How CBS Got Its Start

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To Arthur Judson, well-known manager in the field of music, the new field of radio presented a challenge and an opportunity. The results were both explosive and unexpected.

Along about 1920 or 1922, I noticed my son fooling around with some gadgets. He told me with great glee that it was a radio machine. I didn’t believe in it much then.

At that time, the First World War was over. There had been, during that war, a pool of patents which ceased to operate after the war. Some cross-licensing agreements were signed in an effort to make the patents covering radio available for use, since some were held by one company, some by another, and nothing could be manufactured without agreement among the patent-holders. It resulted in the long run in the formation of the National Broadcasting Company, which merged the broadcasting interests of RCA and A.T.&T. WGY at Schenectady had the experimental end of it, but it was not allowed to sell advertising time. That problem was ironed out later on, which gave an opportunity for the radio chains to start.

At the time when it began to be apparent that there was going to be an opportunity for artists to have a much wider public through radio than they could get out of concert tours and concert halls, all of us began to think about broadcasting.

In 1915 I became manager of the Philadelphia Orchestra and, during the years from 1915 to 1926, I developed Concert Management Arthur Judson into an important booking agency.

At the time NBC was just about to start, I made an appointment to see Mr. Sarnoff—now General Sarnoff—to discuss the possibilities of artists appearing on sponsored programs on the air. This grew out of the fact that radio stations had been requesting the free services of artists, with the result that throughout the country a good many of those who bought artists for concerts were beginning to become fearful that they would have no audiences.

I proposed to Sarnoff, when he told me that the sponsored program was coming into being, that we ought to have some definite method of utilizing the artists’ services for a sum sufficient to make it worth while and yet not ruin the business. He agreed with . me and asked me to prepare some sort of a plan and submit it to him. This I did some time in the early part of 1926.

Sarnoff read the plan with great interest and it was my understanding that if it was within his power when he got his chain organized—which he was then doing—he would certainly put me in charge of the programs and of supplying the artists.

It wasn’t very much later than that when I discovered that the chain had been organized and that I was not to have anything to do with engaging artists for the network programs.

Meanwhile, in order to prepare for that, and for other matters, I had organized the Judson Radio Program Corporation in September of 1926. In part, this grew out of my visit to Mr. Sarnoff, but was quite as much the result of an interview I had with George Coats, a promoter.

I discussed the Sarnoff matter with him and I think it is partially due to him that we organized the program corporation. That was not necessarily for us to make money, although I think Coats wanted to do so, but to enable us to give to the radio chains the best of music at an adequate price and to keep the standard of programs very high.

When this didn’t work out, I had several conversations with Coats and with some other people here who had been associated with me. We decided that if we were going to be shut out of what looked to be the only chain in the broadcasting business that we would have to challenge the NBC monopoly.

Coats and I went to see Sarnoff and asked him if he were going to do anything about it. He said that he wasn’t.

I said, “Then we will organize our own chain.”

With that, he leaned back in his chair and laughed heartily. He said, “You can’t do it. I have just signed a contract to take one million dollars’ worth of long lines from the telephone company. In any event, you couldn’t get any wires even if you had a broadcasting station. It can’t be done.”

Sarnoff was right; it couldn’t be done. But we happened to get all the breaks, and it was done. I hate to think of the years and the time that we spent on that operation. We were within a hair’s breadth of bankruptcy all the time.

What we proceeded to do first was to organize a company called the United Independent Broadcasters. We though the “Independent” would be a protest against the monopoly of the RCA.

My associates were a man by the name of Edward Ervin, George Coats, and later J. Andrew White, who was a broadcasting man whom we knew, and H. H. Newman, who was a newspaperman and a promoter. We divided the 1,000 shares of stock up amongst us.