Sunday, November 10, 2013

Photo-of-the-Week #132 - The Armstrong Tower, Birthplace of FM Radio, Alpine, New Jersey, October 2013

While to some people the tower in this photograph may appear to be an eyesore, especially the very expensive homes directly below the tower site, it is both of major historic importance and utilitarian significance. The Armstrong Tower, all 425 feet of it, has stood in this place and weathered the test of time since 1938.

Major Edwin Armstrong, the father of modern radio communications, broadcasting and most significantly, FM radio broadcasting (FM has also been used for the sound portion of broadcast television and connected us with astronauts in space) erected this tower for his experimental FM broadcasting beginning in the late 1930's. While Armstrong invented much of what allowed the world to have AM radio and eventually FM radio and held many patents, he never received the acclaim he deserved. His life ended tragically when he committed suicide on January 31, 1954 believing he was a failure and a broken man. David Sarnoff of RCA fame was complicit in breaking Armstrong, though he never took responsibility for his actions. It's an interesting read for anyone interested in the story of these two men and how one destroyed the other through politics and corporate greed.

The original laboratory building still stands at the base of the tower and is a museum displaying Armstrong's inventions and contributions to society. However, the tower is currently very actively utilized by all kinds of communication services as evidenced by the massive number of antennas mounted on the tower. And, as another historical note, after the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001, many of the New York area TV and FM radio stations whose antennas and transmitters were located at the top of the World Trade Towers were immediately set up at the Armstrong Tower to provide continued service to most of their listening and viewing audiences. So, while some may see it as an eyesore, I recognize it as a symbol of the inventiveness and free enterprise society that is the American way. Armstrong's legacy lives on not only through his tower, but also through a foundation established by his widow, who fought for his patent rights, royalties and what was due to the inventor after his tragic death.

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