A while back I read a great post on the Daily Beast about how the old RCA company (Radio Corporation of America) was actually Apple way before Apple came into existence. Of course, that means that there were numerous similarities between the company that were pretty impressive. For instance:
- RCA founder David Sarnoff was the original Steve Jobs. He willed his company to be the most innovative and technology driven company of its time. When Sarnoff retired in 1970, the company lost its way and diversified into food and real estate, eventually being acquired by GE. Obviously that hasn’t happened with Apple after Jobs passing, but you can’t deny that Jobs influence definitely made a difference in its products.
- Similar to iTunes, for a time RCA was the worlds largest seller of music with the acquisition of the Victor Talking Machines company in 1929. The RCA record label had the biggest stars of the day with Louis Armstrong, George Gershwin, Enrico Caruso, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Arturo Toscanini, Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family, and later, Elvis, David Bowie, and many others. Today Britney Spears, Foo Fighters, Miley Cyrus and Mark Ronson are signed to the label, but it’s now a Sony imprint.
- RCA was also the first to commercialize the turntable, so everyone could listen to their favorite artist via vinyl record when they wanted to at home. 70 years later Apple would unleash digital portability with their iPod.
- And speaking of the vinyl record, RCA was the first to come up with the 45 RPM vinyl single, as well as the first to commercialize the stereo vinyl record.
- The RCA connectors dreamed up by the company for quick gear interface (which we’ve all grown to hate so much) became not only the standard audio connector for consumer electronics but for video as well.
- RCA was the first to get into “wireless technology,” especially televisions. In fact, the company was the first with a full production commercial television, then the first to commercialize the color television.
- Like Apple today, the company was a technology pioneer, being the first to produce a ribbon microphone (with their original versions still coveted today) as well as the first commercial tube amplifiers.
- To go along with the television set it was selling, the company also provided content in the form of one of the three major television networks, and one we still watch today – NBC, just like Apple does today (although without the network).
- The company was also a leader in motion pictures with its sound on film technology and Technicolor process. It was also a leader in cinema sound with surprisingly sophisticated speaker technology for its time.
- And like Apple, it had its technological misses, with the 8 track cassette and Quad sound.
GE liquidated most of the RCA assets in the late 1980s. The remaining trademark is actually owned by Sony today, which licenses the name to other companies for a variety of products. The point is that Apple may be the perfect tech company for the beginning of the 21st century, but RCA was a tech giant in its own right and might have been its equal in many ways in the 20th.