Major Edwin H. Armstrong Memorial Radio Club W2XMN / W2XEA

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ARMSTRONG, EDWIN HOWARD (Dec. 18, 1890 -- Jan. 31, 1954), electrical engineer and inventor of three of the basic electronic circuits underlying all modern radio, radar, and television, was born in New York City.

In the summer of 1912 Armstrong devised a new regenerative circuit in which part of the current at the plate was fed back to the grid to strengthen incoming signals. Testing this concept he began getting distant stations so loudly that they could be heard without earphones. He later found that when feedback was pushed to a high level the tube produced rapid oscillations acting as a transmitter and putting out electromagnetic waves. Thus this single circuit yielded not only the first radio amplifier but also the key to the continuous-wave transmitter that is still at the heart of all radio operations.

Armstrong received his engineering degree in 1913. The United States was plunged into World War I and Armstrong was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army Signal Corps and sent to Paris. He was assigned to detect possibly inaudible shortwave enemy communications and thereby created his second major invention. Adapting a technique called heterodyning he designed a complex eight-tube receiver that in tests from the Eiffel Tower amplified weak signals to a degree previously unknown. He called this the superheterodyne circuit, and although it detected no secret enemy transmissions, it is today the basic circuit used in 98 percent of all radio and television receivers.

As the 1920's wore on, Armstrong found himself enmeshed in a corporate war to control radio patents.

He had early set out to eliminate the last big problems of radio -- static. Armstrong in 1933 brought forth a wide-band frequency modulation (FM) system that in field tests gave clear reception through the most violent storms and, as a dividend, offered the highest fidelity sound yet heard in radio. It took him until 1940 to get a permit for the first FM station, erected at his own expense, on the Hudson River Palisades at Alpine, N.J. It would be another two years before the Federal Communications Commission granted him a few frequency allocations.

When, after a hiatus caused by World War II, FM broadcasting began to expand. Armstrong again found himself impeded by the FCC, which ordered FM into a new frequency band at limited power, and challenged by a coterie of corporations on the basic rights to his invention. Facing another long legal battle, ill and nearly drained of his resources, Armstrong committed suicide on the night of Jan. 31, 1954, by jumping from his apartment window high in New York's River House. Ultimately his widow, pressing twenty-one infringement suits against as many companies, won some $10 million in damages. By the late 1960's, FM was clearly established as the superior system. Nearly 2,000 FM stations spread across the country, a majority of all radio sets sold are FM, all microwave relay links are FM, and FM is the accepted system in all space communications.

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