Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Interview with Mike Adams 2

(part 1 is here)

4) How long time did you need to wite the book about "Lee de Forest" ? Why were you specially interested about him?
As a professor I also like research and writing and I am good at it. I was introduced in 1988 to the de Forest papers held by the San Jose History Center, but it wasn't until 2008 that I started going to the archive and scanning the documents and organizing a possible de Forest story. My book, Lee de Forest, King of Radio, Television, and Film, was published in 2012 by Springer Science. Because I was able to retire and go to half time at the university I started to develop an outline for the book, a table of contents, etc, and I looked for all the known de Forest research sources to tell a complete story. It took about a year to research and write, another year for editing, sending out to experts for read/review, and as I look back on my files, I was contacted by the Springer-Verlag Physics Editor Chris Coughlin in November, 2009, about the possibility of proposing a book, I submitted the proposal and received the contract by March 2010, began the massive organization process of sorting through  thousands of documents, finished the research and much of the draft by the end of 2010, editing, visuals, reviews, re-write, production in 2011, release in December 2011.

I was interested in de Forest for several reasons: First, he was a fellow scholar, but he was a PhD from Yale, and in 1899 there were few who even attended college. So he was a real scholar. Second, in the early 20th Century he looked at the transmission of morse code dots and dashes, then called wireless, and saw the possibility of sending audio - the voice and music - using his modification of the technology. You can say that he was one of the primary inventors of radio! He not only received patents for the technology but he started several early radio stations, first sending opera music in New York in 1907 as reported in the Times. He used his inventions of his vacuum tube he originally developed as a receiver of radio audio, as an amplifier of sound, and as an oscillator/transmitter of radio to create in 1918 a system for writing sound on film for synchronized motion pictures. For this he received an Oscar. So my career - Radio-TV-Film - parallels the work of de Forest, although as they say at the awards ceremonies, "I couldn't have done it without him!"

5) Digital radio standards (DAB, DRM, HD Radio) struggles to success in most countries, what do you think about it?

DRM appears to be one more solution to allow more signals, more programming on limited bandwidth. Two problems: One, is that there are too many standards and that always causes problems with world wide adoption, and the other is that there is not enough viable, sales-worthy content for all the channels that can be created. Also, I believe that radio will end up streaming on the Internet and that is a world-wide standard. The digital radio formats that require specialized receivers are only interim technology. This is why HD failed in America.

So rather than talk about radio stations "fighting the battle" to survive, let's talk about what radio, TV film really is: it is entertainment and information designed to attract an audience, employ thousands of technical and creative people (my former students) and it is either advertiser or government-supported. Whether it is delivered by an FM transmitter to a bedside radio or by WiFi to a phone, it is really just content and the listeners/viewers will not care where it comes from. We can't say it is "radio" or "TV", in the traditional sense of a big transmitter on a high hill broadcasting to homes, or "film" as just that on a screen in a darkened room in a shopping mall. There is plenty of competition in media and while the Internet in theory "democratizes" content by allowing anyone to broadcast to anyone who will watch or listen, (or read like this blog) it still requires the best writers, producers, directors, talent, etc., to get an audience, and that usually means a big studio, Warner Bros, Comcast. Radio stations have tried to compete with the Internet by adding HD, but the radio manufacturers did not follow through with decent receivers, and the traditional broadcasters have not really programmed these extra channels so anyone cares. There are thousands of choices out there where there used to be a few to a few dozen stations, radio and TV.
So the past is AM and FM and the TV station. The future platform that everyone wants in media is twofold: In 2013 the owners and programmers want to own two things of yours. They want to send their content to your smart phone/tablet and your car dashboard. This is how the future looks to the those who program Radio, TV, and Film.  This is why we owe something to de Forest and why my publisher titled the book "king of radio, TV, and film." 

I invite readers to visit the de Forest Web: and the "Lee de Forest, King of radio, TV, Film"  Facebook page. On that I have a number of early de Forest sound films.

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