction of radio in order to avoid technological determinism. The "constructors" proposed in this book are inventors, the press, amateur operators, the military, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) and others. One sure way to avoid "determinism" is to advance a narrative that contains more than one possible outcome. Can you use the materials in this book to propose a plausible alternative way that radio might have developed in the U.S.? If yes, explain the alternative. If not, discuss what information you would need in order to propose an alternative (that is, information that you don't have in this book).
In Douglas' description about the American broadcasting history, there were different kinds of powers that shaped the process. To picture an alternative history, the story should also begin with Marconi and his invention. As described in the book, Marconi’s success in the beginning of his career and later expansions was, at least partly, subject to his awareness of importance of management of the corporation and the strategy of standing in the focus of press. Marconi combined the research and marketing very well and thus made his company developed better than that of Fessenden’s, De Forest’s, Stone’s and others. If these companies were all successful or even sought cooperation or merging with each other, the development of radio technology could be accelerated. They each developed different ideas and adopted different orientations of the development of radio. If the progresses on receivers, emitters and different paradigm of radio applications could be combined together, the world would have seen the emergence of radio broadcasting network several years earlier than the history.
As for the role of amateur wireless operators, if in the disaster of Titanic they played a positive role, such as helping with broadcasting survivor lists or warning about the sunk of Titanic, the amateurs can be further encouraged by the public. A few talented men among them may also invent some new devices and made radio popular for ordinary people. When the power of amateur and companies were developing at the same time, the government agencies, such as the navy, would also fostered radio technology through cooperation with companies and researchers in universities. The government then made regulations and rules for radio frequencies used for different purposes and all operators followed the same rules. In my imagination, the other alternative is more harmonious and efficient. Powers from different sources can enhance each other. It is more like a Utopian picture and common people were more powerful and thus were given more freedom.
Another thing I want to mention is that, it seems that in the history, sometimes the imagination of scientists was confined by their knowledge and their confidence about the calculation results. In the case of radio, in 1899, scientists believed the transmission of radio waves to remote areas required extra high towers, which was proved not true. Others who ignored or had no access of this result finally made some progress, such as Marconi. A similar case is the invention of atom bomb during WWII. The major Germany scientist made a mistake in calculation and concluded that the amount of uranium needed to make an atom bomb was larger than the total amount Germany can access. This conclusion resulted in the abandon of the whole project. If Germany was the first country that made the first atom bomb, the history would be totally different. There were always many alternatives in the history. Somehow, we are living in the distinct one due to some unknown reasons…
Another Version (just for fun):
At the first beginning, Marconi's company also went bankruptcy, as well as the other several ones, because of the slow progress and reliability of wireless communication. At the same time, this new technology was suppressed by other powers, such as telephone companies and telegraph companies. People were skeptical about this new technology due to its complex equipment and unknown of related knowledge. Consequently, in the Titanic disaster, no one would think about it and its benefits. There was no large amount of funding from investors nor government. Only several armatures were studying and testing it as their own hobby. Soon, with the coming of WWI and WWII, the governments of different countries soon found the importance of wireless communication and then investigated a large amount of money in the researches. Pushed by the need of war, wireless technology developed very quickly. The country that mastered the technology of wireless communication gained the key of victory. After the wars, radio technology was used for ordinary people and gradually shaped as what we see today. In this different setting, the development of radio broadcasting was delayed but still emerged in the history.