On Saturday, June 11, the legacy of Major Edwin Howard Armstrong, Engineering'13, will be honored with a radio broadcast commemorating the 70 th anniversary of his first public demonstration of FM radio.
The program will originate from the site of the world's first FM station in Alpine, N .J ., and will be broadcast on WFDU 89.1 and on the Web at www.wfdu.fm, beginning at noon.
Armstrong was a member of the engineering faculty from 1913 until his death in 1954. During those years, he conducted much of his research in a basement lab of Philosophy Hall, including pioneering work on FM radio, which he had initiated in collaboration with Michael Pupin to combat the static of AM radio.
AM, or amplitude modulation, is the technique of varying the amplitude, or strength, of a radio signal in accordance with the voice or music being transmitted. Armstrong believed that if you varied the frequency of the signal rather than its amplitude, one could create a superior receiver that would be less susceptible to static interference. While others had considered frequency modulation before Armstrong, no one envisioned substantial advantages over the established AM technique.
Armstrong first publicly unveiled FM radio during a presentation at an Institute of Radio Engineers' conference in 1935. The surprised audience heard a clear, static-free FM transmission from a friend's house. The demonstration featured music and a series of identifiable sounds, such as a glass of water being poured, which would have been unrecognizable on AM.
While Armstrong is best known for creating FM, during his junior year at the School of Engineering he also invented the audion tube, which yielded the first radio amplifier. As an officer in the U.S. Army Signals Corps during World War I, Armstrong created the superheterodyne circuit, which amplified weak signals to a degree that was previously impossible. This circuit remains a basic component of nearly all radio and television receivers today.
Among his many awards, Armstrong received the Medal of Merit for his contributions to military communications during World War II, where he aided troops in the use of FM radio. In 1955, the International Telecommunications Union in Geneva added him to the roster of great people in electricity and telecommunications, including Alexander Graham Bell, Guglielmo Marconi and Michael Pupin. In 2000, he was inducted into the Consumer Electronics Association Hall of Fame.
The commemorative broadcast will be hosted by 1010 WINS anchor Judy DeAngelis and will recount the difficult birth of FM radio through personal recollections by some of those who worked alongside Armstrong, including Renville H. McMann, Jr., former vice president of CBS Technology Center. Tom Lewis, author of Empire of the Air, will offer insights into Armstrong's impact on all forms of present-day communications as well as his struggles with industry giants of his time. The entire program will be rebroadcast on www.wfdu.fm on June 14 and 16 at 7 p.m.