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Broadcasting Pioneer NBC Has Long, Storied History

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ NBC got its start in 1926 as the nation's first radio network. Its parent company, the Radio Corporation of America, figured people would buy radios if they had interesting things to listen to.

NBC was the leading radio network in the early years, so powerful in those days that it had two networks: NBC-Red and NBC-Blue. It was forced by the Federal Communications Commission in the early 1940s to divest itself of one network. NBC-Blue eventually became ABC. In fact, all three original broadcast networks can be traced back to NBC. One of its original owners, Westinghouse Electric Co., bought CBS in 1995.

Some of NBC's radio profits were funneled into researching the new television technology. NBC began television broadcasts in 1939 by covering the opening of the New York World's Fair.

RCA's chief David Sarnoff took to the airwaves to introduce that broadcast, and his description of the moment â¿¿ "the birth of a new art bound to affect all society" â¿¿ was prescient and maybe even understated.

In 1947 came the first NBC program that's still around today â¿¿ Sunday morning's "Meet the Press." NBC had television's first big hit in "Texaco Star Theater" with Milton Berle. Many people bought their first TVs, or crowded around the few ones available, to see a comic who'd mine for laughs each week by wearing a dress.

Though it faced fierce competition over the decades, NBC was formidable in the 1990s, with Thursdays declared a "must-see" night of television. The network's run of memorable series including "Cheers," ''Seinfeld," ''ER," ''Frasier," ''Friends" and "The West Wing" represented a golden age.

NBC's decline has been slow, steady and sad. Its "must-see" series all ran their course, replaced by nothing comparable. Each of their rivals minted influential, highly popular reality series, including Fox's "American Idol" and CBS' "Survivor." Until this fall, NBC sagged in fourth place, struggling to find a hit. Looking to pare the costs of producing scripted shows, NBC even brought Jay Leno to prime time in 2009, only to reverse course.

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